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Businesses are being held accountable for their emissions, but are we giving them the tools to make good on corporate sustainability promises?

We’re now closer to the 2030 deadlines outlined in the Paris Agreement than we are to its 2015 drafting, as the COP28 summit continues to play out in Dubai this month.

Yet statistics show that many of the world’s biggest historical emitters still have a long way to go, both in translating policy into results and outlining concrete, aggressive action plans for cutting emissions in time to avert catastrophic impacts.

With government policies lagging, our society relies on the private sector to significantly reduce emissions. But even with regulations in place to guide them, truly moving the needle would arguably require major businesses to exceed those mandated standards and accelerate their decarbonization efforts at a much more rigorous pace.

The cold hard truth is that emissions from a small group of businesses in the private sector are what got us into this mess in the first place. And while it’s easy to blame corporations and implore them to fix their pollution problem, too often finger-pointing is where the accountability ends.

What Gets Measured, Gets Managed

While businesses bear a large responsibility to lead on net zero, the difficult question remains: Are we providing a path for them to course-correct?

The short answer is no, we’re not. We must remove several major roadblocks preventing businesses from achieving net zero.

First, better education on emissions is needed – especially on where emissions are coming from. It’s problematic that much of the world doesn’t realize the built environment is one of society’s largest emitters, responsible for nearly 40 percent of harmful emissions.

One solution is addressing how we assess and measure net zero progress as a society. Arbitrary corporate pledges don’t cut it, numbers do.

What gets measured, gets managed and we need standardization. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is the best standard against which to measure Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions. A majority of companies already use this standard, but tracking emissions alone is hardly enough. We need better financial data.

Arbitrary corporate pledges don’t cut it, numbers do.

To incentivize the C-suite toward net zero, companies need return-on-investment (ROI) data to make the economic case for slashing emissions.

My own organization, the Global Network for Zero, conducted research with business leaders across the United States and found that none of them had enough good ROI data to make the case to stakeholders and investors for the benefits of greening existing buildings.

That’s an extraordinary problem given the stakes, especially since the numbers themselves fall in sustainability’s favor.

We know that energy efficient buildings save their owners money, and moreover, corporate sustainability in general is good for business. So why has communicating this ROI potential to business leaders become increasingly more challenging, when it should be a silver bullet for scaling decarbonization?

Democratizing Net Zero

For one thing, measurements need to be shared. Data needs to be decentralized. Our research showed business leaders lack accurate information on the best net zero practices implemented by their peers that deliver them an ROI.

To democratize net zero pathways for businesses, not only do we need to break down the traditional silos that prohibit sharing net zero best practices, but ESG leaders need access to the networks of their peers and a road map of proven steps toward net zero.

Furthermore, the gatekeeping of information around greening existing buildings has helped feed a common misconception that net zero is a one-size-fits-all approach. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

With businesses accessing more guidance and best practices, each company will be better informed and able to design its own incremental path. Incremental progress is what will drive accelerated decarbonization. I’ve seen firsthand that consistent action across sectors, by businesses of all sizes, makes more of an impact than a few mega-corporations that achieve instant certification.

ESG leaders need access to the networks of their peers and a road map of proven steps toward net zero.

But even with good data and tools, the public discourse around corporate climate responsibility has become noisy and perilous. The concept of ESG has become a political football, and most Americans admit they don’t understand what it is.

Additionally, companies making progress or utilizing offsets of any kind fear greenwashing allegations so much that they’re now doing what’s known as greenhushing – staying silent on the very progress that could serve as valuable insight.

If we’re to ensure companies reduce and eliminate emissions with greater efficiency, we need to eliminate barriers and thoroughly explore new options for a net zero future for business.

Roadblocks continue to stifle substantive efforts to act on and, more importantly, accelerate 2030 targets. Eliminating them will help not only businesses doing the right thing, but consumers holding them accountable.

Mahesh Ramanujam

Contributor Collective Member

Driven by his belief in a brighter future, the Global Network for Zero Co-Founder, President and CEO Mahesh Ramanujam convenes a coalition of leaders dedicated to progressing society toward greater ESG compliance and ultimately a zero greenhouse gas economy. An investor, convener and unifier with decades of experience leading global technology platforms, Mahesh focuses on integration and interoperability for optimal results in the sustainability sector. Mahesh regularly delivers keynotes at large events like Greenbuild, where he has secured and interviewed high-profile guests like Amal Clooney, Dan Levy, renowned architect Bjarke Ingels and former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Learn more at https://www.globalnetworkforzero.com/

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