16 Tactics Net-zero Companies Use To Slash Corporate Carbon Footprint

Companies across the world are increasingly being called to action to address their environmental impacts- be it by regulation, their customers, or the growing risk presented by climate change to their operations. A 1.9°F increase in global temperatures since 1880 has been documented by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The corporate world faces an undeniable call to action as global temperatures continue to rise alarmingly. A key step in this process for corporations is tobegin measuring their carbon footprints and invest in ways to reduce and eliminate their carbon-intensive operations and achieve Net-Zero.

As of March 2023, over 2,300 major businesses in the Science Based Targets initiative support this critical step towards achieving net-zero goals.

The main question from corporate executives is, “How can companies reduce their average carbon emissions across complex global operations?

This is where lessons from companies that have successfully achieved deep decarbonization prove invaluable. By looking to companies like Salesforce and Patagonia, we can learn about practical solutions to reduce emissions. We can also learn from how they involve employees in their efforts and in reducing energy consumption.

Collected here are 16 innovative strategies adopted by net-zero companies. These range from Google’s AI-driven energy efficiency in data centers, which led to a 40% reduction in cooling energy usage, to IKEA’s investment in renewable energy that covers 100% of its energy needs. Each example is a testament to the feasibility, positive impact, and business efficacy of carbon emission and waste reduction strategies.

Join us as we explore these modern approaches, backed by compelling data and case studies, offering insights and a roadmap for businesses aspiring to align with a sustainable future.

Understanding Net-Zero and Its Relevance

To continue, we must understand ‘net-zero‘. Net-Zero companies are important in reducing carbon emissions and addressing climate change.

net-zero concept with eco-friendly icons on wooden blocks against a green backdrop

In its simplest terms, “net-zero” describes a company whose operations produce and remove an equal amount of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere annually, resulting in a “net-zero” balance. In a world where reducing carbon emissions has become paramount, achieving net-zero status is a significant milestone.

It symbolizes a company’s commitment to a sustainable future, directly impacting global efforts against climate change. This net-zero balance is achieved first through reducing as many GHG emissions as possible. This is done through various strategies including sourcing renewable energy, implementing creative product and service models, and relentlessly reviewing annual emission sources. Secondly, a company must address unavoidable emissions through carbon capture technologies, carbon capture projects, or market levels such as Renewable Energy Credits (REC’s). Regardless of the specific strategies implemented, a commitment to net zero emissions is an immense and critically necessary step for companies to take.

Innovative Strategies from Net-Zero Companies

 1. Implementing Advanced Renewable Energy Solutions

Renewable energy array showcasing solar, wind, and electrical grid systemsFacility energy use is typically an excellent place for companies to start addressing their GHG emissions, as it’s usually an area that they have explicit control. Google has been a pioneer in this field, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Per their 2021 environmental report, they matched 100% of their annual global energy usage with their renewable energy purchases for the fifth year. Google’s commitment to carbon neutrality offers a paradigm for others. 

Similarly, Amazon’s efforts to reduce its overall carbon footprint by implementing wind and solar power projects are worth mentioning here. Its ambitious goal of powering operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 shows its commitment to addressing climate change and significantly reducing overall carbon emissions.

After installing over 950,000 solar panels on facilities with ample room for expansion, IKEA generates more renewable power than it consumes globally. Target stores have installed rooftop commercial solar systems that meet up to 50% of facility electricity demand.

These examples are no minor feats. They showcase the potential of renewable energy plans in achieving carbon neutrality and emphasize the crucial role played by net-zero companies in leading the renewable energy transition away from fossil fuels.

2. Investing in Carbon Capture TechnologiesStep-by-step carbon capture technology workflow with labeled components

While a company’s carbon emissions reduction strategies remain imperative, only a handful of organizations can eliminate all emissions from their operations. So, how can companies effectively reduce their carbon footprint? A strategy worth mentioning here is investing in carbon capture technologies. These technologies enable companies to effectively remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, addressing one of the major contributors to climate change.

Investment bank Morgan Stanley attains carbon neutrality partly through carbon capture offsets. They have pledged $1 trillion in financing by 2030 for carbon offsets, assisting global net-zero transitions. A Swiss company- Climeworks specializes in Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology that extracts carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. It is a key player in the carbon capture industry and works with companies such as Audi and Microsoft to help make carbon capture technology accessible.

3. Engaging in Sustainable Supply Chain Management

SCS key, symbolizing sustainable supply chain management strategies for reduced waste and emissions.Supply chain management encompasses a range of sustainable practices. These include less food waste, selecting environmentally conscious and sustainable suppliers, auditing for energy usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste production, and adopting strategies to minimize these impacts alongside more efficient logistics.

Consumer giants like Unilever work toward deforestation-free commodities procurement across palm oil, soy, and cocoa. Its sustainable sourcing helped slash upstream supply chain emissions by over 20% from 2010 levels while ensuring future access to critical raw materials.

Patagonia, an outdoor apparel retailer tracks every step of their supply chain to ensure there are no unintended consequences of their business activities and actions. No wonder they are regarded as leaders in corporate social responsibility.

Starbucks sourced 99% of its coffee ethically and invested $100 million to support coffee farmers battling climate change impacts in 2021. Ethically sourced means adhering to the certification standards of Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) practices. This certification evaluates coffee farms on broad economic, social, and environmental criteria to ensure responsible coffee production and positive community impact.

Retailer Inditex’s lean manufacturing techniques and supplier and quality management systems reduced supply chain resource needs by 30% from 2019-2021. Their supply and value chain encompassed 1,790 direct suppliers in 44 markets who in turn used 8,756 factories, providing work for over three million workers. In 2021, they were able to reduce carbon emissions of Scope 1 and 2 by 86% per square meter compared to 2018.

4. Adopting a Circular Economy Model

Infographic comparing circular economy model versus traditional linear economy

Leading companies are finding innovative ways to reduce emissions and generate revenue via circular business models

Renault, a car manufacturer, makes more than €300 million yearly by remanufacturing and reselling vehicle components from trade-ins. This helps avoid over 10,000 tons of waste while cutting logistic impacts. Patagonia takes it further by reselling used goods to minimize the demand for materials through their “Worn Wear” initiative. Beyond sizable cost savings, its circular practices shrink product carbon footprints by keeping items in use 2.5 times longer.

Pingree Detroit takes a unique approach by reclaiming leather scraps from the auto industry to create new, high-quality goods such as footwear and accessories. This initiative enhances material circularity by promoting sustainable manufacturing practices. It also supports local communities by providing jobs. While requiring upfront investments, optimizing utilization rates pays emissions and monetary dividends in the long run – reducing corporate carbon footprint substantially per revenue generated.

5. Enhancing Energy Efficiency in Operations with Energy Audits

Energy efficiency meter indicating top-tier performance, symbolizing emissions efficiency in sustainable business processes

Whether via analytics, automation or circularity, leaders embed emissions efficiency into processes. Streamlining overhead energy acts as a gateway to further savings as organizations mature management systems around verifiable sustainability metrics. Industry leaders have proven audits help substantially cut down major emissions and energy costs.

Microsoft implemented ISO 14001-certified environmental management systems across data centers, using robust sensor networks and machine learning to optimize cooling, server and resource efficiency. Optimizing equipment utilization helps them in reaching their set carbon reduction targets.

Conducting energy audits helps companies identify savings opportunities in their operations and supply chains. These audits systematically uncover fuel and electricity waste companies were unaware of previously. Reckitt, a multinational consumer goods company, uses a Sustainable Innovation Calculator to assess the environmental impact of various product designs. This tool helps in creating sustainable products with lower environmental impacts, meeting both consumer demands and sustainability targets​.

A network of automated processes that work in sync to make a building user-friendly is referred to as a Smart Building. Companies are getting smarter by adopting smart technologies to erect smart architecture that minimizes carbon emissions and energy usage in pursuit of net-zero targets.

Analytical review of a carbon footprint chart for a business sustainability audit

Unisphere in Maryland, USA – the largest net-zero energy building globally, features an energy wheel for real-time energy consumption monitoring, 2976 solar panels, and smart systems that adjust resources based on occupancy and natural light levels. Hilton Hotels upgraded heating, cooling, and insulation using the latest energy standards across its properties and have achieved over $1 billion in energy savings since 2009, as per their 2021 Annual Report.

6. Using Eco-friendly Materials and Resources

Pursuing eco-conscious substitutions for packaging, built assets, raw textiles, livestock, and other goods pays sustainability dividends while capturing shifting consumer demand and employee sentiment.

Assortment of sustainable packaging items including paper bags and wooden utensils.

IKEA aims for 100% sustainably sourced cotton use for all textile offerings by 2025, also known as Better Cotton Initiative. Its cotton now comes from programs growing the crop with dramatically lower water and chemical impacts while employing better labor practices.

When constructing new stores, Starbucks prioritizes eco-materials like responsibly sourced wood and Forest Stewardship Council-certified fittings. Their global “Greener Stores” program also reuses building materials from store renovations.

7. Hire a Sustainability Consultant

Sustainability Consultants are key players in understanding and reducing your company’s carbon emissions.

The process of achieving net-zero or even developing a roadmap can be daunting. While some companies opt to build in-house teams, many benefit from specialized consultants to help measure, build strategies, and create holistic plans for achieving their net-zero goals. 

A sustainable consultant can analyze a company’s environmental impacts and develop strategies to lower annual carbon emissions. Their skills range from one-off projects to measuring carbon footprints, building policies that comply with environmental legislation, and creating pathways to deep decarbonization.

In addition to general sustainability consulting, firms like Sustridge take a specialized approach with targeted services in GHG emissions consulting. Sustridge aids organizations in comprehending their carbon footprint through detailed inventories of GHG emissions, encompassing operational and supply chain impacts. They employ standardized GHG accounting protocols to ensure accuracy and reliability in emissions calculation.

Following the assessment, Sustridge guides companies in setting ambitious yet achievable GHG reduction targets, aligning with the latest scientific frameworks. This includes establishing science-based targets that meet the established standards of SBTi, ensuring that your company’s environmental strategies are in sync with global efforts to mitigate climate change.

8. Transitioning to Low-Emission Transportation

Companies worldwide are implementing strategies to transition to low-emission transportation. With the mobility sector significantly contributing to climate pollutants, this transition could be a significant step in controlling carbon emissions. Here are some real-world examples of companies taking such initiatives

Combining vehicle upgrades, travel policy, shipping mode switches and cleaner fuels at scale drives tangible transport emissions cuts now while better alternatives emerge. Early movers gain climate and cost leadership.

Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, has committed to making its entire passenger car fleet carbon-neutral by 2039 (Source: Tokyo Motor Show: Spotlight on the zero-carbon transport future – We Mean Business Coalition). This ambitious target involves transforming its operations, including supply chains, to achieve carbon-neutral production. Daimler is using its facilities in Germany and Poland as blueprints for renewable energy use and carbon-neutral operations. The company has already seen a decrease in its CO2 emissions by 9.2% from 2016 to 2018, while its revenue increased by 12% in the same period.

Volvo Cars has pledged to phase out vehicles powered solely by internal combustion engines. Since 2019, the company has been producing only fully electric or hybrid models. Volvo’s sales of electrified vehicles increased by 65% in 2018 compared to 2017, contributing to a 17% reduction in total CO2 emissions​.

Electrifying the company vehicle fleet is a smart tactic for businesses striving to achieve net-zero emissions. This initiative is part of a broader strategy to embrace renewable energy and systematic internal change at companies. By switching to electric vehicles, companies are not only minimizing their reliance on fossil fuels but also leading the charge in adopting low-GHG, more efficient transportation solutions.

DHL Express is accelerating the electrification of its delivery fleet. The company has been adding electric vans and trucks to its fleet and plans to deploy 14,000 electric delivery vehicles worldwide by 2030. In 2022 it announced that it will invest $16 million to update its Canadian ground fleet by purchasing 110 electric vehicles.

9. Reducing Waste Through Innovative Recycling Programs

Sustainable urban environment highlighting Innovative Recycling Programs.

An area often ignored or overlooked by companies is waste management. But not by the pioneers excelling in reducing emissions. They have innovative recycling programs in place as a part of their strategies to achieve net-zero emissions. These initiatives involve various methods of waste reduction and recycling, offering significant environmental and operational benefits.

Currys, an electrical retailer and aftercare service provider, focuses on extending the life of technology products through protection, trade-in, repair, and recycling. The company collected over 1.6 million items for recycling and reuse in the UK in 2022, a 51% increase year-over-year, driven by its ‘Cash for Trash’ initiative.

Patagonia has been a pioneer in customer buy-back and reuse initiatives in retail. They launched a program called “Worn Wear” where customers can trade in their used Patagonia items for credit. They have continued to increase their use of preferred recycled materials—from 43% across their whole product line in 2016 to 88% in 2022.

10. Utilizing AI and Big Data for Efficient Resource Management

AI is omnipresent today. Naturally, a lot of companies are leveraging AI and Big Data to enhance operational efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and safety, leading to both environmental and economic benefits.

T-Mobile analyzes historic climate and equipment sensor data to model maintenance needs accurately. Predictive upkeep avoids breakdowns and cuts electricity waste associated with critical infrastructure failures. 62% of Patch’s customers are using Patch’s API to embed carbon removal into their digital products and experiences. Energy provider organizations like RES and Octopus Energy are integrating digital solutions and AI to optimize renewable energy production and distribution, enabling better site selection for projects, monitoring of energy asset performance, and prediction of energy consumption patterns​.

11. Optimizing Business Travel for Carbon Efficiency

Companies are rethinking decarbonization initiatives to reduce their carbon emissions from business travel. They are encouraging the usage of electric vehicles for local trips and partnering with airlines committed to sustainability efforts for long-distance travel.

Corporations are encouraging the use of public transport and carpooling. They are partnering with hotels and airlines that have verifiable sustainability programs and initiatives. 

HSBC, Zurich Insurance, S&P Global announced plans to cut business travel emissions by as much as 70%.

Banking and pharmaceutical firms Swiss Re, Fidelity International, ABN Amro, and Novo Nordisk have committed to reduce their carbon emissions by 50 percent or more by 2025 or sooner.

When all of its emissions are considered, Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) used by United has up to 85% lower GHG emissions than regular jet fuel, from how it’s made and delivered to the airport to its final destination.

12. Reduce Employee Commuting

By encouraging remote work and flexible schedules, businesses can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with daily travel. This strategy effectively reduces global carbon emissions while simultaneously nurturing a culture of work-life balance.

Microsoft has outlined specific guidelines for at-home workers, allowing more flexibility for workers to choose whether to work from home. Employees can do remote work for as much as 50% of the workweek without a manager’s permission. 3M launched “Work Your Way,” which allows employees to select a feasible work arrangement, whether remote, in-office, or hybrid.

Dell, Humana, and Sodexo have also embraced flexible work strategies, utilizing technology and comprehensive support to meet the varied requirements of their global workforce and realize substantial cost savings.  Atlassian, the software maker, declared in 2021 that employees can work from home forever

13. Procure Renewable Natural Gas

Procuring renewable natural gas (RNG) has become an important strategy for businesses aiming to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. This transition aligns with a growing preference for cleaner energy sources. Unlike traditional natural gas, RNG is sourced from organic waste, offering a sustainable energy solution. Innovative companies are partnering with specialized energy providers to integrate RNG into their operations.

DTE Energy has developed a renewable gas project in Michigan, converting methane from dairy cow manure into sustainable RNG. In collaboration with Matsche Farms, this project is expected to produce enough RNG to fuel approximately 1,600 vehicles annually. DTE Vantage, a part of DTE Energy, operates this facility, contributing to the company’s status as one of the largest RNG producers in the Midwest​. Another Michigan-based energy company –CMS Energy Corp plans to add RNG to the Consumers Energy Co. distribution system. This initiative aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in its gas grid by 2050 and a 20% reduction in customer emissions by 2030. 

14. Establish Internal Price for Carbon Company-Wide

This is an interesting approach embraced by companies to actively reduce overall greenhouse gases. This approach assigns a tangible cost to carbon emissions, driving internal stakeholders to adopt more sustainable practices. By monetizing the environmental impact, businesses are incentivized to choose sustainable web hosting, optimize operations for a high energy rating, and actively reduce their carbon footprint. This strategy leads to more environmentally conscious decision-making across all company levels.

A Spanish company- Acciona, uses internal carbon pricing to channel investment towards low-carbon technologies and energy reduction. It recognizes the positive role that meaningful carbon pricing plays in accelerating low-carbon technologies and creating economic opportunities.

The global automotive company Mahindra & Mahindra, based in India, implements internal carbon pricing as a strategic move to shift from fossil fuel usage in its operations toward investing in renewable energy resources.

15. Purchase Carbon Credits or Offsets

Conceptual art of Carbon Offset balancing emissions and renewable solutions.

Demand for high-quality carbon offsets and removal is strong. Corporations can also purchase renewable energy credits or green power from utility providers through green power programs or agreements. Check out the comprehensive guide by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to purchasing green power. This is a top-tier guide for enterprises interested in learning more about this approach. The guide provides information about the green energy acquisition process, differentiates supply options, and examines the operational benefits and costs.

Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) states that when a company reaches its net-zero target, only a limited amount of residual emissions can be neutralized with high-quality carbon removals. This will be at most 5-10 %. So, carbon offsets should only be used for the last bit of residual or unavoidable emissions. This approach ensures that companies prioritize reducing their emissions directly as much as possible before resorting to offsets.

Delta has made public commitments to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.  As part of this effort, they spent over $30 million to offset emissions over a 10-month period in 2020. Patch, an API-based carbon removal solution and platform that enables companies to calculate carbon footprint and neutralize it through the purchase of carbon removal and offsets. They doubled their customer base in 2021. Before using Patch, 98% of their customers had never invested in carbon removal, and 60% did not have a pre-existing environmental sustainability program in place.

16. Purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to Support Green Energy

Another strategy leading corporations follow is integrating Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) into corporate sustainability. By purchasing RECs, a company ensures that an equivalent amount of renewable energy is generated and added to the grid for every unit of electricity consumed.

Each REC is a unique certificate that details the type of energy source used, the location of the generation, and the time of generation. This system allows businesses to contribute directly to renewable energy production, regardless of their geographic location.

Renewable energy certificates (REC) and carbon market terminology depicted in a business handshake context.

RECs are tracked through a standardized system- each certificate can only be claimed once, thus providing absolute transparency.

In 2020, Microsoft purchased over 1.3 million MWh of RECs, equivalent to the electricity used by 120,000 average American homes annually. Since 2017, Google has matched 100% of its electricity consumption with renewable energy purchases, primarily through RECs. 

What’s Next?

The journey to a smaller corporate carbon footprint is both a necessity and an opportunity. The 16 tactics we’ve explored, drawn from the playbook of successful net-zero companies, offer practical and innovative ways to make impactful changes. Whether it’s through energy-efficient practices, sustainable web investments, or sustainable resource management, each step brings us closer to a more sustainable and responsible business ethos.

The path to net-zero is a collective endeavor, and your company can lead the charge. Take the initiative now by visiting North Star Carbon Management to discover how your business can implement these strategies and join the ranks of pioneering net-zero companies. The future is green, and the time to act is now—forge your company’s path to sustainability with North Star Carbon Management.