Lowering carbon emissions is a challenge for businesses of all sizes, especially those that are scaling fast and require resources to grow. However, as we recently heard at Tech Nation’s sustainability-focused Ask Me Anything session, it is certainly possible when driven by data and championed by passionate people.
Scaleups heard advice for navigating the tricky net-zero landscape at the online event, which featured Olio, a Tech Nation Upscale 4.0 alumnus and Tech Zero signatory, and Avieco, an independent sustainability consultancy that has supported Tech Nation in its own efforts to lower carbon emissions.
Co-led by Tech Nation, and Future Fifty 7.0 alumnus Bulb, Tech Zero was established as the tech climate action group for the UK, which became the first major economy in the world to commit to bringing all greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. Now with almost 200 members, Tech Zero is helping companies of all sizes set a net-zero plan to measure and reduce their emissions by the end of 2021 – and beyond.
At Tech Nation’s event, Avieco Director Julie Craig shared the following advice on how tech scaleups can tailor their people processes and use data to achieve their net-zero ambitions.
Bake sustainability into the business at a senior level
Gone are the days of the environment being an afterthought for tech companies, with responsibility for measuring carbon emissions handed to a well-intentioned office manager because they already oversee utilities billing duties.
For scaleups to achieve real momentum when it comes to sustainability, the responsibility of ensuring that net-zero goals are met must be driven at the highest level – such as the CEO or board-level executives. That way, they can be baked into the company’s strategy and form a central pillar of its business plan.
Any net-zero strategy should be led from the top
Of course, achieving net-zero comes with a cost attached. To get top management on board, a business case must show what a net-zero roadmap will cost the company financially as it scales while communicating the wider benefit that it will bring to the organisation (not to mention the planet).
Once signed off, plans can easily fall through – particularly when a scaleup has so many other priorities. A lack of engagement with senior leadership teams on sustainability is a common problem that derails organisations on the path to net-zero, which can also come unstuck if the rest of the business doesn’t understand what is needed to make it a success.
A dedicated resource, such as a centralised green committee (or task force) that meets on a monthly or quarterly basis, can support high-level teams to mitigate these issues. By making sure that they have the organisation’s latest internal data to hand, they can also ensure that its net-zero aims are on track overall.
Use data to drive decision making and aid understanding
Speaking of data, the first point of call for any net-zero strategy is to baseline (or measure) a company’s various carbon emissions, defined as Scope 1, Scope 2 or Scope 3 under the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. This takes into account both direct and indirect emissions, which could be businesses operations – such as gas, electricity, or vehicles. All companies start off by reporting their carbon emissions, measured in tonnes of CO2 (carbon dioxide).
Beyond that, tech scaleups can report additional data to make their net-zero progress more meaningful to people internally in the business and also externally (such as shareholders). This can include metrics such as CO2/revenue, CO2/gross profit, or CO2/gross margin. Other data to measure may include invoices and supplier records measured in kilowatt-hours (kWh), CO2/litres, or unit measurements of other materials used.
As a founding member of Tech Zero, Tech Nation took the first step in our own commitment to becoming a net-zero organisation by 2030 by undergoing a full-scale carbon footprint assessment over the summer.
In its independent report, Avieco found that our scope 1-3 emissions in 2019 (of which 90% were scope 3) were equivalent to 340 cars on the road. This increased slightly in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic brought travel and in-person office work to a sudden halt. Download the sustainability report to find out more.
Caption: OLIO measures CO2 generated by its users
Other physical indicators can also be used to measure carbon emissions. Examples of these are carbon emissions per metre of fibre-optic cable deployed, or the number of people using an app or software platform. An example of the latter, food-sharing company OLIO is a remote-first scaleup that sees most of its carbon emissions come from users of its mobile app that travel to collect and drop off goods. This is the company’s most carbon-heavy area, so it is used as a metric that resonates within the business.
Data is critical to helping scaleups keep their net-zero journey on track, so companies need to make sure that theirs is accurate and up-to-date, allowing it to be fed into other policies and procedures with confidence. Internal operational data and information about a scaleup’s suppliers and value chain should be on-hand at meetings with high-level stakeholders to guide the company.
By briefing top management using the latest data, they are given context behind the company’s carbon emission numbers and related metrics to tell whether they are heading in the right direction. From there, they can make budgeting and other resource-related decisions based on an evolving business case.
While there are many factors that determine whether a tech scaleup can lower its carbon emissions, ensuring that its senior people are suitably empowered and provided with the data needed to make impactful decisions are two of the most important of all. This is an area that Tech Nation, which is in the process of creating an employee and organisational decarbonisation plan, is actively focusing on.
If your scaleup seeks further support with its net-zero aims, join Tech Zero today.