The low-carbon future of business

Oct 01, 2019
Businesses in Ireland are working towards a low-carbon future, but the transition to a low-carbon economy needs to urgently accelerate.

By Kim McClenaghan & Dr Luke Redmond

Irish businesses are responding to the climate action challenge and to date, 47 companies in Ireland have signed Business in the Community Ireland’s (BITCI) Low Carbon Pledge. Signatory companies have committed to reducing their direct carbon intensity by 50% by 2030, and to report on their progress on an annual basis.

The pledge companies operate in traditional carbon-intensive sectors such as agribusiness and energy/utilities, along with a range of other cross-sectoral companies from pharma/med-tech, beverages, transport, retailing, communications, technology and professional services. The pledge aims to demonstrate the commitment of Irish businesses to supporting the country’s transition to a low-carbon economy.

The Low Carbon Pledge requires companies to reduce the intensity of their Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. Scope 1 emissions refer to emissions produced directly from sources owned and controlled by a company, such as fuels used in boilers or vehicles, for example. Scope 2 emissions refer to those produced during the generation of electricity purchased by a company.

The narrowing window of opportunity

PwC was commissioned by BITCI to produce the inaugural Low Carbon Pledge Report. This work was conducted against a backdrop of mounting evidence that points to a rapidly closing window in which business and society can successfully tackle climate change and its principal driver: carbon emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent pronouncements warn that Ireland faces an unfavourable emissions reduction environment due to ongoing challenges in successfully decoupling economic and emissions growth. Ireland is not on track to meet its 2020 and 2030 EU emissions reduction targets, and failure to achieve the 2020 target could result in financial penalties of up to €150 million.

What’s more, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report estimates that countries and businesses have a window of just 11 years in which to successfully tackle the carbon challenge.

Meaningful progress

According to the PwC report, signatory companies have engaged positively with the decarbonisation challenge and have already delivered meaningful emissions reductions. The 47 pledge signatory companies have achieved an overall reduction of 42% in their absolute carbon emissions between the baseline period and 2018, and are on course to secure a 50% decrease in carbon intensity by 2030.

Pledge companies have achieved a 36% reduction in average emissions intensity, in part by reducing their electricity usage by 60 million KwH between the baseline period and 2018. This equates to a cost saving of roughly €6.6 million. Energy efficiency-focused rationalisation and strategic investment programmes, coupled with an increasing use of electricity generated from renewable sources, has underpinned the emissions reduction activity to date.

Upping the ante

The PwC report, and the dataset that underpins it, provides a benchmark against which to assess the future carbon reduction efforts of the signatory companies. With an ever-increasing awareness of the risks of climate change and the importance of accelerating abatement activity, it is critical that the ambition of the Low Carbon Pledge also evolves.

While the initial pledge group of 47 signatories is a significant achievement, it will be important to grow this number while extending the carbon commitment scope. Because of the significant intensity reductions over the baseline period to 2018, BITCI has upped the scope and ambition of the 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets. A critical challenge for companies will be sustaining such reduction efforts and focusing on the delivery of further intensity improvements up to the 50% target and out to 2030, or an earlier date.

Enhanced robustness

To maintain the integrity of the Low Carbon Pledge, it is critical that businesses seek external assurance of their non-financial data. This is critical to enhancing the robustness of the emissions reduction actions and commitments reported as part of the Low Carbon Pledge. Seeking third-party assurance also provides companies with another opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to decarbonisation, while at the same time enabling companies to prepare for a transition to an increasingly onerous and transparent reporting environment.

Scenario analysis

The Low Carbon Report analysed four companies – Gas Networks Ireland, Dawn Meats, ESB and Heineken Ireland – to examine how companies are seeking to enhance the sustainability and decarbonisation of their business operations. The analysis found that senior management leadership is central to driving a meaningful response to the challenges of decarbonisation. Businesses should seek to embed decarbonisation and sustainability policies and actions in their business strategy, from both risk mitigation and value-enhancing perspectives. To test corporate strategies, scenario analysis should consider, for example, a high future carbon price, climate change impacts on global and regional GDP growth rates, or climate disruption within the supply chain. Evolving target-setting, coupled with the use of energy management systems and data analytics, can help ensure that companies make informed energy efficiency investment decisions.

Strong leadership can help businesses prepare for a carbon-constrained world and ensure that their businesses are aligned with an increasingly carbon-conscious investor and consumer. While delivering carbon reductions through the procurement of electricity generated from renewable sources represents a positive mitigation action, companies could further enhance the integrity of such actions by procuring green-certified renewable electricity. Decisions by senior management to embed renewable energy sourcing targets, underpinned by green certificates, into company strategy could act as an important catalyst for driving further decarbonisation efforts. The case study analysis identifies investors as being increasingly interested in companies’ financial and non-financial metrics.

For companies to truly demonstrate a commitment to decarbonisation and sustainability, it is important to place equal emphasis on their financial and non-financial reporting. Leading companies also seek to align the publication of their sustainability and annual financial reports. Such actions demonstrate that sustainability has become an integral part of the company’s core strategy, and associated metrics form part of the business’s key performance indicators.
Kim McClenaghan is Partner in Consulting and Energy, Utilities and Sustainability Lead at PwC.

Dr Luke Redmond is Senior Manager, Strategy Consulting at PwC.