A third of Aussie companies are on track to miss their net zero targets. Here's how to fix that

How can companies turn things around?

Profile Picture of Laure Legros
Laure Legros
Microsoft climate impact report 2022

A new report from Microsoft and the University of London reveals that 75% of Australian companies have net zero 2050 targets, but 34% of them are on track to fail. Here’s what businesses and employees can do to turn things around.

Everywhere you look these days, companies are making 2050 net zero pledges. There are big announcements, working groups, promises to ‘do better’, commitments to commitments and so on.

But according to a new report from Microsoft and the University of London, more than one third of Australian businesses are on track to miss their 2050 net zero targets.

What’s in the report?

The report surveyed 686 Australian business leaders and 1030 employees and found that while most companies have big ambitions – 75% now have a net zero by 2050 target – 34% of them are on track to fail. Basically, there’s a big gap between what many Australian companies have committed to, and what they’re actually doing.  

“If you think you’re going to set a goal for 2050 and in 2049 you’ll just wake up and it’ll have been solved for you, you’re going to be in for a rude surprise,” says Microsoft’s chief environmental officer Lucas Joppa. “Any company that thinks achieving a net zero target that they’ve set for themselves will be considered voluntary is also going to be sorely mistaken.”

There are other problems, too. When it comes to Australian companies, the report found that 43% lack the in-house skills to execute their grand climate plans. Many companies are also missing a company-wide sustainability strategy, government guidance, technological tools, and the willingness to change their culture.

The WorkforClimate view

Australia is unique in that our emissions reduction approach often relies on ‘technology’ and ‘innovation’ (i.e. things that don’t exist yet) to drive sustainability goals. Many companies, and indeed the federal government, are pinning emissions reduction on ‘emerging technologies’.

This is frustrating, because while technology has a key role to play, we must also focus on existing, proven solutions to climate change, including the possibility of favouring emissions reductions over short-term profits.

Achieving climate targets in line with science is difficult. But there are things companies can do right now that will go a long way to solving the climate crisis. To start with, move your business to 100% renewable energy, divest your portfolio away from fossil fuels, and switch your employees’ super to an ethical fund. None of this requires invention, or innovation, or mysterious future technology. Just a willingness to change, and the strength to make it happen.

This isn’t just an Australian problem, of course; the report’s findings are consistent with other companies around the world. In February 2022, New Climate Institute crunched the numbers on 25 major global companies – Microsoft wasn’t in the mix, but Amazon, Apple and Google were – and found that most climate pledges lack transparency and integrity, and fall well short of Paris Agreement goals.

Even Microsoft, which commissioned this particular study, has seen their emissions balloon by 20%.

What can companies do?  

The report highlighted some steps that companies can take to align their climate ambition with actual results.

-        Measure your emissions and set clear goals. Only 11% of Australian companies currently have solid carbon accounting and transparent reporting.

-        Invest in sustainably focussed technology. This means adopting renewable energy as well as innovating to improve existing systems.

-        Invest in upskilling and empowering your workforce.

What can employees do?

It’s easy to feel powerless when your company is dragging its heels on climate, but there’s plenty you can do to help. You can upskill in sustainability (the WorkforClimate Academy, and the resources on our website, exist for this exact purpose), put together a business case and challenge decision makers to do better, or form an employee ‘Green Team’.

Staff can also conduct research to assess their company’s current climate ambitions and identify areas for improvement. When you find something useful, write an email to a senior manager and encourage them to take action.  

Don’t forget the small stuff, either. Anyone can reduce their own impact by decarbonising their commute, minimising business travel and watching their energy consumption at work.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, start here: WorkforClimate has plenty of great resources if you’re looking to push for change at work. They’re free and available to anyone. Tell your friends about us (and, most importantly, tell your CEO).  

Ready to take the next step? Join the WorkForClimate Academy, our new 10-week cohort program designed to help you take significant climate action in your workplace. Full details and registration information here.  

Photo by Israel Andrade via Unsplash.  

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