The Pathway To Net Zero With Startups: Working Towards A Cleaner, Greener Future

Net zero

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time and governments, city administrations and companies set themselves net zero targets every day. This promise to reduce carbon emissions demonstrates a commitment to environmental responsibility and leadership. However, it is much easier to proclaim than to achieve it. In a slightly surprising way, it’s the startups of the world that are leading the way for giant corporations in this aspect. In this post, we will take a closer look at how it’s being achieved. Let’s get started.

The Pathway To Net Zero With Startups: How David Is Leading Goliath Into A Cleaner Future

Consumer goods giant Unilever recently allocated $1.2 billion for its “Clean Future” program. Under this program, Unilever plans to phase out all fossil fuels from its cleaning products. These fossil fuels will be replaced by cleaner, greener options by 2030.

In order to achieve this goal, Unilever sent out invitations for potential partners who could come up with “an idea for an innovation, solution or opportunity”.

Unilever looking to work with smaller companies and startups isn’t an exception in this field. Many huge firms are tying with startups which can provide cutting edge solutions to the problems created by large scale global industrialization.

Which are some of the startups leading the way for net zero?

Genecis Bioindustries is a Canadian clean-tech startup that specializes in converting food waste into biodegradable plastics. It’s aim is to get big corporations to start using their eco-friendly packaging for everything. The end goal is to peg down on plastic pollution and severely reduce the greenhouse emissions from overflowing landfills across the globe.s.

Genecis has already started working with Sodexo to collect waste from its clients’ cafeterias and convert it into biodegradable plastics which can be used for a variety of new products. Genecis is also repurposing medical waste via its collaboration with Novo Nordisk.

These deals between big firms and startups are symbiotic relationships as they provide the necessary resources for startups to implement their ideas at a massive scale while alleviating the risk factors for big corporations when they tap into disruptive technologies.

Speaking on the matter, the CEO of Genecis Bioindustries said:

“If big companies want to make a difference they really should be engaging startups. It actually might make it easier for them to achieve very ambitious targets – whether on climate change or other sustainable development goals.”

The firm is planning to launch bioplastic products for commercial use very soon. Working hand in hand with large firms is bound to speed up the process.

What is the right way for startups to work towards net zero?

As much as a startup might be obsessed with net zero emission and saving the environment, that can’t be the main goal for its existence. The chief goal of any firm, a startup or a large multinational conglomerate, has to be satisfying its customers. 

The end goal should be to create products that will bring about a change to a large size customer base, rather than just a small number of climate conscious consumers (they are probably doing their part towards preservation anyway).

A big problem that a lot of clean-tech startups face is pricing. The costs need to be slashed by significant margins before the low/zero carbon options can compete with the traditional options on price.

Scaling up will expedite the process and that’s where tying up with giant MNCs is going to be very helpful. Their seemingly endless resources can be used to drive the startups forward.

Climate change is a problem that will require a multi pronged approach towards finding the solution. Startups and big corporations definitely need to work hand in hand.

What do companies need to do to achieve net zero emissions?

Companies that want to achieve a net zero target need to take a multi-pronged approach. They have to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from operations, manage the reduction internally and in the supply chain and compensate for unavoidable emissions. 

It starts with accurate data: in order to be able to reduce emissions, one must first understand them. In addition, responsible companies must ensure that they provide accurate, thorough, and objective data for transparent and verified communication. 

Companies can identify emission priorities in their supply chain and check their suppliers for sustainability, show possibilities for energy efficiency and cost reduction and positively influence suppliers and employees in order to reduce emissions. 

They can also find ways to influence customer behavior or prepare for the end of life of products, for example by working with retailers and distributors on take-back programs.

What is the UN’s approach towards net zero?

UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres has called on governments to make greater efforts in climate protection. A key requirement: net zero emissions by 2050. But what does that actually mean?

Guterres has called on the heads of state and government to present concrete plans in New York to achieve the Paris climate protection agreement: “I would like to know how we can stop the increase in emissions by 2020 and drastically reduce emissions by the middle of Century to achieve net zero emissions”, said Guterres.

What amount of emission reduction is required for net zero?

One thing is clear: emissions, especially in industrialized nations, have to drop drastically if dangerous climate change is to be averted. That is why there is a lot of talk these days about reduction targets. Global greenhouse gas emissions should be halved by around 2030. The bottom line is that by the middle of the century, mankind should no longer emit greenhouse gases.

According to the latest IPCC report on the subject, we would have to reduce effective carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050 in order to stop global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. In the 1960s, all greenhouse gas emissions (including nitrous oxide and methane, for example) would then have to be below the line at zero.

The “bottom line” is decisive here. Because that is exactly what is meant by “net zero emissions”. Net zero does not mean that there are no more chimneys smoking or no more coal or gasoline is burned.

It is already clear that reducing emissions alone will not be enough. Of course, it will be necessary to phase out coal-fired power generation, further expand renewables, insulate buildings, curb food waste, implement greener livestock feed which reduces greenhouse emissions, and preserve forests, moors and grasslands as important carbon dioxide sinks, to name just a few examples. But all of this will not be enough.

We will have to offset the remaining emissions with “negative emissions”. At least that is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is assuming. To put it simply: Anyone who emits one ton of carbon dioxide in a year must ensure that one ton of carbon dioxide is bound, i.e. withdrawn from the atmosphere, in the same period of time.

There are various ways of doing this: For example, you could plant forests that bind carbon dioxide from the air in the form of carbon. Carbon dioxide is also bound in the soil in the form of organic material. Its share can be increased through the form of agricultural cultivation. Excess carbon dioxide could also be removed directly from the air or seawater.

What role can Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) play in the goal of achieving net zero?

There are great hopes for CCS technology. Carbon capture and storage means that carbon dioxide is captured directly where it occurs – for example in a coal-fired power plant – and then safely “stored”. For example in underground caverns.

However, this technology is still in its infancy. It is not yet known when the process will be profitable and operational on a global scale. In addition, it is not clear how safe and sustainable storage in exploited oil or gas reserves is. Because as long as the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is dangerously high, the excess carbon dioxide should remain locked away. So probably many millennia.

Critics also warn that the prospect of CCS can undermine societies’ efforts to swiftly and completely phase out fossil fuel burning.

Today there are already 15 nations that are committed to net zero emissions, including Denmark, France and Great Britain. Quite surprisingly, countries like Bhutan and Suriname are not among them as they are almost already at net zero.

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