What Happens After Net Zero?

You’ve probably heard of Net Zero and the need to reach it. 

Also bandied around with this phrase are the years 2025, 2030, and 2040 – with most business roadmaps seeking Net Zero by these crucial timepoints. 

But what happens after these dates? 

After all, 2025 is just three years away… 

What happens when the roadmap ends? 

It is the challenge of a lifetime to achieve Net Zero. 

There will unfortunately be no winning tape for the end of this marathon, gargantuan achievement. It is easy to have a plan with many neatly typed business memos outlining progress achieved along the way, but how many others will achieve net zero is still a lingering question. 

There are considerable continued challenges with many aspects such as funding (and even just grappling with the scale of the task). Many plans cover all the technical advantages of monitoring and evaluation, self-generation with solar and wind, lighting, window improvements, etc. However, there is still a lacking in taking a holistic approach to the whole building. Although heat pumps are currently trendy and rightly so, it seems a rather short-sighted solution for an older generation house. 

It seems as if many of the improvements and actions we take today will have ultimately reached their end-of-life before 2050 or even 2040. Do roadmaps to net zero include a continuous commitment to reinvesting all savings back into future projects and improvements? It is true that businesses are making huge progress towards their public targets, but the final portion of emissions will be most difficult to deal with.  

For example, we just experienced one of the hottest summers on record (alongside the majority of the world) and many air conditioning systems struggled to cope. Many systems were working at their absolute maximums and consumed more energy – increasing costs and resultant emissions. Do these roadmaps factor in these already apparent global changes? 

If not – keep this in mind. Review, revise, remain flexible, continue to learn and develop, share and engage with new techniques and technologies. 

The challenges to 2050 and onwards 

Many organisations will encounter uniquely different challenges. 

For all, the identification of the organisational embedded carbon emissions and how to reduce these is not readily available. Although innovative technology is being developed all of the time, and there will be an answer found in technology, it is yet to be seen if there will be cultural and behavioural changes seen alongside this. The long-term challenge is the uptake of robust sustainable practices within organisations, with many not understanding what sustainability is and why this should be the main driver of progress. 

Organisations that successfully fully embrace the need to respond to the entirety of social, biodiversity, and environmental issues will more than likely be crowned the winners of the long-term. It has to be repeated again – 

Carbon emissions are not the only important metric in achieving and maintaining a better, fairer, and sustainable planet. 

Energy Managers ensuring buy-in for Net Zero 

It has been seen that getting initial traction and buy-in for Net Zero policy was a huge challenge for most. 

Until it became very popular to do so. Net Zero became cool. 

This was a movement started at the most senior level in response to a national emergency, which has begun to filter down, and is now driving an incredibly popular movement. Local authorities have also played a major role in asking the right questions and setting agendas.  

More and more products are being churned out at an astonishing rate. Staff in operations or purchasing are now starting to take note, as energy managers have communicated the benefits of reduced energy usage and costs. 

Energy Managers Learned Experience 

Energy managers have learned in recent years especially that it is crucial to expand your thinking from just ‘energy’ or standard environmental compliance to really grapple with sustainability as a whole. The UN global sustainability goals have provided the template and a form of leadership to Net Zero, which at first glance don’t appear to have much relation to the ultimate goal. However, a deeper understanding of individual goals leads to the conclusion that they are all intrinsically linked.  

Even in what appear to be massive nationally linked organisations it is rather clear that individual services are at incredibly dissimilar stages of engagement. This is from renewables, to decarbonisation, to electric vehicles and sustainability as a whole.  

This is seen in some branches of national services having delivered infrastructural improvements and investments that have brought the benefits of carbon saving, reduced fuel bills, reduced energy costs, and lowered maintenance costs. In comparison, some other local extensions of the same entity are just now embarking on the journey of looking at solutions. 

Energy Managers Hindsight 

As we all know, hindsight is an incredibly powerful thing.  

For energy managers, it is easy to live in regret and rue the opportunities missed or better options passed up. 

There is a shared sentiment that many energy managers could see the effect of people becoming numb to this huge challenge that we are all facing. It was difficult to find inspiration and to better focus of the benefits and opportunities that this whole journey could deliver to organisations across the world. Not just for humanity, but the planet as a whole.  

Perhaps learn from this and spend more time and effort in communicating these key messages throughout your own organisation and even more widely into your sphere of influence. 

Offsetting in the short to medium term 

It is possible to engage with local offsetting projects in your area to investigate how you can mitigate emissions you have historically struggled with due to technology or limited capital expenditure. Local authorities are often engaged in this and there are dozens of local projects across the UK, which links you directly to your community. There are many different ways in which you can offset, and don’t have to settle on one.  

Offsetting beyond 2040 

If you are sensible, you will likely be looking to mix short, medium, and longer-term projects together. Biodiversity management will (hopefully) not stop with the achievement of Net Zero, so organisations and businesses must commandeer the momentum and put it towards other sustainability goals. Part of this must still be achieved by offsetting, as there are always going to be some externalities that cannot be completely removed. 

Off-setting has attracted quite a lot of poor publicity and allegations of greenwashing, and while this is true in some cases, it is not for the majority. If you continue to engage with the global UN goals and use these principles in your own sustainability planning and engage with colleagues, you will continue to see progress.  

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