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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


8 May 2019 – To stay within the boundaries of the Paris Agreement, Europe needs to accelerate efforts to achieve a carbon neutral future and put climate change at the top of the EU agenda. Frank van der Vloed highlights five key steps that are critical for businesses to make the transition.

This spring, two faces from two generations brought us the same urgent warning about the future of our planet if we don’t address climate change now. For their supporters, the teenage Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg and veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough have arguably done more to raise the alarm than any government in the 30 years since we confirmed mankind’s role in climate change.

The powerful mix of an esteemed natural historian sharing his view of the plight of our world and the refusal to accept the status quo of a teenager inheriting that world was followed by a dramatic climate protest when Extinction Rebellion brought London to a standstill. Satellite events took place around the world.

As a result, climate change has received renewed attention, putting traditionally closed-door government and industry discussions under public scrutiny. The consensus is clear – we must do more. We must seize upon this pioneering spirit and build lasting momentum and leadership if we are to avoid reaching a climate change point of no return.

At Signify we’ve made a commitment to becoming carbon neutral in all our operations in 2020 – and we’re well on our way. That is why we are calling on European Governments to bring forward the deadline for European carbon neutrality to 2050. We think it’s achievable.

Together with the members of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group and signatories to Step Up Now, we believe that to stay within the boundaries of the Paris Agreement, we need to accelerate efforts to achieve a carbon neutral future and put climate change at the top of the EU agenda. This will also unlock social and economic benefits for European citizens, boost job creation and stimulate social cohesion, steering us to a fairer, more inclusive Europe. This would be the best legacy we can leave for future generations.

What’s good for the planet is good for economies

Climate change as a result of just 1 degree Celsius of warming is starting to threaten industries around the world. Agriculture is perhaps the most visible example, but industries as diverse as the drinks business and tourism are increasingly being affected (due to water and snow shortages). Unmanaged, climate change stands to degrade worker health, disrupt business operations and supply chains across Europe and damage assets, making European prosperity all but impossible when temperatures rise 2 degrees or more.

Caring for the environment cannot be just an add-on for a business, however. Transitioning to carbon neutrality brings new opportunities – new markets, jobs and industries – alongside the societal benefits of cleaner air, healthier lifestyles and a more sustainable natural environment. European Commission modelling shows that net-zero emissions could result in benefits of up to 2% of GDP for Europe by 2050.

European policy makers can build on this new momentum and show leadership in Europe by setting far more ambitious targets. We all need to embrace a philosophy where sustainability is central to everything we do. Our own experience becoming carbon neutral in geographies such as North America, proves this. That’s why we’ve committed to be completely carbon neutral by 2020.

So how can businesses go about making operations carbon neutral? Our experience highlighted five key steps that are critical to making the transition:

1. Science-based targets

To improve, first you need a baseline and achievable, impactful targets. Signing up to the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTI) is a straightforward way for organizations to align operations with the changes required.

2. Built environment

Buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of energy usage and 36% of CO2 emissions in the EU, so improving the efficiency of old buildings and ensuring new buildings are carbon neutral by design will make significant inroads to carbon reduction targets.

The World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment provides a framework that can help reduce energy demand and achieve net zero carbon emissions for buildings by 2050.

3. Vehicles

Businesses own over half of all registered vehicles on the road. It is crucial they lead the shift to electric vehicles through their investment decisions and influence on millions of staff and customers worldwide.

Building and electric vehicle policies need to be created in tandem, lowering costs associated with both. By working in tandem, the switch to electric vehicles can be an effective driver for building efficiency, which in turn is likely to provide the lowest-cost option to address electric vehicle grid infrastructure needs.

Businesses should consider joining EV100 – a global initiative by The Climate Group bringing together forward-looking companies committed to accelerating the transition to electric vehicles (EVs) and making electric transport the new normal by 2030.

4. Renewable energy

Moving to renewable energy sources, combined with more efficient energy usage will help break European reliance on energy imports, improving the competitiveness of European businesses and delivering the EU’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

So, let us take inspiration from the visions of Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough to create sustainable change that benefits our planet. We therefore urge European Governments to make 2050 the deadline for European carbon neutrality, and to back more aggressive targets and encourage businesses to be at the leading edge of creating a more prosperous, sustainable world.

A version of this blog was first published on the EURACTIV website.


Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.


Frank van der Vloed

Frank van der Vloed is President Europe at Signify, a world leader in lighting solutions for professionals, consumers and the Internet of Things.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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