GreenBiz – To Measure, Verify And Report Is Just One Stop Along the Net-Zero Journey
The need for decarbonization has never been greater. This six-step pathway can help your organization plan, implement and measure the goals needed to reach net zero.
Whether you are reading startling headlines about Earth’s future or watching a film as bold as Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” the tides are turning on how the general public views the imminent threats of climate change. There’s a growing sentiment among those who are beginning to worry for the futures of their children and their children’s children. Companies around the world are beginning to feel and respond to this pressure, and government administrations are taking action as well.
Still, there’s a pretty stark difference between setting long-term clean energy and zero-emissions goals and actually achieving them. Key stakeholders often fail to effectively set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and implement the programs needed to reach their desired climate mitigation targets. Many also lack the budget for major clean infrastructure upgrades, on top of many other commercial and industrial organizations not having the awareness or capability to move forward with cleaner emission solutions.
Suffice it to say, the struggle is very real.
Yet a practical path to net zero does indeed exist. While the ways that companies can implement sound, sustainable initiatives differ depending on their respective histories, ongoing activities and appetite for transformative change, organizations can effectively set off toward reaching a zero-emissions future through the following six steps.
Step One: Reflect on the journey-to-date to identify opportunities and goals
In an ideal world, we would all be able to achieve net-zero emissions overnight. But reaching that precipice takes years of planning and even more years to implement successfully.
Holy Cross Energy, a rural cooperative in Colorado, aimed to source 100 percent of its electricity for customers with renewable resources by 2030. But before that process could begin, they needed a better understanding of sustainability initiatives that it had put in place beforehand. Some examples of that include:
- Examining how the company had performed in relation to the environmental impact metrics that regulators rely upon to measure compliance.
- Identifying existing and potential voluntary initiatives that gained or could gain increased attention from investors.
- Seeking quick wins to achieve with the lowest financial investments, then earmark activities that require a longer, more sustained effort.
Alongside its strategic partner Ameresco, Holy Cross Energy reached an agreement to design, build, operate and maintain 5 megawatts of solar photovoltaics and 15 megawatts per hour of battery energy storage.
Step Two: Establish baseline values for energy and emissions
Once you identify prospects and aspirations, the methodological path to reducing emissions can take shape. Progress will be gradual, but it starts with assessing baseline energy load under the company’s current operational structure and evaluating where energy efficient updates can be made.
You can easily explore and implement simple improvements, such as installing solar panels on rooftops or switching to a geothermal system for heating and cooling, to set a meaningful foundation toward becoming a sustainability-driven organization.
Step Three: Develop a roadmap with milestones and audit demand-side and supply-side solutions
While taking that initial step in the right direction is a huge move toward achieving net zero, it’s still just one step.
The next step necessitates mapping out Steps Two, Three, Four and so on, creating a roadmap of milestones to reach goals within a realistic timeline and budget. Strategic milestones should reflect your near-term, mid-term and long-term goals, with each focusing on reducing the three major types of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions:
- Scope 1: Emissions from sources directly owned or controlled by a company.
- Scope 2: Indirect emissions linked to energy purchases.
- Scope 3: All other emissions associated with a company’s activities, including its supply chain.
For the near term, this first phase should focus on Scopes 1 and 2 with an emphasis on supply, conservation and GHG reduction measures. These lay a firm foundation for a dramatic reduction in each scope by the mid-term point. A few ways to achieve this include evaluating efficient combined heat and power (CHP) opportunities, generating your own renewable energy (such as photovoltaic, solar thermal or wind) and participating in anticipated carbon pricing programs.
Ultimately, the long-term focus should largely be on reducing and offsetting any remaining GHG emissions related to the building’s energy consumption and Scope 3 supply chain activities, such as deploying commuting and vehicle reduction strategies and expanding onsite or offsite to offset emissions.
Step Four: Build and commission
Once it becomes time for full-scale implementation to take place, including organizing work crews, hiring subcontractors and establishing clear lines of communication, working with an experienced strategic partner can smooth the delivery of the overall project.
Take John Paul II Catholic Secondary School, for example. Through several phases of work with the London District Catholic School Board in Ontario, Natural Resources Canada and Ameresco, it became Canada’s first school to be retrofitted as carbon neutral. By helping the school implement advanced geothermal heating and cooling, solar panels, EV charging stations and an efficient battery energy storage system integrated into all building controls, John Paul reduced GHG emissions from 277 tonnes each year to near 0 annually while still providing resiliency services for extreme weather-related power outages.
Step Five: Measure, verify and report
Now that all of the hard work is over, your company, customers and community as a whole can reap the benefits of installing a new efficient energy methodology across the board. Next, proactive monitoring and ongoing maintenance ensure that maximized equipment life and minimized downtime.
In addition, consider an energy as a service (EaaS) contract, in which an energy partner takes responsibility for operating and maintaining energy assets efficiently while reporting the results. With that, your organization can capitalize on the long-term value of reducing emissions and mitigating risks of price volatility in energy markets while maintaining your true focus — your own day-to-day responsibilities within your role.
Step Six: Continuous innovation and improvement
While this technically may be the final of six steps, the real work of reaching net zero is never truly complete. It requires ongoing opportunity analysis, continuous measurement against milestone goals and a commitment to making net zero more than just a destination, but a home.
The process involves measuring progress against carbon reduction milestones, analyzing needs, leveraging new technologies, adjusting your mid- and long-term strategies and cooperating with strategic partners.
Measuring progress and addressing barriers
The path toward net zero will be different for each company depending on various factors. However, those that trust a strategic partner to reach their goals with an agnostic approach to problem-solving are likely to be successful.
EaaS is an emerging trend in energy markets that allows companies to outsource the complexity of the process and develop a net-zero and resiliency strategy with a solutions provider. This approach can help companies overcome barriers to achieving net zero and benefit from long-term cost savings and risk reductions.
For more information on how to begin your organization’s journey to net zero emissions in 2023, read more in our white paper: “Destination: Net Zero – 6 Steps to Carbon Neutrality.”
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By: Bob Georgeoff (Ameresco)