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Highlights from South Pole’s ‘Net Zero and Beyond’ Report

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Have you ever heard of the term “green-hushing”? I learned about the term in a new report from South Pole called “Net Zero and Beyond.” In this year’s report, South Pole looked at over 1,200 private companies that have a sustainability or CSR head and can thus be deemed a proxy for companies leading on climate action. South Pole found a surprising trend: nearly a quarter of those surveyed global climate leaders will not be publicizing their achievements and milestones beyond the bare minimum or as required by for example the Science Based Targets initiative. This, South Pole says, is “green-hushing.”

Green-hushing is bad, South Pole says, because we need those making headway on sustainability targets to inspire others to make a start, to help shift mindsets and then behaviors.

Green-hushing is not the only subject addressed in this report. Says Renat Heuberger, CEO of South Pole, “The recent collision of crises—COVID, conflict, and the risk of a recession—seems to have triggered a new wave of climate action by companies, who have been exposed to the fragility of their supply chains and their reliance on fossil fuels. Oversight of supply chain vulnerabilities and building resilience to external shocks are now ranked among the top three drivers for setting net zero targets, after languishing in last place in 2020 and 2021.”

Adds Heuberger, “We know that the cost of climate inaction is rising every day, and 2022 may very well be the cheapest year to get started on net zero. We cannot afford to lose time. To move ahead, we need a future in which society has the ambition and ability—but also the confidence—to address climate change on the scale that is required. This is impossible if progress happens in silence.”

Make Some Noise About Your Efforts

One obvious lesson from the report: make some noise if you are pursuing net zero carbon emissions by a particular date! Publicize your actions on your website, in your annual report, in press releases, during speeches, etc.

The report, as mentioned above, found more climate action by companies than in past years. “Among sustainability-minded organizations, more net zero targets are being set than ever before, with more science-based emission reduction targets (SBTs) to back them up, and they’re being led by more ambitious timelines. Even the 67 percent of the climate-aware companies who themselves identify as heavy emitters are pushing ahead with bold targets, and 13 percent of all surveyed climate leaders have aggressive plans to meet net zero targets by or before 2024.”

More Findings from the Report

  • “Nearly three-quarters of surveyed businesses (74 percent) are investing more—not less—to achieve their targets, despite many (29 percent) finding the delivery of their net zero strategy more difficult than initially expected.”
  • “Customer demand continues to top the list of reasons for companies to pursue ambitious climate targets, followed closely by the opportunity to build corporate brand leadership on net zero, which is a key driver for 43 percent of businesses.
  • In parallel with the net zero survey, South Pole’s market insights team analyzed South Pole’s proprietary database of 68,000 companies—including the Global Fortune 500, major stock indices, and all CDP and GRI reporting companies. Of those 68,000 companies, just 7 percent have set a net zero emissions target.
  • As for net zero target dates, 16 percent of the database companies have committed to achieving net zero by or before 2030. Around 25 percent have set a date between 2031 and 2040, and 59 percent are eyeing 2041 to 2050. This is a rather stark contrast to the surveyed companies, where nearly two-thirds of respondents are aiming to hit net zero targets on or before 2030.
  • Forty percent of surveyed climate leaders who don’t have a net zero target yet plan to set one by the end of 2023.
  • Seventeen percent said the main reason for their drive toward net zero is due to pressure from investors.
  • Of the organizations that do not yet have a net zero target but plan to set one, nearly 40 percent want to have one in place by the end of 2023, indicating that a surge in new net zero commitments may be on the horizon.

The report addresses attitudes toward biodiversity, includes best-in-class net zero practices, and much more. Be sure to check out this report.

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