A long-standing excuse for climate inaction — among both individuals and corporations — is that there is always some other bigger polluter.
Fuels burned in homes for heating and cooking only account for a single-digit percentage of overall global emissions. In the U.S., emissions from airplanes, ships, and trains together are still less than the total transportation emissions from cars and trucks on the roads. China accounts for about 26% of global emissions, which is about the same as the next top 5 emitters combined (U.S., India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil) or the same as the U.S., India, and all the E.U. Not only does this mindset ignore the fact that any emissions reduction should be considered a success, but it’s also a perspective of convenience — not of reality. For instance, while China’s overall emissions are higher than those of the U.S., transportation emissions in the U.S. are higher than China’s transportation emissions.
There will always be some way to find the right dataset to justify that we, in our little sphere of influence, are not the problem, placating our shareholders, our employees, or ourselves.
Even seemingly small, incremental progress is still progress — and is often how corporations should approach their own decarbonization programs anyway. Corporate decarbonization must be a transformational endeavor, but it does not necessarily require an instant, drastic overhaul. Managed change can still lead to the transformational results necessary for organizations to reach their carbon commitments.
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Corporate climate action does require significant changes to how an organization operates, but that doesn’t always equate to having to find some way to immediately cut emissions in half with one intervention. Even where there may be an intervention available with huge potential impacts, those may require more significant investment in time and resources. The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) encourages companies to achieve a 42% reduction in their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 2030. That can feel daunting, but that’s the same as a 7-8% year-over-year decrease for each of the next 7 years. Companies that focus on making small new changes each year, mixing together solutions, and building a holistic plan will see those significant reductions to their overall emissions. Identifying multiple ways to reduce carbon emissions by a few percentage points here and there can not only put a company on track to reach their objectives, but do it in a way that doesn’t add costs.
Today there are proven decarbonization solutions for every company, but some sectors do face technological limitations. This only reinforces the need for ongoing, incremental changes to strategy and implementation. It’s essential to continually be reassessing, investigating, and stress-testing available and emerging options. Waiting idly for the perfect solution to emerge or assuming we can use last year’s answers for this year’s problems will not be enough to achieve carbon commitments or business objectives. Corporate decarbonization is a work in progress and will be until global carbon goals are achieved.
In our upcoming 2024 Net Zero Report, we will be discussing the need for corporations to treat decarbonization as a transformational endeavor — not a business-as-usual project with limited scope. Some of our initial findings are encouraging, including that more than 70% of organizations surveyed said they are willing to make fundamental changes to their business models in order to achieve long-term decarbonization commitments, with about half of all respondents saying they’re already working toward doing so. That work of making continual changes and improvements, even to fundamental aspects of an organization, and even if those changes are small and incremental, will be what continues to differentiate companies from their competitors and give them an advantage in the market.
In a world where the magnitude of global emissions can often overshadow individual and corporate efforts, it's imperative to recognize that every reduction, no matter how small, represents a step toward a more sustainable future. The practice of conveniently shifting responsibility onto larger polluters delays the collective progress we urgently need.
Embracing incremental change is an effective approach for corporations in their pursuit of meaningful decarbonization — showing a path to carbon reduction through manageable, yearly adjustments. We each play a part in the global effort to combat climate change through incremental progress, a readiness to evolve strategies, and a dedication to continuous improvement. We should celebrate each step forward, knowing it is all progress toward desired results.
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