Regular milestones and accountability essential to achieving net-zero

Mark Doyle, Corporate Accounts Manager at Gazprom Energy

With the environmental impact of organisations coming under increasing scrutiny, there is growing demand for businesses to evaluate their sustainability practices in a bid to drive social and environmental change.

In recent years, we have seen more and more businesses committing to net-zero targets, but to keep on track and achieve ambitions, it is critical to set regular milestones.

The need for measurable actions and accountability has recently been acknowledged by the government and, from September 2021, any firm seeking UK public sector contracts worth more than £5m will have to publish “clear and credible carbon reduction plans” before its application is considered. This move is the first of its kind in the world and will apply to all firms bidding, regardless of whether they win or not.

Recent research carried out by Gazprom Energy has revealed that almost two-thirds (65%) of medium and large businesses have a sustainability plan in place and 40% have a zero-carbon pledge. Making an organisational pledge is a good starting point, but a clear roadmap outlining the steps the organisation will take to progress towards their end goal will turn these commitments from moonshot projects into realistic ambitions.

Every organisation is at a different stage of its sustainability journey, with some well on their way to become entirely sustainable, while others are at the very beginning of the sustainability assessment process.

A net-zero pledge can seem daunting, but if it’s supported by short-term, measurable milestones it’s more than possible to stay on target.

Understand the size of your challenge

A good initial step is to undertake an energy audit. This will help businesses better understand their energy usage and identify where improvements and efficiencies can be made. A well-performed audit will help to shape an actionable plan that will allow businesses to achieve their sustainability targets.

An energy audit can be completed by an external auditor, but it is also possible for businesses to do this internally.

Reduce business energy consumption

Following an audit, businesses can establish goals for the first six months of their plan, such as switching to LED lightbulbs, limiting the use of printers and improving insulation, all of which will help to reduce energy consumption and, in turn, lessen environmental impact.

Other steps that could be implemented quickly include replacing inefficient or outdated equipment that uses higher amounts of energy than newer models, and installing timers or sensors for lights, heating and cooling so that it is only in use when necessary.

Make your vehicles greener

Replacing petrol or diesel vehicles with electric ones will significantly lessen a business’s impact on the environment, with one single electric car producing 50% less CO2 emissions than the average EU car.

Nestlé, which has a clear, public sustainability plan, has set the goal to switch to lower emission vehicles by 2022 before eventually transitioning away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles altogether. This is an excellent example of a business setting a sustainability target and holding itself accountable through regular, achievable milestones.

Switch to renewable energy

Reducing energy consumption is a good step to take on the road to green, but of course businesses still need to use energy. To limit environmental impact, consider moving away from fossil fuels and sourcing renewable energy to decarbonise.

Renewable electricity generated from wind, solar or hydro with Renewable Electricity Guarantees of Origin (REGO) can be procured for assurance that the power comes from a renewable source.

Lesser-known renewable gas is also available and created by breaking down organic material through anaerobic digestion to bio-methane. Although this gas is a more expensive option at the moment, we anticipate supply increasing, which may help soften prices in line with increased availability.

Offset any unavoidable emissions

If renewable energy isn’t right for your business, carbon offsetting could be explored to improve carbon neutrality.

Carbon offsetting allows companies to invest in environmental projects to balance their carbon footprints; projects are usually based in clean energy generation and reducing future emissions, often in developing countries.

While carbon offsetting should not be the only solution businesses adopt as part of a net-zero strategy, it is an effective way to minimise impact at the early stages of the journey and to balance any unavoidable emissions further down the line.

Consider onsite power generation and battery storage

Once a business is making energy savings and has a strategy to move away from fossil fuels, it can begin to think bigger. Although generating your own power and developing battery storage capabilities is a big investment, it gives businesses more control in moving towards net-zero and reduces demand on the National Grid. Any surplus power generated can also be sold, and the revenue could be used to invest in further green projects.

Get employees involved

Sharing the organisation’s sustainability strategy and goals with employees is crucial to effectively saving energy across the organisation. With sustainability such a current topic and a concern for many, employees will likely be willing to help the business’s efforts where possible. Sharing tips and best practice on managing individual energy consumption in the workplace could go a long way to supporting sustainability goals. This could include turning off lights in areas not in use, turning off electronics rather than leaving equipment on standby and using kitchen appliances in energy efficient ways, such as only boiling as much water as needed.

Organisations could also set an energy reduction goal for the business, with an aim to reduce consumption by a certain percentage within a set amount of time. To truly gain their support, businesses should clearly communicate the actions employees can take to contribute to this goal and could even offer an incentive for success.

The road to net-zero will look different for each business depending on its needs and ways of operating, but it is something all companies should at least be beginning to evaluate. However, every strategy should have clear, measurable and achievable milestones to guide businesses on their journey. A clear plan will provide a business’s net-zero pledge with credibility and make carbon neutrality a much more achievable ambition.

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