Climate Action

Stuart Lemmon on the biggest challenges businesses face in adopting a net-zero strategy

After the Climate Innovation Forum 2021, we spoke to Stuart Lemmon, Managing Director at Eco-Act, an Atos company, to discuss the biggest challenges businesses face in adopting a net-zero strategy.

  • 29 July 2021
  • Rachel Cooper

After the Climate Innovation Forum 2021, we spoke to Stuart Lemmon, Managing Director at Eco-Act, an Atos company, to discuss the biggest challenges businesses face in adopting a net-zero strategy.

At our Climate Innovation Forum, we heard how business, governments and society can grow climate action in scale and pace ahead of COP26 this year.  What will Eco-Act be focusing on ahead of COP26?

In the lead-up to COP26, EcoAct, an Atos company, has launched the #NetZeroHeroes initiative. Through a series of interviews, videos and events we are celebrating the climate achievements of our clients. Many are seizing the opportunity and committing to Net Zero emissions, and we want to inspire impact through their insights. We discuss best practice, stakeholder engagement and overcoming common challenges. These success stories are demonstrating our clients’ leadership in accelerating climate action, reducing their emissions and committing to a Net Zero transition. 

There is such huge momentum around climate action now, with ambitious sustainability drives, board-level buy-in and growth in collaboration. EcoAct’s ‘A to Zero programme’ helps organisations deliver on their climate commitments through accurate measurement, science-based reduction targets and high-quality carbon offsetting for residual emissions.

Stuart Lemmon spoke to our forum chair about the scale of change required for decarbonisation.  What is the biggest challenge for businesses in the adoption of a net-zero strategy?

The biggest challenge for organisations when building an effective Net Zero strategy that is both ambitious and achievable is understanding the scale of the task and obtaining a good granular understanding of their climate impacts. Those impacts will include the emissions from their operations over which they have control, and also the emissions along their value chains, which often represent the biggest share of an organisation’s greenhouse gas impacts.

Equipped with data, organisations can set out their long-term objectives and the milestones required to reach them. They can then engage with stakeholders to define exactly how they will reduce emissions, quantify the investment needed and start implementing the necessary reduction projects.

Having quality data that is comprehensive and precise gives organisations a foundation from which to confidently communicate with stakeholders, deliver on climate ambitions and effectively transition to Net Zero.

In what ways can a net-zero strategy provide opportunity for businesses, and what can be done to convince them that climate action makes commercial sense?

EcoAct has long held the view that climate action makes commercial sense. Decarbonisation improves efficiency and reduces costs. Net Zero provides a long-term view and a defined end goal that drives innovation throughout the operations of a business. Significant emissions reductions also demand innovation and collaboration with supply chains and industry bodies, which in turn can improve products and services and lead to new market opportunities.

Businesses need to act now or could soon find themselves at risk of non-compliance; losing investment; left behind in the market; threatened by supply chain instability and being exposed to extreme weather events. Managing the risks of climate change is fast becoming a necessity if we wish to ensure the long-term prosperity of our commercial interests and investments. Future-proofing your organisation means adopting a Net Zero strategy.

Maximising opportunities and minimising risks demonstrate a strong understanding of climate-related issues. As investors, employees and customers focus more and more on climate-related issues there are reputational benefits to be gained from a comprehensive approach to a Net Zero future.

What can be done to overcome the innovation gap, and allow us to continue towards net-zero long-term (after the low-hanging fruit have been picked)?

Reaching Net Zero requires organisations to reduce their carbon emissions every year by at least 4-5%. My experience is that for many, the first few years are relatively clear: businesses know what to do and where to reduce. Further down the line, it becomes more challenging and identifying how and where to make change requires careful consideration. It demands significant transformation and innovation across businesses’ strategies and operations.

Collaboration and engagement have the power to drive innovation - engaging people internally, getting the right people on board and then collaborating with the right external partners. Climate change affects us all and the more we work together, the more possibilities we will have to develop the solutions needed to reach Net Zero globally.

How important is the use of data for understanding climate risk and opportunity, and what can be done to improve the quality of data required?

Data and digital technology have the potential to significantly reduce carbon emissions through solutions like smart technology and cloud-based systems. Managing data is often a challenge for sustainability teams. For example, measuring the emissions of the value chain, which could contain thousands of suppliers and related numbers of data points, can be hard to navigate. 

Having access to high-quality data, that is up-to-date and is easy to work with makes a huge difference. The task of collecting annual emissions data manually is now being replaced by digital platforms that show live data and offer a range of automation that improves measurement, particularly around value chain emissions. The data can then be used to inform decisions, significantly reduce organisations’ carbon emissions as well as improve efficiency, reduce costs, and encourage innovation.

How optimistic are you about our ability to address climate change and achieve net-zero in time?

In all my 25 years in sustainability consultancy, I have never seen such an active response. The accelerating momentum around Net Zero and the pace of change is phenomenal, even compared to how it was 18 months ago. I am optimistic that everybody gets it and recognises the scale of the issue.

I feel positive when I see businesses’ collaboration and innovation efforts and solutions. I see many of EcoAct’s clients making huge strides and leading on climate action.

To move in the right direction, we all need to act faster globally. That means that governments, businesses and society as a whole all need to recognise the urgency and act quickly to address the challenges we face.

Eco-Act spoke at the Climate Innovation Forum 2021 which took place 29 June - 1 July during London Climate Action Week. Missed it? Don't worry, you can now watch all sessions on demand here.