26 Aug 2021

To address climate change corporates need to start performing like elite athletes

Carbon offset strategy

The IPCC Report has quickened the pace of the race to net zero. Corporate strategies need to start performing like elite athletes.

The recent IPCC Report was a stark reminder of the challenge ahead to keeping global warming well below two degrees. If there was any before, there’s certainly no doubt now that we need to speed up the pace of collective corporate effort. But to do so, a company’s net zero emissions strategy must perform like an elite athlete. It needs to strive to get the right balance of high performance training, diet and rest. In the net-zero context, it needs to find the right mix of technological solutions, efficiency and offsetting. It’s not a choice of one or the other.

Getting over the “technology” vs “offsets” nonsense

There’s an emerging argument that companies can choose between technology solutions and nature based solutions when it comes to addressing their carbon emissions.

Arguments from executive corners in aviation for example have described the use of offsetting and especially nature-based solutions like reforestation as “fig-leaf solutions”. Somehow a gesture of goodwill rather than serious action to address emissions. They argue that organisations need to be investing solely into technological fixes like carbon capture and storage, fuel alternatives or technology change, many of which are years away and risk forgetting about the ongoing emissions form activities today.

Although these technological fixes will indeed be fundamental in the years ahead, it’s the imbalanced argument and reliance on ‘one big bet’ that is the problem. I liken this to the attitude of the sporting coach who dismisses the need for a balanced diet over a schedule that’s solely dependent on training. This form of leader trains their team into the ground in the hope that they will one day perform to achieve the ultimate prize. In doing so, they are burning out the talent they so desperately need to get them towards the playoffs at the end of the season.

The same applies for your net zero strategy. It must be balanced with the right mix of technology (‘training’), rest (‘efficiency’) and diet (‘offsets’) to prepare your organisation for the pathway towards the net-zero Grand Final in 2050 (or earlier).

Blocking out the head noise

Similar themed arguments, but on the other end of the spectrum have surfaced in recent criticisms of nature-based carbon projects from Greenpeace.

Here arguments have been made around the accounting mechanisms used for forest carbon projects to pick holes in corporate strategies purchasing offsets from nature-based projects to cover unavoidable emissions associated with their current business.

Despite the criticisms being rebutted by the independent bodies and scientific communities responsible for auditing such projects, these mud-slinging fans continue to hurl their criticism from the nosebleed section of the stands.

The key to this sort of criticism is to be able to see it for what it is: the perfect getting in the way of the great.

Are there improvements in the way community forest projects can be monitored, baselined and accounted for? Absolutely. Should current efforts which deliver deep community and biodiversity benefits be paused while we land on the most precise measures? No. This would be disastrous for both the planet and the communities involved in these projects. It would also risk turning the tap off to billions of dollars of nature-based finance so desperately needed as part of the solution to climate change.

These criticisms are like the fans who can’t stand anything other than a perfect record, and fail to see the progress their team is making in building a truly successful season.

It’s not to say organisations should blindly ignore the criticism. Instead, by including carbon offsets along a company’s net zero journey, it’s important to work with an organisation that is able to provide your company with high-integrity offsets where due diligence checks have been made. Think of it like taking guidance from an expert in the field who has played the game before rather than relying on the unrelenting fans.

All of this points to an unhealthy environment emerging for companies looking to get into shape to run their net zero marathon.

The truth is, for any company to go the distance, they will need an appropriate balance of investments into future technologies, behaviour change and efficiency measures to cut emissions, and high quality carbon offsets to account for the unavoidable emissions they are creating today.

If we can collectively get this balance right, we will quieten the voices of hard-nosed coaches and fanatic perfectionists. We will move closer to picking up the pace we so desperately need to win the race against the climate clock.

Want to find out more? Contact Adrian Enright at Adrian@tem.com.au.

Adrian Enright is TEM’s Partnerships Director; passionate about surfing, family and the unrelenting quest for a healthier future planet.