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Delivering Decarbonisation – Building a Net-Zero Business Case for Senior Leaders

Delivering Decarbonisation – Building a Net-Zero Business Case for Senior Leaders
04 May 2023

Mike Sewell, Plan Zero Director at Mitie, outlines five key tactics for presenting a persuasive decarbonisation strategy to senior leaders.

Mike Sewell leads on the sustainability and carbon management agendas for Mitie Energy. He has national and international experience, developing and providing sustainability management, carbon reduction and energy management services at both a strategic and tactical level. Mike has over 25 years of experience in the complex energy and carbon management arena. He has worked with many leading energy and carbon service organisations including Dalkia, Enron Energy Services, Kier, Interserve and RWE. He is a Fellow of the Energy Managers Association (EMA), a Chartered Surveyor (MRICS) and, and an Incorporated Member of The Chartered Institute of Building (ICIOB).


"Senior executives will want to know the facts and figures behind these threats and chances are, once they understand that these challenges are tangible and need to be addressed now, they’ll want to take prompt action."


Forming a Persuasive Net-Zero Strategy


There’s no way around it – decarbonisation must be a strategic priority for any business to thrive and survive in the future. And that has to happen now.

Achieving the best results requires buy-in at all levels, but this is easier said than done – especially when contending with differing priorities and worldviews among senior leaders and the wider organisation. That’s why understanding what makes decision-makers tick, the benefits of decarbonisation initiatives, and the most effective route forward, are all vital elements to a credible business case for decarbonisation.

Based on Mitie’s experience supporting some of Britain’s biggest businesses, there are five key tactics for presenting a persuasive decarbonisation strategy to senior leaders.


The Cost of Inaction


In 2019, the UK government passed laws to help achieve net-zero by 2050. And in 2021, it set a further target to reduce carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035. While many organisations have already committed to these targets, cultural ambivalence remains a big problem. Because 2050 is decades away, right?

The reality is that the executives making these decisions could be retired by 2050, and they may not be so scared by the climate crisis. But by failing to demonstrate strategic action in the here and now, organisations will lose favour among customers and investors, especially when share prices are so heavily influenced by ESG activity.

What’s more, failing to focus on net-zero can also alienate younger workers, who want to work for sustainable companies. And let’s not forget that the UK government has already fined more than 30 organisations for breaching schemes launched to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The penalties aren’t worth it.

Senior executives will want to know the facts and figures behind these threats and chances are, once they understand that these challenges are tangible and need to be addressed now, they’ll want to take prompt action.


Convince Senior Decision-Makers by Speaking Their Language


Over the last 20 years, the biggest driver for improving energy efficiency has been optimising costs. And that hasn’t changed with decarbonisation – you need to sell executives a plan of action that makes good financial sense.

But one of the most common mistakes when talking to senior decision-makers is assuming everyone is on the same wavelength. While most people sit in the middle, there are also two extreme views to consider. Some consider decarbonisation as responding to alarmist pseudoscience, while others want to know why it wasn’t solved yesterday. The former can’t be expected to buy into the environmental benefits, while the latter needs to see that net-zero can’t get in the way of business strategy. A winning business case will appeal to both camps.

The key is to identify the most cost-effective route forward and lead with this. This means showing decision-makers how investment can improve the bottom line and reduce dependency on the grid, to support energy security as traditional fuels become harder and more expensive to procure.

By being able to say to leaders: “This is where the organisation currently is, this is where it needs to be, and this is how it’ll get there – and it’s going to pay for itself”, the business case is already on the front foot. Focus on benefits that everyone can get behind: reducing energy costs, improving energy resilience, and attracting investors.


Make the ‘Prosumer’ Business Case


Energy security makes a powerful pro-decarbonisation argument during periods of socioeconomic uncertainty. Regardless of their personal beliefs or economic priorities, senior decision-makers know that every organisation needs consistent and affordable energy. In the current socioeconomic climate, this is less certain than it once was.

We’re now seeing the emergence of the “prosumer” – a model in which organisations both consume and generate energy – and this approach can add credibility to the decarbonisation business case.

Solar photovoltaics can generate electricity faster and cheaper than you can buy it, and in time, any excess energy will be sold back to the grid. It also guarantees a consistent, reliable, and affordable source of green energy – who can argue with that?


Rally Support With Visible Commitments


It’s easy to make big commitments, but for them to be credible and meaningful they need to be followed up with tangible action and clear milestones.

Every credible business case needs a clear baseline of where the organisation is now and where it could be. For example, by looking at current energy costs and carbon emissions, calculating how this strategy can drive improvements and, importantly, how success will be measured.

As for rallying the wider organisation around decarbonisation, implementing smaller visible measures show you are acting on your strategy and, ideally, in a way that changes colleagues’ daily working lives.

There are small but powerful changes you can make that everyone can understand and contribute to, such as getting rid of single-use plastics, adding recycling points, revamping the fleet with electric vehicles and offering on-site charging. When colleagues see real-life changes, that counts for much more than what is happening behind the scenes and it will inspire their engagement and support.


Know When to Ask For Support


Decarbonising an estate requires many different disciplines and specialities to come together to create a comprehensive net-zero plan. However not all organisations will have, or need, all of these skills in-house. External support can bring expertise, innovation and a view on industry best practice – giving added peace of mind to decision-makers that the business case is as efficient as can be.

There’s never been more intense focus on delivering decarbonisation. By building a credible business case, you can ensure your organisation turns this ambition into action.

Picture: a photograph of Mike Sewell. Image Credit: Mitie

Article written by Mike Sewell | Published 04 May 2023


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