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As the world stands at a climate change crossroad, the only possible route to follow appears to be towards Net Zero. Sandvik's head of sustainability, Mats W Lundberg, explores whether net zero is a valid business target.

The Net Zero journey isn’t a simple one and Net Zero emissions can seem like an ambitious target.

The term can hide a number of loopholes that can hinder climate change progression, rather than help it. This is because Net Zero refers to achieving an overall balance between emissions produced and emissions taken out of the atmosphere.

It doesn’t mean zero carbon. So, instead of cutting down on carbon production, companies can continue polluting under the guise that they are achieving Net Zero — business as usual.

This isn’t to say that a business that has reached carbon neutrality in its own operations hasn’t done a fantastic job. Offsetting activities are of course good, such as planting trees, drilling more holes for clean water and funding solar panels. But this needs to be done alongside activities that are also cutting down business emissions from their offset.

Changing tactics

Offsetting is only part of the answer — the trees we plant today will not grow fast enough to make an impact by 2030. This is not to say that carbon offset projects should stop. We must continue to plant trees and protect our landscapes.

What we must also consider is how these actions sum up to reflect the true cost of emissions and how urgently we must act to reduce them.

If we consider the Climate Bathtub Simulation, the water filling the bathtub represents emissions in the Earth’s atmosphere. By removing water only to keep on replacing it, the tub will never empty. Pulling the plug completely is not what we want, because we still need some CO2 in the atmosphere to help plants grow.

Instead, businesses need to come up with methods that lower the amount of water we are adding into the tub to a more sustainable level.

This involves investing in innovation, while making the most of an organisation’s existing assets. For example, our Sandviken site is home to the world’s first completely fossil-free hydrogen refuelling station for fuel-cell vehicles, an idea that was generated by one of our own employees.

One of our sustainability goals is to become more than 90 per cent circular by 2030, which involves changes to our operations and relationships with our customers and suppliers. As part of our objective, we are implementing buy-back schemes, such as our program with our strategic business partner, Stamicarbon, which offers fertilizer customers a special buy-back scheme when replacing equipment at their plants.

In this scheme, Stamicarbon decommissions the old equipment and, knowing that the scrap consists almost entirely of Sandvik premium material, extracts and recycles high alloy steel for further use in Sandvik’s production line.

It is these actions, which limit the amount of new emissions we produce, that make a real difference to our climate change efforts.

The road to Net Zero is changeable, but a path towards a greener future is certainly one we must all follow. If businesses think more about cutting down their existing carbon, rather than getting stuck in a cycle of emitting and offsetting, we’ll get far closer to reaching the goal of true sustainability.

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