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Reaching net zero will require collaboration between business leaders, policymakers, SMEs, the financial sector and societal stakeholders. A webinar was held in January as part of the British Standards Institute (BSI) Net Zero Week, focusing on legislative drivers that are framing the UK government response to net zero, the tools and techniques organisations can use, and how to prioritise green investment.

BSI’s head of sector for environment, social and governance, David Fatscher, observed that the pandemic had foreshadowed many scenarios that organisations will have to anticipate due to climate change. He noted it was critical to combine a robust approach to greenhouse gases with a resilient, adaptable business culture that can prepare companies for the impact of non-financial risks. Standards, he said, are enablers of the innovation, collaboration and acceleration needed.

Ben Kellard, director of strategic business at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, shared insights into how businesses were responding, and highlighted four steps: aligning business purpose, strategy and model to a net-zero future; setting evidence-based targets; integrating goals into operations and supply chains; and looking to collaborate.

Nick Blyth, IEMA policy and engagement lead, pointed to an IEMA member survey that showed awareness of legislative requirements such as Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting, but also barriers to carbon transitions: competing priorities; lack of access to funds; and limitations on internal processes.

Another barrier is the task’s scale and the complexity. Knowledge and skills are essential, Nick said: “Not only specific technical skills but also the internal skills and knowledge within the business to drive the transition: management systems, procurement and so on.”

Amy Jenkins, deputy director of clean growth, green finance and behaviour change for net zero at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that the case for a green recovery had already been made: investing in low-carbon technologies and infrastructure will green future industries and jobs. She pointed to government strategies as evidence of its commitment – from the Energy White Paper to the Treasury’s Net Zero Review. Finally, the Net Zero Strategy will set out the government’s pathway to net-zero. She highlighted the UN Race to Zero campaign; the dedicated SME Climate Hub it provides; and the appointment of Andrew Griffith MP as UK’s Net Zero Business Champion.

The webinar ended with Kate Levick, associate director of climate politics at E3G, stressing that financial regulators and companies’ decisions will shape future operational decisions in the real economy. Finance, she said, is a critical element in building climate resilience into the economy and the financial system.

A roundtable discussion covered some of the questions sent in – from how sectors can collaborate to how SMEs can make themselves more investable.

BSI has published its Net Zero Barometer Report, which assesses where businesses are in the transition, the changes they’re committed to and the barriers they face – find it at bit.ly/3aKTmt6

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