With ongoing debates and the ISO standard on carbon neutrality still in discussion, are you looking for solid guidelines for exemplary communication about your climate commitments? Faced with the pitfalls of corporate greenwashing, communicating about your climate efforts can feel like a minefield!
In order to limit climate change in accordance with the latest scientific knowledge, we all must get involved. Your organisation has a role to play in facilitating action by society as a whole, as quickly as possible. In the face of the climate emergency, we know that we must act and report on our actions in the most transparent and responsible way possible.
Stakeholders are increasingly demanding and sometimes require transparent and thoughtful communication. The lack of a standardised framework and methodology on corporate carbon neutrality or net zero used to be an obstacle to effective communication.
The new net-zero emissions standard for businesses
Presently, businesses can adopt the world’s first net-zero emissions standard that is compatible with the Paris Agreement and was launched by the Science-based Targets initiative (SBTi) ahead of COP26. This standard requires deep decarbonisation of 90-95% of emissions by 2050, and sets out near- and long-term targets for the entire value chain. The remaining 5 to 10% of value chain emissions should be removed from the atmosphere and sequestered in carbon sinks in order to achieve net-zero. In addition to the ongoing reduction, companies are encouraged to invest in carbon offset projects that reduce emissions outside their value chain. To find out more about Net-Zero Standard, read our article.
What are the challenges of communicating your climate commitments?
In the race to meet global climate targets, organisations around the world are required to communicate their climate impact and commitments to reduce it.
Momentum is gathering. For example, the Race to Zero campaign is mobilising a coalition of leading net-zero initiatives representing 733 cities, 31 regions, 3,067 businesses, 173 of the world’s largest investors and 622 higher education institutions. These economic actors join 120 countries in the largest ever alliance committing to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Collectively these actors now cover nearly 25% global CO2 emissions and over 50% of global GDP.
Communicating effectively not only demonstrates compliance with national and international regulations, but also shows foresight and increased ambition. Well-managed and convincing communication can strongly influence an organisation’s image, but above all it is a powerful driver of change. Raising awareness and sharing innovative climate solutions can lead to real and lasting change for your organisation.
Similarly, engaging the public and other stakeholders through responsible communication contributes to the success of your climate efforts. Effective communication fosters dialogue and unites people around the common goal of acting to preserve the climate and the biodiversity of our ecosystems.
What are the main challenges in getting your message across?
The major problem for corporate commitments was the absence, not only of a strict and ambitious regulatory framework, but also of a recognised voluntary standard reflecting the latest scientific knowledge. As a result, the language used to talk about climate commitments and actions is often highly technical, sometimes imprecise, and can even be misleading. The challenge is therefore to be technically correct, accurate, and consistent with the latest climate science, while being accessible to your stakeholders.
The launch of the Net-Zero Standard is a significant step towards harmonising companies’ voluntary commitments by providing a standardised definition of the objectives towards net-zero emissions at company level and a robust framework to guide corporate climate action.
Valuing your organisation’s voluntary climate action
In this essential step on your journey to net zero, you have a twofold objective that can be summarised as follows:
- Demonstrate your climate efforts and progress so as to differentiate your communications from those of less ambitious competitors.
- Follow best practice when communicating your climate-related commitment, in order to avoid reputational risks.
Our guidelines for communicating about your climate impact
The golden rule is to be transparent. In practical terms, this means reporting on your organisation’s full carbon footprint, calculated in tCO2, clearly specifying:
- The organisational, geographical and emissions scope of your carbon footprint. The objective here is to report on all significant direct and indirect emissions (3 Scopes). Consequently, it is crucial to justify any exclusions and to precisely identify your significant emissions (which are often in Scope 3).
- The standardised and recognised calculation methodology used (ISO 14 064, GHG Protocol, Bilan Carbone®, etc.).
- The breakdown by scope of emissions and by category of emissions.
Ensure that you have met all GHG reporting obligations before communicating your voluntary approach.
Our guidelines for reporting your climate commitments
First and foremost, clarify the scope as outlined above. Keep in mind that this communication should be clear and accessible to the general public. Thus, we recommend you offer an easy-to-understand comparison (e.g. an average carbon footprint equivalent to that of a well-known city).
Your communication should include detailed targets for reducing your carbon footprint across the value chain. Most importantly, your communications should demonstrate a long-term vision aligned with the net-zero goal and supported by an ambitious yet achievable action plan to reduce direct and indirect emissions, based on climate science (e.g. a science-based target). This means that the reduction must be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C trajectory or with the net zero global goal as described by the IPCC.
Reduction is your first objective, complemented by the offsetting or the neutralisation* of residual emissions. It is essential to specify the emissions that you remove from the atmosphere, for example via the enhancement of carbon sinks.
If you adopt the Net-Zero Standard, it is important to note that the removal* of CO2 from the atmosphere and its sequestration into carbon sinks refers to the remaining emissions within the value chain following the 90-95% reduction in total emissions from Scopes 1, 2 and 3 by 2050. However, from now on and in parallel to the reduction in line with the net-zero target, companies are invited to invest in carbon offset projects enabling the reduction of emissions outside their value chain.
Communicating about your achievements
Be transparent about your progress against previously set targets. The key is to communicate in an integrated way, supported by quantified results and clear references to the norms or standards you have used. Indeed, the offsetting targets must be directly linked to the reduction targets with reference to residual emissions. Companies should feel comfortable talking about activities that need improvement, in an open manner, e.g., listing also challenges ahead (it reinforces their willingness to meet their targets).
Some things to bear in mind before making statements
Be aware that the definition of carbon neutrality and net zero are being debated by reference bodies such as ISO and UNFCCC. Therefore, changes may occur in the near future.
We recommend relying on standards, rather than using non-standardised terms that imply no impact, such as ‘carbon-free’, ‘zero-carbon’, ‘carbon-negative’ or ‘carbon/climate positive’, as well as the term ‘climate neutral’.
We recommend claims that illustrate that your efforts put you on a trajectory consistent with the most robust long-term goal of net-zero emissions**, such as
- Aligned with the net-zero ambition;
- Compatible with the global net-zero target;
- On a path to net zero
- Contributing to the net-zero transition.
Thus, communicate your commitment to net-zero emissions, but do not claim having achieved it. It is strongly recommended that you monitor legislation evolution to avoid legal risks.
Promote the initiatives that will help you transition to net zero
Showcase the transformation of your business model that is needed to make the transition to net zero feasible. This is an opportunity to communicate on your eco-design and technological innovation that help you avoid emissions, as well as on your progress in climate risk and opportunities assessments that help you adapt and transform. It is particularly important to showcase how your innovative solutions create real impact on the ground, to people.
Finally, for maximum credibility, bear in mind that validation by an independent third party will help your organisation move from a declarative model to a performative model based on results.
For more information and advice on defining and implementing net zero strategies, please see our practical AtoZero guide.
*Neutralisation (also referred to as removal): measures that companies take to remove carbon from the atmosphere and permanently store it to counterbalance the impact of emissions that remain unabated (not yet reduced).
**According to the SBTi’s standard, net-zero implies that companies commit to a deep decarbonisation of 90-95% before 2050. Only once this condition is met, the SBTi recommends to ‘neutralise’* the emissions that cannot yet be reduced. The ‘neutralisation’* of these emissions can take the form of removing carbon from the atmosphere through nature-based solutions (such as reforestation) or through technological means (capture and storage). “A company will have achieved zero net emissions, when it has achieved this long-term goal“