Defence, Infrastructure, Net Zero

Net Zero: Better Business Without Compromise

In a nutshell

Director, Oliver Mankowski, considers the operational and economic opportunities the drive towards Net Zero presents to all businesses.

Oliver Mankowski


Oliver Mankowski

Posted May 24, 2023

Net zero is the solution that can’t be ignored

Climate change has largely been accepted as one of the biggest challenges of our generation, and the drive to net zero a much-needed measure to address it. Many organisations have shown their commitment to the ambition by setting noble goals to reduce their carbon emissions. Efforts have naturally been scattered, ranging from worthwhile investments to well-meaning but ultimately futile token gestures of climate activism. With a goal as lofty as ‘Net Zero by 2050’ as set out in the Paris Agreement in 2015, it is no surprise that the task at hand can seem challenging. Though the mindset has shifted globally and some initiatives have started to gain momentum, a number of preconceptions still exist. In the minds of many organisations, net zero is a distraction from real business – a buzzword – and a large, looming, low-priority cost.

While the morality of the climate change problem may evoke a sense of justice and activism in many, it is not an argument that can reliably ease the associated economic anxieties. Besides the greener spaces, cleaner air, and clearer skies that a net zero future may promise, is there any other incentive for businesses to strive towards net zero? Certainly. On the one hand, decarbonisation presents an enormous economic opportunity with the development of innovative technology which will drive greater prosperity and build a more resilient economy. But net zero also provides an opportunity for every organisation to save money, improve efficiency and become more resilient.

Organisations need to consider their operational approach to net zero. What makes a ‘better business’, is not simply words of support displayed on a company website. Rather it’s the actions that translate that conviction into an environmentally and operationally ‘better business’.

A Newton-shaped problem

Net zero is not a problem to be solved, but a solution to be implemented. However, we cannot ignore that the journey towards net zero requires a considered approach.

As part of our research, we spoke with a number of clients across Defence and Infrastructure about how they view the challenges and opportunities facing their organisations by the global ambition to attain net zero. The themes that emerged from this series of interviews demonstrated to us that the difficulty for many lies in knowing where and how to start. This operational challenge makes net zero an extraordinary business opportunity and a standard Newton-shaped problem.

The difficulty lies in knowing where and how to start. This operational challenge makes net zero an extraordinary business opportunity and a standard Newton-shaped problem.

Perfect data won’t make the difference

A primary source of paralysis for many organisations is the incomplete and imperfect data with which they have to make decisions about their net zero strategy. Some choose to view decarbonisation as a nebulous target, which requires perfect data before any tangible steps forward can be taken. However, perfect data doesn’t exist. Waiting on the holy grail of complete datasets will unnecessarily postpone net zero efforts. There is no question that hard data is the primary driver of action on net zero, but reassuringly we only need some data.

Newton is a data-driven organisation; rapid collection and interpretation of data is a significant part of our approach. Sometimes there are critical gaps in data, and a short-term capture exercise might be necessary. But our approach allows us to navigate the grey areas of imperfect data and utilise it to effectively inform our decision-making and deliver on our targets. Our use of data is at the heart of our approach to improve businesses’ operational efficiency, maximise profits, and improve their net zero position in parallel. Your business will be left more financially and environmentally resilient as a result of our approach.

Aligning with the main mission

It’s a misconception that net zero needs to distract from business priorities. From our experience, the steps toward net zero are often the ones that lead to improved operational efficiency and higher profits. It’s not necessary to compromise on these goals to improve your net zero position. Our priority as a consultancy is to change the destiny of the organisations we work with, and the truth is that pursuing net zero is usually conducive to increased profitability and business efficiency. Reducing carbon emissions goes hand in hand with reducing costs. Some organisations have made great strides in reducing ‘embedded carbon’ in their supply chains. A reduction in the total energy requirement of a supply chain is brought about by systemically optimising materials and processes and results in greater profitability. Net zero doesn’t need to replace your main ambition; instead, it will help you get there.

Leading the way

When developing a net zero strategy alongside standard business operations, organisations must consider whether they move first in the market or hedge their bets and move as a fast follower. Instead of waiting until you have perfect data or some new innovative technology to solve the whole problem all at once, we advocate an alternative approach – start now, learn and improve. Since the solutions already exist, this improvement cycle approach is a practical way for organisations to get on the front foot and make observable progress. The ‘start now’ step would usually involve capturing data, whilst the ‘learn’ and ‘improve’ steps would involve using that data to optimise processes and ultimately, maximise profit. In short, the drive to net zero is a classic operational efficiency challenge. Newton has built its reputation on solving precisely these types of challenges.

The power of the many

It’s essential that organisations drive to net zero with focus and determination, using solid economic arguments to inform the approach. Any organisation needs to have a grounded strategy and must execute against it to make a meaningful impact. But the improvement of an organisation’s net zero position cannot be brought about by the few that are naturally passionate and informed, or those with top-down influence alone. Instead, the greatest progress is when everyone in an organisation is empowered to take climate conscious micro-actions within their sphere of influence.

Net zero is the solution, not the problem – globally, organisationally and at the personal level. This mindset, that Net Zero is the solution, needs to be woven into the fabric of your organisation at every level.

Net Zero
It is not necessary, or even most effective, for net zero to be a standalone, exclusive activity. Some of the smallest most common-sense changes are the most impactful, both environmentally and financially.

Extraordinary opportunity

The drive towards net zero should feel like a natural choice for organisations – par for the course in optimising business operations. It is not necessary, or even most effective, for net zero to be a standalone, exclusive activity. Some of the smallest most common-sense changes are the most impactful, both environmentally and financially. With no need to wait for future technological innovations or perfect datasets, there is no reasonable excuse not to start taking steps right now. The most impactful things can often be done immediately.

Net zero is an opportunity for every business to be better, more resilient, and more efficient. It allows for greater differentiation with customers and can lead to business advantage against competitors. It is an extraordinary opportunity, and yet it does not demand compromises on costs, values, or quality of delivery. Net zero is fundamentally an opportunity for better business without compromise.