The top three most asked questions about sustainability By Charles Naud

Thanks to the increasingly widespread interest in environmental and social issues, I am often asked about my role as a sustainability professional and the sustainability industry.  Today I’ll be sharing the top three most commonly asked sustainability questions I get as well as the answers I provide whenever they pop up.

1. What’s the difference between net zero and carbon neutrality?

Net zero and carbon neutrality are both strategies and commitments that organisations take to negate their contribution to the climate crisis. Both strategies involve measuring greenhouse gas emissions – or carbon emissions, as they’re more commonly referred to.

Carbon neutrality is achieved when a company has purchased offsets to compensate for all the carbon they have emitted as their organisation. An offset corresponds to an amount of carbon that has been removed from the atmosphere, for example, the planting of trees that suck carbon from the atmosphere. A credible carbon neutrality strategy will ensure that the amount of carbon emitted was reduced as much as possible before offsetting the residual emissions.

Net zero is achieved when the inherent activities of an organisation result in no more carbon being added to the atmosphere than the amount taken out by that same organisation. This means that the organisation has either emitted no emissions at all in any of its operations or, as is more likely to be the case, any emissions the organisation cannot avoid, are compensated through a carbon reduction activity elsewhere. Importantly, net zero goes beyond the boundaries of the reporting organisation and includes its supply chain’s activities.

The graphic below outlines the key steps in a carbon reduction strategy to work towards lower carbon emissions and dealing with any residual, hard-to-decarbonise emissions.

Action Sustainability have committed to becoming a net zero company by 2030, and now major organisations are frequently committing to a net zero policy, even countries have pledged to hit net zero targets. For example, the UK has a legally binding net zero target by 2050.

If you’re interested in learning more about net zero and carbon neutrality, the Supply Chain Sustainability School offers free resources on both topics and a huge range of sustainability topics.

2. Do you help companies reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions?

Yes, we do, but the purpose of reducing energy consumption is to minimise carbon emissions, and costs often as a secondary objective. In practice, we help in finding ways to optimise and become more efficient. For example, improving the use of machinery, reducing travel, and turning the lights off.

It’s important to understand that carbon emissions are associated with most of our activities, the services we buy and the goods we procure. You can think of the energy used to extract raw materials, the fuel used to transport them to a manufacturing facility, then to manufacture a physical product from those materials. What about when you throw away a product, what are the carbon emissions associated with treating the waste, recycling the materials, etc.?

Most often, the majority of our emissions are embedded in our supply chains. If you’re serious about tackling your contribution to global warming, it’s paramount you understand the carbon footprint of your suppliers and collaborate with them on reduction initiatives. That’s why we’ve created a free carbon calculator that helps suppliers measure their emissions and report them to their corporate customers.

Remember though, sustainability shouldn’t be reduced to just carbon emissions. You should consider all the environmental, social, and economic impacts of your activities. By taking a more holistic view, you’ll find problematics tend to be interconnected and better tackled through a wider strategic approach.

3. Is this mostly about PR/marketing?

The short answer is, as you might expect, of course not. It’s widely known that some companies use sustainability to improve their brand image, and unfortunately, those are often the ones to make headlines. Yes, being a sustainable organisation undeniably provides countless commercial benefits, broadly speaking through reduced costs, better risk management, stronger brand image and employee retention.

But sustainability initiatives are primarily focused on the environmental and social benefits they provide. Ultimately, behind organisations sit individuals who are under scrutiny from their clients, investors, employees, and society at large to make tangible positive change.

Look at the People Matter Charter and its more than 120 signatories. This initiative is ensuring employees are paid the real living wage, and that businesses are proactive in their fight against modern slavery and workplace discrimination of minorities. For more examples of tangible sustainability impacts, go to our case studies page and find out who we’ve helped.

You can get in touch with  Charles Naud to discuss how we can guide you in building a comprehensive, measurable and tangible sustainability programme for your organisation.

Charles Naud is the Head of Product for the Sustainability Tool.

[email protected]

For more information

Charles Naud
Head of Product
[email protected]

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