Adam Savitz, sustainability director EMEALA at Johnson Controls looks at the steps sustainability leaders are taking to set themselves up for net zero success.

The need for global net zero infrastructure has never been greater, and organisations cannot afford to be left behind. The United Nations’ Paris Agreement target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is fast approaching, causing governments around the world to rearchitect their regulations to hold themselves accountable. And with the building sector responsible for around 40% of global energy-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it’s unsurprising that organisations are heeding the call for sustainable infrastructure.

This issue is explored in The Race to Decarbonisation – a global study conducted by Forrester, in collaboration with Johnson Controls. There is mounting pressure on companies to act quickly. As such, instead of a clear roadmap to success, companies are left with complex unanswered questions and are rushing to set goals and a clear path they want to reach. While setting ambitious targets should be celebrated, it is essential that they take the next step of setting actionable and costed strategies to achieve them.

To meet realistic targets for net zero, Forrester lays out ways today’s leading organisations are working towards achieving their goals. Crucially, this does not mean shying away from bold targets. It does, however, require robust and inclusive leadership, data, technologies, and partnerships to power a holistic approach.

Strong, net zero leadership

First and foremost, organisations dedicated to reaching net zero must invest in goal setting, overseen by a decision-maker with sole responsibility for the net zero roadmap for the company.

According to a global study conducted by Forrester, in collaboration with Johnson Controls, the companies that are further along in their sustainability maturity journeys are more than twice as likely to have a C-level leader whose sole responsibility is sustainability. These ‘Sustainably Engaged’ companies are leading the way in scaling sustainability across the leadership and culture of the organisation as well as with their investments into reporting and measurement, partner and supplier management, and physical resource management.

With culture and leadership such an integral strand of sustainability strategies, it seems the message is being heard; data from Fortune 500 companies suggests that the number of Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) has increased by over 220% in the last ten years. However, this still leaves over four-fifths without a CSO to steer the ship. As the specialist sustainability recruiters Weinreb Group highlights – CSOs require a range of attributes, not least the ability to influence through collaborative action and embrace risk and innovation. Organisations must therefore invest in skilled CSOs or equivalents to take the helm.

A point backed-up by Forrester - "today’s most sustainably engaged companies are successful due to dedicated senior leadership and having the right investment priorities and partners. The green business opportunity looks very different for each company. What’s consistent is the importance of strong leadership and strong partners to guide smart decisions.”

Treating sustainability as a business imperative

The companies that take sustainability seriously understand that following through on their commitments doesn’t just help the planet, but is a competitive differentiator in the eyes of all stakeholders; customers, employees and investors. Not only that, but these organisations also recognise the opportunity for cost savings and efficiencies resulting from sustainability targets. As such, the whole organisation must recognise the business imperative of working towards sustainable targets.

However, as Accenture warns, this lack of organisation-wide strategic implementation leads to 43% of companies failing to match ESG rhetoric with results. Less than half of the stakeholders surveyed believe leadership teams “walk the talk” on sustainability.

Organisations need greater support to ensure teams can come together under a united strategy. It is essential to have access and insight into best practices from across industries, take lessons from successful leadership plans in other areas and understand how to avoid pitfalls. Here is where a dedicated partner can help ensure you have a complete view of your internal strategy based on a whole spectrum of external experience.

Invest in impactful, innovative technology

According to the UN, the built environment accounts for almost 40% of total global energy-related carbon emissions, of which three-quarters are attributable to building operations. Achieving sustainability targets and digitalisation go hand in hand.

If businesses begin looking at their building usage and how they can improve it, significant progress can be made. By leveraging every piece of data building holds to save costs, bring energy usage down, and help achieve ESG goals – a building can become truly smart. However, data is often collected in siloes, meaning businesses miss the bigger picture of where efficiencies can be made. Data needs to be connected and easily accessible in the cloud so that decision-makers can analyse the data in its entirety and identify areas of improvement.

For example, Derwent London have harnessed technology to digitally transformation their estate, enabling new possibilities for operational efficiency, occupant experiences and sustainability in one dynamic solution. The next generation of building automation systems utilise real-time data to monitor and improve energy efficiency and can predict energy demand and consumption, flexing building operations automatically to meet user needs. These systems can then maintain and optimise buildings on their own, and only need human intervention when they are notified.

Not only this, but companies that unite their sustainability and digitalisation efforts via “single pane of glass” software platforms, can monitor and control every aspect of their building and its operations from a single dashboard. This won’t just simplify and streamline corporate governance, but significantly enhance it. Companies that decide to marry sustainability and digitalisation in this way can expect to accelerate decarbonisation, boost health and safety, and maximise efficiency and productivity.

Leverage partners immersed in the mission

The solve for net zero is a goal that cannot be achieved alone. Organisations need partners with a deep understanding of the unique industry requirements, regulatory landscape and technological systems that can support sustainability strategies.

To create a roadmap to sustainability, Forrester highlights the need to engage with partners to ensure a holistic approach that utilises technology and market expertise to meet both regulatory and corporate goals. There are also devices organisations can utilise to assess where they are in their sustainability journey, such as maturity assessment tools. However, according to the report, a third of organisations say they lack the external partners to achieve these goals. Businesses must effectively design a clear sustainability plan, digitalise their buildings and technology for the most effective solutions, and deploy this technology from planning to certification.

Rightly, organisations have high expectations for their sustainability partners. According to the research, those making the greatest strides forward in sustainability are heavy adopters of technology, with over 60% of these organisations saying they expect partners to offer the latest technology solutions. At the same time they expect their partners to ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to sustainability strategies, While every organisation’s roadmap to sustainability is different, working with partners who are immersed in the mission is vital, with the most sustainably mature organisations saying they vet potential partners to ensure they share sustainability commitments.

As Forrester concludes, “The business benefits of investing in sustainability are immense…Having the right leadership, technology, and external partners will be key to maturing sustainability practices.”