Research by Microsoft indicates that just 41% of UK organisations are on track to meet the Government’s target for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The new research was released by Dr Chris Brauer, Goldsmiths, the University of London in partnership with Microsoft.
The findings reveal strong ambition and strategic vision on sustainability within UK organisations. However, most leaders are struggling to translate that intent into action. Almost three quarters (74%) described as having “one foot in and one foot out” on sustainability.
Based on online surveys of 1,707 UK business leaders and 2,153 employees, the research report includes insights from leading organisations. Additionally, the research surveyed prominent sustainable business experts from across government, industry and academia.
The ambition-action gap has not gone unnoticed by UK workers. The majority (72%) of employees felt environmental sustainability should be a top priority for businesses over the next five years. Yet only 19% report that their employer implements their current sustainability plan efficiently. Tellingly, only 17% of employees believe their work premises are as environmentally friendly as their own home. This is important. As 48% of employees surveyed said the strength of a firms’ sustainability plan would impact where they choose to work.
The challenges for business and a blueprint for net-zero
The report points to the most pressing sustainability challenges identified by UK leaders in meeting net-zero goals. It outlines a practical blueprint of short and long-term actions to overcome them. Businesses were asked to identify their top three most pressing challenges in the next five to 10 years. The top challenges highlighted by organisations surveyed include:
- Action the strategy – Concerns about having a clear organisational sustainability strategy (43%).
- Guidance – 41% of respondents cited clear government guidance as a challenge. However, the report points to the need for whole systems thinking. This includes collaboration between government, commerce, academia and NGOs to collectively address barriers to net zero.
- Skills – Having in-house expertise and skills to support a sustainability strategy (40%).
- Financing – Having access to funding to implement their sustainability plan (36%).
- Getting the most out of technology – The availability of technology to support sustainability initiatives (33%).
The Sustainability Leaders
The research team developed a scorecard against which to benchmark UK organisations’ progress on environmental sustainability. Based on the results, organisations were categorised into one of three groups:
- Sustainability Leaders – just 11% of UK organisations. Distinctive in their ability to unlock funding and develop technology to meet sustainability goals. These organisations had highly supportive leadership and strong stakeholder buy-in. This group is on track to meet net-zero targets.
- Aspirational – 74% of organisations. Better at raising their ambitions and designing strategies for sustainability than executing them. They have the operational potential to reach net-zero, but faster transformation is needed.
- Stragglers– only 15% of organisations. Organisations have embedded sustainability within their strategy but are currently making very slow progress on goals. This group are unlikely to reach net-zero by 2050 unless ambition becomes genuine action.
One factor setting Sustainability Leaders apart is their ability to harness technology to amplify and accelerate net-zero strategies. Three-quarters of this group are investing in R&D for new technologies (76%), including tech to measure carbon emissions (76%). Many are also building the in-house skills needed to make the most of these technologies.
Technologies enabling sustainability
The report also explores the role of technology in the journey to net-zero. Where the business case is proven to make a meaningful contribution to sustainability, organisations are investing in the greenest solutions. Examples include business productivity technologies (89% of firms), collaboration technologies (70%), cloud technologies (69%) and carbon emissions measurement technologies (33%).
Furthermore, there is an appetite for increasingly sophisticated technology over the next five years to reduce carbon emissions. Business leaders will shift their focus to more intensive use of carbon emissions measurement technology (56%). Robotic Process Automation (RPA, 51%), machine learning (53%), and ‘digital twin’ technologies (55%). A rapidly growing territory for digital simulation of business processes and strategies at scale without the real-world waste.
Dr Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation, Institute of Management Studies (IMS) at Goldsmiths, University of London says, “UK organisations have strong net-zero ambitions. But to truly address the climate emergency before us, actions must speak louder than words. The findings don’t just call for progress. They outline a practical short- and long-term blueprint to help organisations accelerate net-zero progress. Organisations should prioritise areas such as cross-sector collaboration, stakeholder buy-in, in-house expertise and technology to track carbon reduction progress. The positive environmental impact could be seismic.”
Enterprise Times: What this means for business
The UK public and private sectors must work together to meet the country’s net-zero goals. This entails defining the meaning of real net-zero for enterprises. Producing realistic and practical indicators to measure progress and build markets that can deliver a positive future. Nandan Nilekani, Chairman of Infosys made this point at his keynote address at Infosys Europe Leader Forum in London. Nilekani suggested businesses must rise to the challenge of sustainability. He urged businesses to go Carbon neutral and net-zero. Enterprises also needed to complete energy transition and towards renewable energy such as green hydrogen.
Technology will play a key role in addressing these challenges. It is clear from the research that those organisations that have embedded technology in the heart of their strategies are the ones that have made the most significant progress against their sustainability goals. And while it is encouraging that many of the organisations surveyed are taking the threat of climate change seriously. The time has come to move from ambition to action. Organisations must work collectively to accelerate their individual and collective paths to net zero.