Is ‘net-zero’ greenwash?

November 17, 2020 by  
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Is ‘net-zero’ greenwash? Joel Makower Tue, 11/17/2020 – 02:11 This year, there has been much ado about zero. It’s becoming hard to read the green media, or even the mainstream media, without seeing new net-zero commitments from companies, governments, institutions and others. Indeed, “net-zero” is the new “zero waste” — remember way back in 2019 when everyone was making that commitment? — which is the new “100 percent renewable,” which is the new “ISO 14001 certified,” and on and on, all the way back to when announcing a LEED-certified building was widely considered to be media-worthy . Now, net-zero is the flavor of the month. Global net-zero commitments doubled in less than a year and commitments by companies more than tripled, rising from 500 at the end of 2019 to more than 1,500 by September. In addition to net-zero companies, there are also net-zero buildings , communities , products , farming , factories , supply-chains , even ships . One large financial institution set forth a commitment to net-zero client emissions . There’s also net-zero water and waste . There are net-zero-committed oil companies , utilities and airlines . Earlier this year, the United Nations formed a Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance of institutional investors. The Trump administration even has funded the development of net-zero coal plants . You can’t make this stuff up. So, you’d think all this talk about “zero” would add up to something, right? It’s hard to know, according to a new report, ” Navigating the nuances of net-zero targets ,” by the NewClimate Institute and Data-Driven EnviroLab . You’d think all this talk about ‘zero’ would add up to something, right? Not neccessarily. As the report notes, net-zero commitments vary widely in terms of their metrics and transparency, among other things. That is, no single standard governs the way net-zero is defined or measured, or even how it should be communicated. For example, companies may refer to becoming “carbon negative” or “climate positive”; or that they seek to achieve “net-zero” or “net-negative” emissions or “deep decarbonization”; or that they plan to become “emissions-free” or achieve “zero emissions”; or that they are committed to a “1.5 degrees C pathway.” It’s not just language. Another issue is the lack of standardization about goals. For example, according to the report, some companies aim to fully decarbonize their own operations along with those of their supply chain, while others have no target for reducing their own emissions. Net-zero goals range from commitments to reduce emissions by a specific percentage by a target year, which are reported through platforms such as CDP, to more general announcements of net-zero ambition. Target practice And then there’s the issue of target dates — and, even more so, interim targets. Setting 2050 as the year for achieving net-zero emissions (or some other goal) is one thing — that date aligns with the goals of the Paris Agreement — but that 30-year horizon is a bit far off to enable reasonable accountability, perhaps deliberately so. What progress can we expect to see in, say, 2025 or 2030? Relatively few companies have committed to such accountability: Only 8 percent of companies’ net-zero targets include interim targets to chart a decarbonization pathway, according to the NewClimate Institute and Data-Driven EnviroLab report, which notes, “Interim targets offer clarity and guidance on how particular targets should be implemented. They provide the transparency necessary to ensure accountability.” Reliance on offsets is yet another issue. Some experts have deemed it appropriate for companies to invest in emissions offsets once they have made all of the other appropriate emissions reductions — such as through efficiency measures or by buying green energy — but offsetting one’s emissions without really cutting them is another thing altogether. According to the report, only about half of the companies and one-quarter of the subnational governments “are transparent about their intention to use offsets for their net-zero targets. The number of actors that explicitly rule out using offsets is limited.” Moreover, it added: “Without a radical transformation of the offsetting market and the types of activities it supports, offsetting cannot be considered an equivalent alternative to an actor’s own emission reductions in 2020.” Even that’s not the end of the issues that companies need to consider. Getting to “zero,” it turns out, is no small thing. And it will loom larger in the coming months, as calls for increased corporate ambition grow, the United States (presumably) rejoins the Paris Agreement, governments edge closer to putting a price on carbon or creating other market mechanisms — and the ravages of a changing climate continue to be felt around the world. Increasingly, the makers of all those net-zero commitments will need to demonstrate that they truly are making significant progress, and fast. I invite you to follow me on Twitter , subscribe to my Monday morning newsletter, GreenBuzz , and listen to GreenBiz 350 , my weekly podcast, co-hosted with Heather Clancy. Pull Quote You’d think all this talk about ‘zero’ would add up to something, right? Not neccessarily. Topics Commitments & Goals Climate Change Net-Zero Featured Column Two Steps Forward Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off GreenBiz photocollage, via Shutterstock

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Is ‘net-zero’ greenwash?

How employee activists inspired Amazon’s Climate Pledge

September 20, 2019 by  
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Both Amazon employees and outsiders say it’s a welcome signal, but plan to continue to push the company on its climate goals.

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How employee activists inspired Amazon’s Climate Pledge

Will California’s ingredient transparency law spur safer cleaners?

September 17, 2019 by  
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Disclosure, like many cleaning products, remains the best disinfectant.

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Will California’s ingredient transparency law spur safer cleaners?

The risky economics of the new natural gas infrastructure in the United States

September 17, 2019 by  
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Low natural gas prices have helped to shutter many coal plants. Watch a similar effect on natural gas generators as clean energy becomes more affordable.

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The risky economics of the new natural gas infrastructure in the United States

When sustainability needs a two-way conversation

July 29, 2019 by  
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Mom had it right. “You’ve only one mouth but you’ve got two ears.” A new platform can help companies heed this advice.

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When sustainability needs a two-way conversation

MVRDV to dramatically revitalize Frances historic Palais du Commerce

February 14, 2019 by  
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Dutch design firm MVRDV has won a competition to renovate and expand the historic Palais du Commerce in Rennes, France. The impressive 19th century palace had once served multiple public functions but now suffers from disconnect with current civic life. Working in collaboration with co-architects Bernard Desmoulin for developers Frey and Engie Avenue, MVRDV plans to reactivate the former public building and transform it into an inviting mixed-use destination that will serve as the centerpiece of the city’s main commercial street. The 18,000-square-meter redevelopment project will include not only a building restoration with a modern 6,000-square-meter timber expansion of the Palais du Commerce, but also the reactivation of the surroundings including the transformation of the Place de la République into a pedestrian-friendly public square as well as the conversion of the Rue du Pré Botté into a landscaped pedestrian area. The landmark building will also be updated with a sensitive approach that will be respectful of its iconic 19th-century design while greatly increasing the building’s transparency. In addition to the replacement of existing windows with larger panes of glass, glazed storefronts will be added to the arches of the arcade and a new grand, winding staircase will anchor the center of the facade. “Not only is Palais du Commerce a local landmark, but its transformation will turn the Place de la République into a popular destination and act as a vital catalyst for its surroundings,” says Nathalie de Vries, founding partner of MVRDV. “Our design approaches this task with an appreciation of the building’s history, but also with an eye towards the future, helping Rennes to achieve its urban vision. The additions that we will make are clearly modern in character, clearly showcasing this design as the latest chapter in the building’s storied history.” Related: MVRDV designs solar-powered “KoolKiel” with Jenga-like architecture in Germany The building’s mixed-use program will include new shops, a hotel, offices, a co-working space, a variety of leisure spaces — including a LEGO museum, event space and an electronic music bar — and a school for the kitchen and hotel industry led by chef Thierry Marx. All spaces of the building will be used more effectively, from the basements to the roof, which will include a new bistro in the building’s central dome. Construction on the project is slated to begin in 2022, with completion expected in 2025. + MVRDV Images via ENGRAM, diagrams via MVRDV

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MVRDV to dramatically revitalize Frances historic Palais du Commerce

Whole-System Sustainability — a new CSR paradigm

November 19, 2018 by  
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A frameworks offering perspective and practical first steps needed to effectively engage companies and investors in system change.

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Whole-System Sustainability — a new CSR paradigm

3 ways radical transparency will change your business for the better

June 6, 2018 by  
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But what is radical transparency, you ask?

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3 ways radical transparency will change your business for the better

Empowering community farmers to be the catalyst for change in sustainable agriculture

June 6, 2018 by  
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Sponsored: Supporting local farmers can lead to lasting change for both the individual and the environment as a whole.

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Empowering community farmers to be the catalyst for change in sustainable agriculture

Episode 98: Cali’s chemicals law, RMI and BSR share their wisdom

October 27, 2017 by  
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In this week’s episode, companies back Cali’s chemicals labeling law; Home Depot constructs a chemicals policy; RMI at 35 and BSR at 25, examined.

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Episode 98: Cali’s chemicals law, RMI and BSR share their wisdom

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