The Case for Net Zero for Climate Action Business Leaders — and Understanding What It Means
May 6, 2021
How B Corps Can Address and Reduce Carbon Emission Sources While Centering Their Work in Climate Justice
Businesses in the Certified B Corporation community benefit from collaboration, sharing best practices as well as challenges involved with operating in the interest of all stakeholders. B Corps are also known for innovations in climate action that reduce their environmental impact, put people at the center of climate action, and, increasingly, actually benefit the planet.
As climate action leaders in the business community, more than 500 B Corps in 2019 committed to net zero by 2030, publicly promising to accelerate the reduction of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Hundreds more have since joined them, both within and outside the B Corp community. An increasing number of large companies, including some in industries with a history of negative environmental impact, are announcing efforts to pursue net zero status for carbon emissions. This has some climate advocates questioning the credibility of these claims and asking companies to pursue net zero through long-term changes that measure and reduce GHG emissions rather than solely relying on the purchase of carbon offsets.
B Corps that have committed to net zero by 2030 are pursuing strategies that first and foremost reduce emissions wherever possible. Only then do they use verified offsets that emphasize carbon removal projects to balance emissions that cannot be eliminated. Through the transparent pursuit of these goals and the use of science-based targets, B Corps can ensure they are creating meaningful GHG reduction strategies.
To learn more, B The Change editors spoke with leaders of the B Corp Climate Collective, a volunteer-led, global community of B Corp leaders, and the B Global Climate Task Force, a strategy council made up of staff members throughout the B Lab and Sistema B Global network. They shared how B Corps are mobilizing globally to address the climate emergency and pursue a zero-carbon economy while centering that work in climate justice.
Climate Justice Playbook for Business
This practical guide from B Lab features information to help business leaders understand the intersection of climate action and social justice and advance a justice-centered approach to climate action.
Since the Net Zero 2030 proclamation in December 2019, how have B Corps in the climate collective advanced work on that commitment?
There are now almost 900 B Corps from over 50 countries committed to net zero by 2030. This coalition continues to grow and is leading the way as part of a broader climate mobilization of the global B Corp community. These efforts are leveraging B Corps’ unique credibility as leaders of responsible business practice with the community’s readiness for collective voice and action.
Highlights of this work since 2019 include:
- More than 2,000 business leaders on six continents working in action groups as part of the B Corp Climate Collective, sharing climate knowledge and best practices with one another and the world.
- Hosting and contributing to more than 200 local, regional, and global climate dialogues and learning sessions, including in collaboration with TEDx Countdown, the United Nations, the Skoll World Forum, the World Economic Forum, Oxford University, and Harvard University.
- Launch of the B Climate Tools Base in April 2021, in partnership with Oxford Net Zero, with more than 400 users in 43 countries.
- The creation and release of original resources for climate action, including the Climate Emergency Playbook and the Climate Justice Playbook for Business.
- Deep collaboration with partners including the UNFCCC’s Race to Zero team, Oxford Net Zero, Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, TED Countdown, Ceres, Climate Collaborative, and others.
How can B Corps that have committed to reduce their GHG as part of Net Zero 2030 best communicate the realities of this work?
Taking meaningful action in addressing the climate emergency is not a competition — it must be seen as a collective, collaborative effort if we are to make significant progress. For so long, we’ve thought about competition as fundamental to doing business, but climate action simply won’t work that way. It means sharing power, knowledge, and resources rather than hoarding them.
We’ve been inspired by members of the B Corp community stepping up as a true collective. One recent example of this is Allbirds’ full-page ad in The New York Times making their carbon footprint calculator open source at FreeTheFootprint.com while asking their competitors to “steal” their approach. This is the type of action that we must have and promote more so that we can transcend traditional competitive models to come together and devise solutions.
The B Climate Tools Base, created in partnership with a team of researchers at Oxford University, offers free downloadable resources to meet B Corps wherever they are on the journey to net zero and to help them communicate the realities they are facing.
For companies just learning how to communicate their climate journey, it’s also worth reviewing sustainability/CSR reports from other companies, especially B Corps that excel at transparent reporting.
How can B Corps serve as climate leaders in regards to net zero strategies?
As businesses committed to using business for good, including long-term improvement and measurable results, B Corps have a critical role to play both in delivering concretely and credibly against net zero commitments — but also in going beyond net zero in their practices and policies.
As many large multinational companies making very visible net zero announcements, criticism has been raised as to whether these company claims are credible, with concerns including whether they rely too heavily on offsets rather than reducing GHG emissions. B Lab and the B Corp Climate Collective are closely monitoring these concerns and working with global partners, including the UNFCCC Climate Champion, Race to Zero teams, and the Oxford Net Zero team, to make sure that B Corps’ net zero commitments are aligned with scientific consensus. B Lab also has representation on the Race to Zero Expert Peer Review Group, which is responsible for advising on these topics.
There are ongoing revisions occurring at Race to Zero and the Science Based Targets initiative. Based on those developments, the Net Zero 2030 commitment is likely to be refined to ensure that B Corps’ commitments as a community remain aligned with best practices and emerging consensus. They will likely need to show concrete, demonstrable action and progress toward decarbonization and that their actions are centered in justice.
As leaders in the business community, B Corps have a responsibility to continually learn and adapt their commitments to align with the emerging consensus. They also must push for additional progress and improvement. Beyond net zero commitments, three areas where B Corps are uniquely leading, both individually and collectively, are in climate justice, climate advocacy, and climate action. Here are a few examples:
- In Brazil, Natura has preserved almost 1.8 million hectares of Amazonian rainforest and supported 4,300 small farmers to develop sustainable business models that benefit both the farmers and the world’s largest tropical rainforest.
- By calculating its Scope 3 emissions, UK-based Pukka Herbs, recognized the largest carbon impact lies in boiling the kettle for its teas. So the company launched a public campaign to encourage tea drinkers to only boil as much as they need. Additionally, Pukka Herbs has been carbon neutral from crop to cup since 2019.
- The global publication The Guardian Media Group has changed its language to recognize the severity of the climate crisis — choosing climate emergency, crisis, or breakdown instead of global warming or climate change — and no longer accepts advertising from fossil fuel extractive companies.
- In Spain, Holaluz is transforming energy production toward a distributed model by providing free solar panels through its Rooftop Revolution program, with the aim of doubling the amount of renewable energy produced.
- The Dutch B Corp Dopper, which makes water bottles, has moved to a fully circular model with cradle-to-cradle certification.
- Sendle in Australia is a carbon-neutral shipper using wasted space on delivery trucks resulting from next-day deliveries.
B Corps in the climate collective are also working closely to pool knowledge on a range of climate topics — from climate activism to employee engagement to policy advocacy — to create powerful tools to help all businesses on their climate journeys.
Why is it important for B Corps and other businesses to center climate justice in their work?
As the source of the vast majority of the planet’s GHG, the business sector is uniquely culpable for the climate emergency. The business sector is therefore responsible for demonstrating leadership in eliminating emissions, drawing down carbon as rapidly as possible, and directly addressing the injustices brought about or exacerbated by climate change. Business leaders often get trapped in the notion that climate action is only about decarbonization. But when companies pursue decarbonization journeys without taking into account the impacts of their decisions on people, they reduce the potential of those efforts and, at worst, do harm. Climate and justice are fully interdependent.
Climate and human rights organizations agree that climate change impacts people differently and in profoundly unjust ways. Climate justice is the recognition that climate change is a human-made crisis that has primarily been wrought by those with economic power and privilege. The effects of climate change have a disproportionately negative impact on the historically marginalized and underserved — primarily People of Color and low-income communities around the world. Addressing climate justice means advancing climate solutions that link human rights and development in a human-centered approach, placing the needs, voices, and leadership of those who are most impacted at the forefront.
Find specific examples in the Climate Justice Playbook for Business.
B Impact Assessment
Businesses in the Certified B Corporation community have used a third-party verification of their impact. Use the free B Impact Assessment to evaluate your company’s impact on all stakeholders, including the environment, your workers, your community and your customers
For businesses just beginning net zero work, what resources or steps do you recommend?
A great place to start is with the Tools Library Framework found on the upper left in the B Climate Tools Base where step one on this journey should be to pledge and set climate targets. All resources in the library are tagged to different phases in a company’s climate journey. Also consider reading some foundational articles found on the B Corp Climate Collective website, many of them created by B Corps working in collaboration.
In beginning this journey, focus on making progress in decarbonization, including Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, which often is most difficult in the supply chain. Setting a net zero commitment and then buying a bunch of offsets is not enough. Doing the hard work and making the hard choices necessary to reduce the actual carbon footprint is what matters most, both in terms of its actual impact on the future but also in terms of a company’s reputation.
Lastly, find ways to center people and justice in your work. This transition to a zero-carbon future must be just to truly be sustainable.
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