What is Net Zero and what does it mean for events?

Confused by all the carbon jargon? "Carbon-neutral", "scopes", "SBTi" and the "Race to Zero". This guide will take the confusion out of global goals helping your event business commit to a net-zero strategy today.

Want to commit to a Net Zero strategy, but you’re not entirely sure what that means or why it’s so important? Don’t worry, you’re not alone…

A January 2021 report by the British Standards Institute surveyed 1,000 senior decision-makers across a range of industries regarding the transition to net-zero, results found: 

  • 64% of leaders were not confident they fully understood the implications for their firm 
  • 82% required more guidance to achieve the target 
  • 32% of SME decision-makers said they don’t fully understand net-zero.
  • 6% of these same leaders considered their colleagues to hold a high knowledge of net-zero targets.

The definition 

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines ‘net-zero’ as the point in time when:

“Anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals over a specified period”.

In other words, a point at which we are no longer emitting more human-made GHGs than we can remove from the atmosphere.

In their 2018 scientific assessment, the IPCC made clear that in order for the Earth’s atmosphere to stay within a 1.5C global warming limit, we would need to cut our CO2 emissions in half by 2030 (compared to 2017 levels) and reach a state of Net Zero CO2 emissions by 2050 – these Science Based Targets (SBT) nations have been rushing to publish blueprints for what this looks like ahead of COP26.

The earlier 2030 target serves as a crucial and urgent milestone to set us on a more ambitious and cost-effective path towards meeting Net-Zero by 2050. 

The UK’s net-zero commitment

In July 2019, the UK pledged national emissions would be cut to almost zero by 2050, and in April 2021 the government set out an additional target of a 78% reduction in emissions (vs. 1990 levels) by 2035. Putting it simply, this is the same as a 50% reduction in carbon emissions from pre-industrial levels. 

On 19th October 2021, ten days ahead of COP26, the UK published its Net Zero Strategy. This document focused on the diffusion of technologies such as electric vehicles, low-carbon aviation fuel and the mass installation of heat pumps. 

Net Zero vs. Carbon Neutrality

So, does that mean that Net Zero is the same as ‘Carbon Neutral’?

Carbon neutrality is indeed a process of balancing the CO2 that is emitted into the atmosphere, as a result of your company’s activities, with an equivalent amount of CO2 removal. The go-to method of achieving this involves carbon offsetting – investing in schemes that both reduce CO2 emissions in the first instance (renewable energy projects, reducing heat loss through improved building insulation, the development of electric vehicles), or by preserving and restoring natural carbon sinks (forests, oceans and soils). This approach should be viewed as more of a stepping stone towards the Net Zero by 2050 transition.

Net Zero targets take things a step further than carbon neutrality and involve a more comprehensive decarbonisation assessment and approach – including mandatory SBTs – targets designed to keep us within a 1.5C global warming limit including credible delivery plans.

Scopes, what’s that all about? 

The GHG Protocol defines three scope emissions that correlate to who ‘owns’ those emissions and the level of control applicable to changing those emission levels at each stage.

Scope 1 – The ones directly caused by your owned or controlled assets 

Scope 2 – Indirect emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling for those owned or controlled assets

Scope 3 – The indirect emissions of your supply chain and logistics which occur as a result of your organisation’s activities (Scope 3). 

How do we become a Net Zero organisation?

COP26 will hopefully create some shared consensus on Net Zero, and with the increase in government leadership, subsidies, taxes and clear frameworks will need to be implemented to achieve our global goals. 

With all that said, you might be wondering how your organisation can get one step ahead and work towards Net Zero in your event deliveries. 

Step 1 – Define and commit to Net Zero

Enshrining a definition of what a transition to Net Zero means for your organisation should be the first step towards this goal. Your official sustainability policy should include reference to the UK’s 2030, 2035 and 2050 Net Zero targets, in line with commitments towards:

  • A 1.5C global warming limit pathway (and the significance of these figures).
  • The development of Science-Based Targets and credible delivery plans to meet this pathway.
  • Measurement and reductions across your Scope 1, Scope 2 AND Scope 3 emissions – you can do this using carbon measurement software, like TRACE.

Your environmental sustainability policy is the statement that your business cares. It shows the path your business can take to improve sustainability performance in both company operations and event deliveries. 

Action – Don’t have one? Download templates that guide you through the process of creating an environmental sustainability policy for your organisation at proseed by isla.

Step 2 – Understanding Your (Scope 1 and Scope 2) Net Zero targets

Scope 1, direct emissions caused by your owned or controlled assets, and Scope 2, indirect emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat and cooling, are more straightforward to calculate as you should already have access to the majority of this data. 

As soon as you are able, you should aim to conduct an audit of your Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions for both 2021 and a baseline year of 2018 or 2019 for comparison.

The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) defines and promotes best practice in science-based target setting. The SME Climate Hub is the official path for small to medium-sized businesses to join the globally recognised UN Race to Zero campaign. You can refer to their range of target-setting resources and guidance including the 1.5 degree Playbook to establish robust climate action plans in line SBTi’s strict science-based criteria. 

Step 3 – Understanding Your (Scope 3) Value Chain Net Zero Targets

Scope 3 are all other indirect emissions of your supply chain and logistics which occur as a result of your organisation’s activities The whole supply chain of the hospitality sector is estimated to be responsible for 15% of GHG emissions in the UK. It is therefore essential to include the climate impact of the full value chain to make a Net-zero commitment truly meaningful. Determine which Scope 3 data sets you have access to across the four proseed pillars of Energy, Food & Water, Production and Travel & Transport. Here data that has been unavailable or difficult to collect, you should begin developing methods to collect these missing numbers in collaboration with the relevant stakeholders. Remember your Scope 3 is your supply chain’s Scope 1! 

Step 4 – Planning and prioritising for Net Zero

Even with the successful integration of sustainability into your working hours and processes, prioritisation is key to addressing your biggest sources of emissions through efficient and effective use of your human and financial resources.

Use isla’s free proseed benchmarking tool to get an initial overview of how advanced your current reduction strategies are, and to quickly identify areas in need of improvement.

Through either an SBTi assessment or an internal audit, preemptively and more thoroughly identify your areas of highest Scope 1 impact across the four proseed pillars of Energy, Food & Water, Production and Travel & Transport. Avoid making presumptions about the size of these impacts – run your available data through isla’s TRACE carbon calculator software for definitive results. 

Your immediate focus should be on areas of high environmental impact with quick, simple and / or cost-effective solutions. For areas of high impact with no immediately actionable solution, set the wheels in motion to develop emissions reduction strategies in the medium-to-long term. Low environmental impact, but simple-to-action Net Zero targets should also be developed.

Step 5 – Measure & Report for performance improvements

Emissions should be accurately measured using a carbon measurement tool such as TRACE and reported against after each event, as well as on a quarterly and annual basis. Note where Net Zero SBTs have been achieved or exceeded or, if unmet, refine your reduction strategies and improve your operations. 

What next…

It’s a big ask – but if every event business went after one thing and focused on making it happen i.e. creating an environmental sustainability policy or start understanding your scope 1 and 2 emissions – these wins will build positive momentum to escalate towards bigger actions.

With the current guidance and framework available to the event sector, it is only possible to be net-zero in your business operations, and carbon-neutral in your event deliveries and that this is because a net-zero standard for events is yet to be defined, but that the best place to enable future net-zero event deliveries is by starting to collect event emission data. 

If you’d like to know more about how to become a net-zero business and join other event businesses doing the same visit www.weareisla.co.uk

isla will also be launching TRACE – the industry’s first carbon and waste reporting tool for events. Book a demo at – www.traceyour.events

Additional resources 

SME Climate Hub 1.5 degree Playbook – how to set your businesses climate strategy

WWF Emission Possible Guide – a beginners guide to emissions reporting

WWF Beyond Beyond science-based targets –  a blueprint for corporate action on climate and nature

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