08 Jun 2022

Pledge to Net Zero – practical steps for membership organisations

By Samantha White

Pledge to Net Zero provides organisations with a simple, accessible, free-of-charge way to work on reducing their carbon emissions.

The idea started with the aim of encouraging the environmental services sector to live up to and implement the advice they were giving their clients on sustainability, and for the profession to inform the public about the action they themselves had taken.

“The ethos is: We've got this massive challenge that we've all got to address. How can we do it together? How can we learn from each other? But also, how can we hold ourselves and each other to account?” explains Emma Wilcox, CEO of Society for the Environment (SocEnv).

There are three very simple parts to the pledge:

  1. Record and understand your organisation’s current carbon emissions, and state the figure publicly (for example on your website and in your annual report).
  2. Commit to achieving a science-based target and to reporting on the progress made against that target every year. “That public commitment and public reporting of data is important because what gets measured is what gets done,” says Emma.
  3. Give something back: whether that’s in the form of thought leadership or advice to others, with the ultimate goal of helping the community learn and move forward together.

The scheme launched in November 2019, and Society for the Environment was a founder member. Alongside SocEnv, the steering committee includes the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), Association for Consultancy and Engineering (ACE), Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland (ACEI), and Environmental Industries Commission (EIC), as well as environmental consultancies WSP and AECOM.

In 2021, Pledge to Net Zero became a partner of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Race to Zero campaign.

By February 2022, 157 organisations had signed up to the Pledge. Signatories represent a wide variety of organisations from environmental consultancies to professional bodies and membership bodies of all sizes, as well as some from the construction sector. The original signatories were mostly UK based, but the movement is becoming more international, including multinational organisations.

Pledge to Net Zero logo

Getting started

The starting point for SocEnv’s analysis of its carbon emissions, as for most organisations, was their premises. “That's where most people will find that they generate a lot of carbon, especially if they've got gas heating systems in their office.”

Next, Emma’s team looked at staff commuting and business travel. “This was pre-pandemic and going to meetings or events, or people travelling to see us in the office, played a big part.”

“We then thought about what we were buying, and that’s where it starts to get harder because there are some things you just don't know. Most of SocEnv’s purchasing involved services, so we looked at things like who provides our data services? Where is our website hosted? Where do we get our certificates printed?”

The next area to analyse is the operations processes. “If you are a manufacturing organisation, of course you're going to generate a lot more carbon than if you're a more knowledge-based organisation.”

“Capturing the information first time round to come up with the baseline is quite hard because you don't have the data to hand. But once you have done it once, you can set up a process to record it all as you go along, which makes it much easier the next year.

“At SocEnv, we've committed to a one-and-a-half-degree reduction, and to reach net zero by 2035 (though we’d like to get there much quicker). You basically draw a line between that baseline, where we are now, and that one-and-a-half degree target, and it tells you how much you need to be reducing by each year to meet that. 

“You might find that just one change can make a really big difference. For us, it was the decision we took at the onset of the pandemic to close our office permanently. Though we had done a lot virtually before then, our travel went down dramatically, and there was an associated reduction in our carbon.

“We’re a small organisation, just six or seven people, so we’re very agile, and it was easier for us to take that decision. But we need to remember that we've got six people now working at home. So what happens to their home carbon? What happens to the data that we're storing, and all that data processing, because we're using servers that we wouldn't have been doing before? So that shifts things, and you need to take the new factors into account as well.”

Sharing knowledge and experiences

“Like many of the organisations who have signed up, we have reached a point where we've reduced our carbon emissions as much as we possibly can,” says Emma.  

But the commitment doesn’t end there. A key part of the pledge is for organisations to share their plans, ideas and experiences of what went well and what didn’t, learn from each other and arrive at the best solutions, rather than each trying to work things out individually.

For example, as part of their commitment, an environmental consultancy may give advice to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access their services, explains Emma. “Or you may produce a white paper or case study for SocEnv. That collaboration is our way of giving back.”

Participants also benefit from access to an ever-increasing resource bank on the Pledge to Net Zero website, including articles, webinars hosted by expert speakers, and open forums where people discuss their experience, warts and all.

“The thing I find overall is that people are very generous with their time and their knowledge, because they want everybody to succeed. It's not a competitive thing.”

Further support can be provided through the annual reporting process. Rather than a formal audit process, a group of Chartered Environmentalists (all volunteers from organisations who have signed up to the pledge) review members’ targets and reports when they are submitted to see if they can offer any advice or suggestions for improvement. 

Emma Wilcox will be speaking at the Memcom Annual Conference 2022 on June 29th. Her presentation will include examples from some of the membership bodies who have signed up to the pledge of the changes they have made and the results they have achieved.  

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