Jim Bailey is CEO Americas at Capgemini.
Reducing CO2 emissions is not a new concept. But the past year has been a greater service has taken place for many businesses and governments, elevating environmental sustainability from an urgent discussion to a critical priority. According to the Net Zero Tracker, more than 30% of the world’s 2,000 largest publicly traded companies have made “net zero” commitments, meaning their sustainability efforts would offset the emissions they produce.
These commitments are not only admirable, but also an essential starting point. An organization willing to do its part to protect the planet is a great example of what it means to be a responsible business. My company is one of these organizations that is moving towards carbon neutrality and net zero emissions in the coming years, and we are working hard to help our customers achieve the same.
Yet promises only go so far, and companies that ‘talk the talk’ will soon have to ‘walk the walk’. A rule proposal from the Securities and Exchange Commission would require companies to: disclose their greenhouse gas emissions. The proposal should be a wake-up call for organizations to scrutinize their sustainability ambitions as, regardless of their claims, they may need to demonstrate progress. And at that point, it won’t just be the SEC that they’re answering to, but their loyal customers and the wider market.
Sincerity and follow-up are now more important than ever. In recent years, consumers have made it clear that they prioritize investing in sustainable brands. Those same consumers will demand results or possibly go elsewhere.
To avoid falling behind and risk losing customer loyalty, here are three actions organizations can take to stay on track toward their emissions reduction targets:
Activate the sustainability strategy.
Having the right plan in place is critical to building a sustainability program for success, but spending too long analyzing and discussing it will slow down the actions that deliver the results. Organizations need to map out a clear roadmap for short- and long-term goals and then get going. Until the journey begins, the company cannot evaluate what is working and make the necessary adjustments to fix what is not working. Sustainability initiatives are relatively new to many companies, and some of the most impactful lessons are likely to be learned in real time. Those insights only emerge once the activation has begun.
Be prepared to correct naturally.
Once the sustainability strategy is in motion, a company must continuously monitor its progress to ensure it is aligned with its timeline. If an organization struggles to meet its objectives and the early phases are not executed as planned, it must be prepared to correct course. Change is constant and no one is immune to unforeseen disruptions that affect market conditions. Having the visibility to discover that a change is needed is one thing, but the willingness to re-evaluate and update the plan is another. In these scenarios, companies cannot be stubborn. They need to adjust their approach and get back on track to reduce their emissions.
Identify initiatives that deliver business benefits.
Becoming a net zero company doesn’t happen overnight. Reducing the level of emissions needed to achieve this, especially for large enterprises, requires coordination and commitment on a global scale. Bringing an initiative to fruition has its costs, but companies pursuing their goals can get around this roadblock by cutting emissions in ways that also deliver business benefits.
For example, a pharmaceutical company can implement sustainable processes in its factories and replace outdated technology systems to reduce its environmental footprint for both operations and IT. Research by my company shows that taking steps towards sustainability can ultimately save costs, improve efficiency, increase innovation and improve brand reputation. When sustainability initiatives deliver business benefits, it’s easier to earn buy-in and financial support to expand them.
Many organizations have expressed their support for a cleaner, greener world. By activating their well-planned strategies, monitoring progress, correcting course if necessary, and identifying initiatives that also deliver business benefits, companies can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability in a tangible way. Just talking about reducing emissions is no longer enough. It’s time to get to work.