New report reveals businesses believe net zero is in danger of ‘becoming a meaningless term’ unless a consistent approach is adopted


New research has revealed that the amount of ‘carbon jargon’ – different ways of describing emissions reduction targets, strategies and measurement – could be seriously hampering business progress towards net zero.

The report from leading energy consultant Inspired Energy has revealed that 86% of organisations believe ‘net zero’ could become a meaningless term unless there’s a more coherent approach to how it is interpreted and measured.

The ‘Cutting the Carbon Jargon’ report canvassed the views of over 100 energy professionals across sectors including manufacturing, retail, professional services and the public sector. While many are being proactive in setting ambitious carbon reduction targets – 9 in 10 (88%) are working towards new strategies, rising to 97% among manufacturers and dropping to 79% for retailers – only half ( 53%) said that they ‘fully understand’ the term ‘net zero’.

However, even among those businesses, the research revealed the way it is interpreted varies significantly.   Over two-thirds of energy professionals admitted that they’re confused by the sheer amount of  terms used to describe carbon reduction, and when asked to define the meaning of net zero, energy professionals mentioned carbon offsetting (42%), carbon or emission elimination (36%) and carbon emission reduction (17%).

The report sets out key issues that need to be addressed, from the lack of a single reference point for businesses to ensure clarity and consistency to the need for a Net Zero roadmap to allow businesses to plan and adapt their operations.

Dan Crowe, optimisation manager  at Inspired Energy, comments, “While it’s fantastic that so many businesses are firmly committing to carbon reduction strategies, the research reveals that the amount of ‘carbon jargon’ could hamper progress towards achieving net zero. There should be no room for interpretation: businesses need clear guidance to understand what is expected of them and what strategies they can pursue to achieve it.”

The report also examined whether energy professionals felt under pressure to deliver ambitious carbon reduction targets, with almost a quarter saying the most pressure was coming from their organisation’s board or CEO.  However, almost two-thirds of businesses expressed concern that their organisation’s carbon reduction targets could be seen as ‘greenwashing’ or ‘jumping on the net zero bandwagon’.

Dan Crowe from Inspired Energy comments, “While it is encouraging that senior management recognises the need for urgent action on net zero, it is important that goals are ambitious yet achievable, otherwise businesses risk making big, public sustainability commitments that they cannot achieve, which could be more reputationally damaging in the longer term. We recommend businesses create Science Based Targets to demonstrate a meaningful contribution to emissions reduction.”

Where organisations are working towards new targets, delivery plans focus heavily on investment in green technology, and working collaboratively with colleagues and departments across the organisation to drive change. 60% of respondents supported green strings being attached to any Government incentives or bailouts that support businesses with post-Covid recovery.

Crowe from Inspired Energy concludes, “It’s clear from our research that businesses are engaged with net zero and striving to play their part in helping the UK to reach its 2050 target. The vast majority of businesses we spoke to were working towards new carbon reduction targets, and board support for sustainability seems to be increasing, which are really encouraging signs.

“It’s therefore vital that the carbon jargon surrounding net zero doesn’t prevent businesses from planning, measuring, and making progress on decarbonisation – only by working together can we make net zero by 2050 a reality. Supporting businesses to improve their sustainability credentials through consistent definitions, a clear mandate and a framework in which to operate, could boost UK businesses and ensure that organisations of all shapes and sizes are well placed to benefit from decarbonisation as well as avoid any company being left behind.”

Inspired Energy is already working with businesses to support them in their net zero ambitions, working through a structured framework to set Science Based Targets, explore and implement carbon reduction strategies and technologies, and put in place robust measurement and reporting tools to monitor progress.

Download a copy of the Cutting the Carbon Jargon report here.


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