Path to ZeroEnergyClimate ChangeElectric VehiclesSupply Chains

Corporate climate action, as told by 4 charts

February 7, 2022, 9:43 AM UTC

Ahead of the curve. That’s the best way to describe Unilever achieving 100% renewable electricity across five continents in 2019. But it wasn’t just an environmentally conscious move: It also saved the company money. In total, Unilever achieved $900 million in cost savings by sourcing low-cost renewable electricity.

This raises the question: Can more firms cut emissions without taking a hit to their bottom line? To find out, Fortune got exclusive access to the data used by Boston Consulting Group to produce their January report titled Winning the Race to Net Zero: The CEO Guide to Climate Advantage. The researchers calculated what share of emissions could be cut by major industries without incurring a real cost (factoring in both the savings and costs) from implementing emission-cutting operational improvements/new procurement processes. When the savings are equal to or greater than the costs, BCG says the measures have a “net-zero cost.”

Here are some of the top findings. 

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The numbers to know 

2,169

  • … the number of major global companies with pledged science-based emission targets. In 2018, that number was 501 companies. 

+3 percentage points 

  • … how much higher total shareholder return (calculated between 2016 and 2020) is for the top quartile of environmentally friendly companies.

50%

  • … the amount of emissions the average company can cut at a net-zero cost (a.k.a. the savings cancel out any cost incurred). 

70%

  • … the amount of emissions produced by automotive manufacturers that could be cut at a net-zero cost.

50%

  • … of job seekers are looking for organizations that value sustainability, finds BCG. 
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Big picture

Cutting emissions doesn’t always mean incurring a big cost. Indeed, BCG finds that on average companies could cut 50% of their emissions at a net-zero cost. In some industries—including automotive—that figure is 70% or higher.

There’s a competitive advantage to cutting emissions. Not only does it help on the recruiting front, but if done right the cost savings can help the bottom line. 

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A few deeper takeaways

1. Decarbonization commitments are accelerating. 

Over the past year, the number of companies who have pledged to meet science-based emission targets has more than doubled to 2,169 companies. Those companies combined account for $24 trillion in revenues or equal to around 30% of global GDP.

That’s a big jump from six years ago when just 116 companies had set science-based targets validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

2. Companies aren’t telling us much. 

According to the BCG researchers, only 1 in 5 companies has both emissions reduction targets in place and discloses its full-value chain emissions. Another 3 in 5 have partial or no emission disclosures.  

But it varies a lot by industry. The financial industry is the least transparent—with 81% having partial or no emission disclosures. That compares with 42% of energy companies that have partial or no emission disclosures.

3. Carmakers can cut emissions without breaking the bank.

Generally speaking, there’s a lot of cost benefits the manufacturing process can see by adopting cleaner energy sources. But few would benefit as much as the automotive industry. According to the BCG researchers, 70% of emissions produced by the automotive manufacturers could be cut at a net-zero cost (a.k.a. the savings cancel out any cost incurred). 

The good news? If automakers follow through on their pledges (more on that below), we should see a big drop in automotive emissions. 

4. ‘A single player can raise the bar.’

It will take massive collective action in order to really make a dent in global emissions. That said, one company can have an outsize impact. Just look at automotive, where Tesla’s years of chasing electrification have finally reshaped the entire industry. Now, everyone is rushing to catch up to Tesla—a company with a market capitalization ($911 billion) that is 12 times as great as that of General Motors ($74 billion).

“Major progress in recent years has often come not from collective action but from competitive action, triggered by one individual company boldly moving ahead of its sector. Early movers can not only create value—they can change the game by prompting systemic changes across sectors and the regulation needed to achieve the climate imperative,” write the BCG researchers. 

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