The Zero-Carbon Transition Demands A Connected Approach

Pressure is mounting on businesses to make the transition to zero carbon. But the road to carbon neutrality can be a rocky one, with many obstacles in the way. Achieving zero-carbon status requires a coordinated, determined approach from every area of a business, covering every aspect of its operations. In this article, Graham Oxley, ENGIE Managing Director of Energy with Services examines the barriers to carbon reduction and how businesses can navigate the vital transition to zero carbon.

The drive towards zero carbon

The pressure to reduce carbon emissions is coming from many directions. The government has set a net zero carbon target for the UK by 2050. Businesses will have a major part to play in achieving this target. That means progress towards carbon reduction is likely to become increasingly regulated as the deadline approaches and the government needs to incentivise effective action. Many cities have established clean air zones, some have been mandated to do so, which impact the activities of businesses within those zones. Local authorities across the UK have also declared climate emergencies, with the introduction of targeted plans to reduce carbon emissions in their districts.

Businesses face pressure from their own shareholders too, as well as customers and the wider public. Employees expect their employers to minimise their environmental impact. Younger people in particular value businesses that care for the planet. Carbon-reduction policies could therefore impact an organisation’s ability to attract and recruit the best young talent.

Pressure for climate action also comes from supply chains. Globally, businesses want to work with suppliers and partners who share their principles. Businesses that fail to take action on carbon reduction are likely to find it difficult to participate in the increasingly connected and environmentally conscious supply chains of tomorrow.


Leaping barriers

There are, of course, many business benefits of transitioning to a zero-carbon model, from improved operational and energy efficiency, to greater resource optimisation and cost reductions. The incentives for carbon reduction, and the need to take action, are nothing new, but businesses face many barriers.

Obstacles include time pressures, everyday business priorities and external uncertainties, including Britain’s impending exit from the EU. Access to funding to support the process, including investment in low-carbon technology, is another significant barrier, alongside access to the expertise required to identify and implement the most effective measures.

Organisations need to take a holistic view of their operations to understand what zero-carbon would look like for them. The difficulty is many businesses are fragmented, not only geographically but also organisationally, with different people or departments responsible for energy management, facilities maintenance, operational management and other activities that impact the carbon footprint. So the efforts of all sites, departments and individuals need to be coordinated to maximise the opportunities for sustainable carbon reduction.

An initial carbon assessment needs to identify the origins of all carbon emissions in the business. These will include direct emissions from fuel combustion, the company’s own vehicle fleet and fugitive emissions from pressurised equipment. It will also include indirect emissions from electricity, heat, steam and cooling purchased for use in the business.


Start with energy efficiency

A good starting point in any carbon-reduction programme is energy efficiency. Assess how much energy you are consuming, when and where it is being consumed, and where efficiencies can be made. Accurately targeting energy efficiency requires a clear view of all energy data. Sophisticated energy-management software can be used to analyse this data and identify opportunities for efficiencies. In many cases, improvements can be made by tweaking processes, altering temperature and control settings, modifying equipment set-points and adjusting timings. Implementing smart building systems can help to automate controls and manage all building assets for optimum efficiency.

In addition, you may need to convert existing assets into more energy-efficient alternatives or even invest in new equipment. With the right advice and guidance, you can ensure that any investments are more than repaid over the lifetime of the new assets.

Migrating your company fleet to electric vehicles is another major step towards decarbonisation. Installing charge points on your site, connected to renewable power supplies, provides a fully sustainable vehicle charging infrastructure.


After Watts it's where

After making the best use of the energy you consume, consider where that energy comes from. Sourcing electricity from renewable generators is an effective way to reduce your carbon footprint. Corporate power purchase agreements enable you to secure a direct supply agreement with a specific renewable generator, enabling you to demonstrate exactly where your energy is coming from. Another option is self-generation. Installing wind or solar generation assets on your site provides a direct source of renewable power, reduces your reliance on grid energy and offers an opportunity to earn revenue by exporting surplus electricity. Installing batteries on your site to store surplus electricity and provide back-up power can further reduce your need for energy from the grid.

Ideally, carbon reduction should be achieved by adding new sources of renewable power to the electricity network, whether on-site or linked directly to your premises. However, once you have reduced carbon emissions to the lowest possible level for your business, it may be necessary to sign up to carbon-compensation schemes to counter any residual emissions associated with your operations.


Sustaining zero-carbon

It’s likely that reaching zero carbon will require a combination of all of these measures. It’s essential to achieve the correct balance of options for your business, which requires the expertise of a specialist partner to review your entire operation and devise a strategy that works for you. It’s crucial to ensure that all measures work in harmony and avoid conflicting actions in different parts of your organisation.


Find out more about the zero-carbon transition.

This article first appeared in the MEUC's Buying & Using Utilities magazine

The Zero-Carbon Transition As-A-Service
ENGIE's Zero-Carbon Stations
Achieving Zero Carbon