Published on November 16, 2023, 4:21 pm
Major companies worldwide are making bold pledges to achieve net-zero emissions. However, turning these pledges into action requires a sustained effort and new ways of thinking. Carbon reduction is crucial for the well-being of our planet, but it also demands that businesses collaborate with external entities, trust developing data-gathering processes, and place R&D and innovation leaders at the forefront of the journey towards sustainability.
Science Group recently held a forum with R&D leaders and CTOs from notable organizations such as Amcor, Bayer, Mars, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Solvay, and Stepan to uncover strategies for translating net-zero ambitions into tangible progress. The goal was to emphasize the key role that innovation teams can play in this endeavor. Here are some insights that emerged from the forum on how to build a pathway towards net-zero for both industry and the planet.
Firstly, if companies want their net-zero commitments to be more than mere aspirations, they must view carbon reduction as a core business value. Management should prioritize it just as they have traditionally prioritized safety, quality, and profitability. Achieving net zero requires cross-functional collaboration across various business units. Each unit contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets on its own timeline. For example, procurement might be able to quickly reduce emissions while R&D focuses on longer-term solutions. The key is alignment towards clearly defined goals. R&D leaders should articulate their unique contributions to carbon reduction compared to other parts of the organization and use scientific arguments to influence decision-makers.
Mapping out a collaborative effort within the company can lead to self-discovery by revealing interdependencies and potential partnerships. R&D leaders should also consider involving external entities such as suppliers, customers, regulators, nonprofit advisors, and even competitors in this universal mission for sustainability. While companies may have other sustainability initiatives underway, it is essential for leaders to understand all these efforts and how they interact with each other.
To succeed in achieving net-zero targets, companies must empower their R&D leaders and CTOs to prioritize greenhouse gas emissions reductions. These leaders play a pivotal role in driving change through the use of alternative raw materials, reimagined product designs, and climate-friendly technologies. Net zero should be embedded in every R&D project from its early stages so that the environmental impact is evaluated continuously. R&D conversations must now take GHG emissions into account to ensure a holistic approach. The success of these efforts should be measured against execution.
R&D leaders also need to assess the carbon footprint of their existing project portfolios and determine how well they align with net-zero targets. Attaining these goals requires a clear understanding of where and when emission reductions will happen, rather than relying on luck or future technologies that are still emerging. While special sustainability projects have their merits, it is more essential to integrate carbon reduction into everyday R&D activities. The performance of the entire portfolio collectively contributes to net-zero success, so prioritizing smart bets across the entire spectrum is crucial.
To identify which initiatives to prioritize for maximum impact, R&D leaders should focus on potential battlegrounds where they can make significant changes within product design or manufacturing processes without disrupting the supply chain. However, many projects will require collaboration with internal and external partners. While these endeavors may be more challenging and time-consuming, the benefits might justify the investment. Forecasts of the portfolio’s impact on GHG emissions should be provided by R&D leaders to balance commercial needs with climate-change objectives.
While there has historically been a perception that going green comes at the expense of profits, a shift in commercial realities is underway due to changing consumer preferences, evolving regulations, reputational concerns, and increasing awareness about carbon impacts. By identifying customers, products, and brands that already value net-zero messaging, R&D can capitalize on low-hanging fruit opportunities where carbon-friendly products can command a premium or gain a competitive edge. In sectors where regulations or standards favor carbon-reduced products, there is room for compromising on performance or accepting a price premium. R&D leaders should seek out synergies that align with net-zero objectives and provide additional advantages.
Innovation should also be aimed at meeting market needs while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions. This means identifying manufacturing processes that not only decrease GHG emissions but also reduce upfront capital costs or ongoing energy expenses. Projects that leverage these opportunities should be prioritized, and R&D leaders need to articulate the benefits of carbon reduction, even if immediate cost-cutting is the top priority.
Lastly, there may come a time when R&D leaders have to consider trade-offs in terms of price or performance to achieve reduced-carbon outcomes. Although it may seem counterintuitive, customer and stakeholder expectations, along with regulatory pressure, are driving this change. Accomplishing net-zero goals requires courage and leadership from companies to pave the way for sustainable practices.
In conclusion, transitioning towards net-zero emissions demands commitment from businesses worldwide. By making carbon reduction a core business value and involving R&D leaders in the process, companies can drive innovation and make substantial progress towards