B Lab forms new partnerships to help scale credible business transitions to net zero
Brigitta Nemes, Senior Manager Environmental Standards at B Lab Global, shares her reflections on a new direction for the B Corp Climate Collective’s work on net zero.
A recent surge of differing net zero definitions is overwhelming companies and threatens to distract from real efforts to drive business action on climate change.
Accountability remains a key challenge to net zero commitments, and is essential if these commitments are to succeed.
The B Corp Climate Collective aims to streamline net zero efforts and strengthen accountability by partnering with the SME Climate Hub and the Science Based Targets initiative.
The B Corp Climate Collective will focus on offering a space for collective action and inspiration, grounded in climate justice.
The science is clear: urgent climate action is needed from all sectors of society to secure a sustainable future for our planet. This is not only a humanitarian and environmental imperative, but an economic necessity. More and more businesses are recognizing the key role they play in addressing the crisis by adopting short- and long-term climate targets. The fact that more countries continue to set national net zero targets — including many following the recent COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow — has also increased leverage for companies’ climate transition plans.
However, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres reminded us recently when speaking on the climate crisis: “The world is in a race against time. We cannot afford slow movers, fake movers, or any form of greenwashing.” So how can B Lab play its role in this race against time — and ensure the credibility of our movement-driven collective action on climate?
In 2019, when the B Corp Climate Collective (BCCC) was launched by B Lab in partnership with B Corp member companies, our primary intention was to accelerate bold climate action within our community, and to signal to the world how B Corps can lead on climate. An important early area of focus was engaging companies to adopt 2030 net zero commitments; through the BCCC, we engaged over 500 pacesetting companies who were willing to pledge to make these urgent commitments. . This was at a time when climate emergency became the word of the year, with governments and companies around the world recognizing and declaring the urgency of the crisis. For the BCCC, we believed that encouraging companies to commit to net zero twenty years ahead of the Paris Climate Agreement target was our most effective collective response to the climate emergency.
The BCCC community of companies committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2030 has grown substantially since, now numbering over 1,800, including over one thousand B Corps. This has only increased the BCCC’s responsibility to ensure companies are being held accountable for their commitments. As Dan Osusky, Head of Standards & Insights at B Lab, shared last year in Fast Company, this is a bottleneck that many corporate net zero commitments have confronted. At the same time there has been a proliferation of net zero definitions, leading to increased ambiguity around targets, measurements, and the role of offsets. On top of this lack of clarity — or due to it — lots of company plans lack integrity. In the face of this complexity, there is growing consensus of the need for collaboration between organizations managing net zero commitment programs. Reaching net zero is no easy feat, and companies are confused about changing, competing, and sometimes conflicting definitions and standards of net zero in a crowded space.
Over the past several months here at B Lab, we have been reflecting on our role in the climate movement, particularly within the net zero space. In response to the evident complexity and confusion around net zero, the BCCC is working to streamline net zero efforts by collaborating with key partners to manage these net zero commitments going forward. We are excited to be forming deep partnerships around net zero with both the SME Climate Hub and Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Rather than running its own Net Zero Pledge, the BCCC will now signpost all companies seeking to make a net zero commitment to these partners to streamline the net zero space and strengthen accountability.
The SME Climate Hub is another member of UN Race to Zero, a UN-backed global campaign driving rigorous climate action. This partnership helps address the unique challenges that small and medium enterprises (SMEs) face with regards to climate action. Their limited resources — personnel, knowledge, or time — and lack of funds or influence calls for support tailored to their needs and realities. Defined as companies with under 500 employees, SMEs make up 90% of the world’s businesses — and 93% of B Corps — and their collective impact matters. SME Climate Hub’s tailored resources — like the SME carbon footprint calculator or the training course on taking climate action —are immensely valuable to companies with less internal capacity to devote to climate impact. This partnership for SMEs committed to net zero not only helps streamline net zero definitions but also encourages companies to access tools and resources that can help accelerate their climate transition.
As for large companies who have committed to net zero via the BCCC, B Lab will partner with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). The SBTI has been a catalyst of promoting emission reductions and net zero targets in line with climate science. SBTi has also recently launched its Net Zero Standard to provide companies with guidance, criteria, and recommendations on how to set science-based net zero targets consistent with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C. By committing to set a net zero target aligned with the SBTi Net-Zero Framework, companies follow the necessary scientific rigor to deliver on decarbonization within their Scopes 1, 2, and 3 emissions. Another key alignment that led us to selecting SBTi as a partner is that they uphold the principle of continuous improvement and are committed to address any concerns coming from the public. Therefore, it was a natural decision to signpost large companies committing to net zero to this initiative.
We recognize that this strategic shift might have its own limitations. Introducing these programmatic changes and new partners to the companies currently committed to net zero could lead to a drop off in engagement from those companies for a host of reasons, including the administrative work of switching partners or challenges meeting the partner's requirements. Nevertheless, we think this is the best way forward to accelerate credible action and address issues around the aforementioned complexity, competing definitions, and any challenges around accountability. If anything, recommitting to net zero through these new partners will require companies to refresh themselves on what it truly means to reach net zero, renew leadership buy-in, and assess if this commitment is one they can credibly make.
The BCCC will focus on driving regional and local action on climate through the B Corp movement, offering a space for collective action and inspiration that is grounded in climate justice. There is real power in taking collective action: In a 2021 community-wide survey of the BCCC, most respondents indicated that the Net Zero 2030 commitment has increased the participating companies’ collective ambitions and work on climate and accelerated their commitment to achieve a net zero business model. In addition, the BCCC has played a leading role in the creation of additional resources for companies, like the launch of the Climate Justice Playbook with key contributions from B Lab U.S. & Canada, and the hosting of the B Corp Global Climate Summit last year.
At the same time we are working to recognize the climate emergency within B Lab’s standards. Climate action is one of the key topics in the ongoing revision of our performance requirements. The world is a very different place than it was when the current B Corp performance requirements were inaugurated. While the current flexibility within the B Impact Assessment helped scale the B Corp Certification, in order to remain a high-performing standard for companies demonstrating leadership in sustainability, addressing topics like climate change is non-negotiable. This review will give us the opportunity to ensure that our entire community of 5,000+ B Corps and all companies using B Lab’s programs and tools understand their impact and take the action necessary to combat climate change and its impacts.
Would you like to stay tuned and be involved in the review of the performance requirements? Follow the updates via https://www.bcorporation.net/en-us/standards/performance-requirements.
Learn more about the changes to the B Corp Climate Collective at https://www.bcorpclimatecollective.org/net-zero.
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