CEOs, It’s Time To Act: 5 Pathways To Net Zero

Companies are being held to account for their net zero action – and inaction.

Net zero. ESG. Just transition. The fact that these buzzwords are now a dime a dozen is both good and bad news. The good news is that climate leadership has finally become a business imperative. But the bad news is that, as report after report has shown, many companies are still setting goals in a vacuum, without concrete plans to turn pledges into progress at the speed and scale needed to secure a climate-stable future.

Day after day, we see reminders that companies will be held to account for their actions. The days when companies could say one thing publicly and do another thing privately – or do nothing at all – are long gone. Investors– and talent pools – want leadership, transparency, and disclosure. They want action and evidence of tangible progress. And they want it now.

But companies need further guidance – on how to get it right, what climate leadership really looks like, and how to actually accelerate action. They need to know how to prioritize, plan, and implement. Fortunately, there are countless resources and tools to help companies do just that. Yet navigating these tools and resources can be challenging.  

Here’s what companies need to know: Regardless of industry or sector, there are five core ingredients for climate leadership.

The five pathways to net zero.

  1. Take action on bold, time-bound, science-based goals that go beyond carbon. Making a net zero climate pledge is an essential first step – but now it’s time to act on it. Those actions must include reducing emissions across your whole value chain with a short-term goal to achieve a 50% reduction of greenhouse gasses by 2030. But they also must go beyond carbon to address all greenhouse gasses (such as powerful short-lived climate pollutants like methane), toxic chemicals, environmental justice, and other key components of a robust and meaningful climate strategy. 
  2. Invest in accelerating and scaling solutions. One of the most important roles business can play is deploying capital where it’s needed most, increasing market demand for innovation, and scaling climate solutions across industries and supply chains. Just one example: Accelerated investment from the private sector is desperately needed to stop deforestation and protect carbon sinks like tropical forests. High-integrity carbon credits are one of the best ways to make those investments.
  3. Exert your political influence. Here in the US, we have a narrow political window to make the investments and set the standards needed to achieve net zero at both the enterprise and national level and cut emissions in half by 2030. Business leadership is greatly needed to effect real public policy and regulatory changes. 
  4. Engage your community – and beyond. From your customers to your employees to your peers and investors, all eyes are on climate action. It’s time for companies to tap into the abundant resources and partners that are ready, eager, and well-positioned to engage with and assist companies on their progress. The Business Alliance to Scale Climate Solutions (BASCS) and Transform to Net Zero (TONZ) are just two examples of both cross-sector initiatives seeking to quicken corporate climate action and investment through information sharing, pre-competitive collaboration, and more.
  5. Be transparent.  Bold climate leadership requires acknowledging where you stand, assessing next steps, and showing how you’ll evaluate progress. Clear, comprehensive, high-quality information on climate risk and performance is crucial for companies and their stakeholders to assess progress on climate goals – rewarding those that have embraced the challenge and putting a spotlight on those with the most work left to do. 

Climate leadership is climate action.

The conversations around whether or not net zero pledges are “good” or “bad” often distract from a stark reality: Climate change is already here, and affecting our entire economy and your bottom line. The climate reckoning will touch every single company across the globe no matter the size, scale, or sector. Climate action is not just beneficial for the planet, but for business too.

Cutting emissions at the level and pace needed to meet our climate goals will require a radical transformation of our economy – including unprecedented private sector action and investment. And while we should encourage robust debate, raise valid concerns, and keep business accountable, we also must also encourage those who have already been striving to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges.  

Companies have a long way to go to be sustainable – but they are each working in their own way to figure out how to get there, and achieve the systems change needed through public policy and finance. In turn, their leadership helps other companies along the way. We need to celebrate the journey, even with all its challenges, while simultaneously demanding results.

There is valuable and scientifically rigorous guidance available now, and the most important thing for businesses to do is use it. Companies must stop talking about what they’re going to do, and instead put in the hard work to create a plan and make it happen. In short, we can’t spend so much time perfecting our toolbox that we run out of time to use the tools we already have to solve the climate crisis.