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Net Zero - Why is my beach still dirty?

Net Zero - Why is my beach still dirty?

Net zero - is it a mirage?  In this short blog I make an analogy between a company's net zero carbon targets and a beach cafe trying to keep litter off their beach.

 Imagine a cafe on a sunny beach next to a warm turquoise sea.  It sells burgers and chips, soft drinks and cigarettes.  It grows vegetables in a small fenced garden at the back.

Companies like Google, Dell and BSkyB have set net zero targets for their own direct operational emissions. This is like the beach cafe composting the waste from its vegetable garden and recycling the cans of soft drinks that its customers drink on the premises.  It does what it can within its own direct control.

However, the beach is still dirty.

Companies like BP and Scottish Water have set net zero targets which include their supply chain.  This is like the beach cafe carefully sorting, reusing or recycling all the packaging that the burgers and soft drinks come in.  However, there will always be some waste which goes to landfill which is the equivalent of companies offsetting their residual carbon emissions.

However, the beach is still dirty.

Companies like DSM and Unilever go one step further and consider the impact from customers who buy their products.  Here, the cafe installs waste recycling bins for their take-away customers to use and, at the end of each day, the staff pick up any litter from the beach which has originated from their premises, including cigarette butts.

However, the beach is still dirty. 

Microsoft has announced that it will offset all its historical emissions from the date it was formed.  Similarly, the cafe pays a contractor to dig up and sift through the sand to remove buried rubbish, some many years old.

So why is the beach still dirty?

Each day the wind and tide washes in new litter from the sea.  In the same way Government (and UN) net zero targets exclude emissions from imported goods.  The only way to tackle this is to reach out to other stakeholders - fishermen, boat rental companies, the water utilities and neighbouring cafes - and then to act together.

Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, believes that it is the duty of businesses not just to protect the environment but to restore it.  Only in this way will we have clean beaches.  In the same way companies and countries need to work together to tackle carbon emissions.

Carbon Choices

If you have enjoyed this blog, you might enjoy my book, Carbon Choices on the common sense solutions to our climate and nature crises.