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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

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11 December 2020 – A new framework developed by leading sustainability institute CISL aims to support business planning to become climate neutral by 2050.

The business briefing, published in the lead up to the fifth anniversary of the UNFCCC Paris Agreement, was researched with insights from key multinational businesses including, Unilever, Danone, IKEA, Interface and Lloyds Banking Group. It features a foreword from CISL’s Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, who has long advocated for business and policy leadership to tackle climate change – most recently with his Sustainable Markets Initiative.

This world first in offering companies a strategic framework for how to reach net zero through radical transformation across the business, value chains and economies, actively moves the debate from pledges and commitments to the delivery of action that is essential for a stable climate.

Lindsay Hooper, CISL’s Executive Director of Education said:

“We are entering the decade of delivery and all credible evidence points to the fact that a healthy planet goes hand in hand with healthy populations and economies. The private sector has a vital role to play and the consensus is forming that decarbonisation makes good business sense.

“This new framework is the first of its kind and we hope it will act as a roadmap for corporate action needed to achieve net zero. Emissions must now be cut deeply and quickly across all areas of the economy if we are to get on track for the Paris Agreement and climate neutrality by 2050. What we need now is bold and effective leadership which is committed to delivering the transition; leadership that steps up to shape new markets and transition pathways, to establish new norms. Delay will only make the size of the challenge greater and the costs of the solutions higher.”

Targeting Net Zero: A strategic framework for business action admits achieving net zero will not be easy and ‘will require companies in all sectors to act quickly and effectively to remove carbon emissions from their operations, their supply chains and from the use and disposal of their products and services’. It also warns that failing to decarbonise rapidly enough will lead to the even more exacting challenge of creating a net negative emissions economy ‘in which new technology and nature-based solutions are deployed at scale and in economically viable ways to safely remove greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere’.

Alan Jope, CEO, Unilever said:

“The actions we take in this decade will decide whether we achieve net zero by 2050.  It’s as simple as that.  This report gives businesses clear plans and strategies to help deliver the Paris Agreement – and eradicate the false dichotomy between sustainability and economic growth.”

The new report draws on CISL’s work with policymakers, financial organisations and businesses coupled with interviews with senior decision-makers. It has identified four tasks to help businesses develop a strategic response to net zero:

  • Alignment of organisational purpose, strategy and business models
  • Setting business goals and evidence-based targets, measuring the right things and reporting progress
  • Embed net zero practices in own operations and supply chains
  • Engage, collaborate and advocate for change across regions, sectors and markets

Nigel Stansfield, President, Interface Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia (EAAA) said:

“The supply chain plays a crucial role in reimagining how manufacturers create products that are more sustainable, and respond to a climate emergency. For Interface, using carbon as a resource has transformed how we make our flooring products. Through innovation and partnership, we have made carbon neutral a minimum standard across our portfolio and we are focused on our next goal of carbon negative products. This is only the beginning. As a company we have committed to become a carbon negative enterprise by 2040.”

This framework for business builds on CISL’s Rewiring the Economy plan and sets out the core components the organisation believes are essential for any company looking to be fully aligned with net zero by 2050.

Harry Verhaar, Head of Global Public & Government Affairs, Signify said:

“When considering the need to firm up our collective climate commitment and accelerate action we should come to realize that climate action is not an uphill battle but is quickly becoming a race to the future. In the quest for net zero the companies and sectors that lead the transition will survive as it is their products and services that people and society will need and acquire.”

Johanna Köb Head of Responsible Investment, Zurich Insurance Group, said:

“I firmly believe that adopting a hopeful mindset centred on the opportunities presented by a net zero future will accelerate the shift we need to see – namely, from ambition to action. Hope, innovation and opportunity are some of the strongest drivers of change, both for society as a whole and for companies. At the end of the day – we will all create the future with our collective actions. Time to chart the course we want.”

Geoff Kendall, co-Founder & CEO, Future-Fit Business said:

“Setting a net zero target is easy, but reaching it will require a shift in both metrics and mindsets. We didn’t get to the moon by thinking “let’s get to the top of Everest and worry about the next step when we get there”. We started with the end in mind. That’s what all good designers do, and all business leaders must become designers now.” 

Sjoerd Dijkstra, Global Lead Strategic Marketing, DSM Resins and Functional Materials, said:

“Business have historically pointed towards the market or regulation to defend their business-as-usual. Given the enormous societal impact global warming has, this needs to change. Companies must look in the mirror and ask themselves, how and what do I need to contribute. Those businesses that take on a net zero strategy are futureproofing their and their customers business.”

Håkan Nordkvist, Innovation & Development Manager at Ingka Group (IKEA), said:

“Climate change is the biggest threat that the planet faces. As a large retailer, IKEA is committed to tackling climate change and ensuring we meet the rapidly-evolving needs of customers, co-workers, and the planet is a key priority. We can only reach our goals towards net zero through our own transformation across the business and through collaboration with other business, governments and organisations. The importance of collaboration and sharing of experiences can not be underestimated and this new strategic framework will be a valuable tool for many organisations in their journey towards net zero.”


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