Why you should never dilute Net Zero targets, Mr Sunak
In an early meeting of our Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group (CoSM), a founder member (now retired, but I’m sticking with the Chatham House rule), said:
There’s no way on earth we’re going to meet our carbon target, but I’m resisting all pressure to dilute it, because if we do, it’s Game Over.
These words sprung to mind today when the UK Prime Minister suddenly announced the dilution or removal of a series of targets on sales of new internal combustion engine cars, installation of gas boilers and domestic energy efficiency measures, amongst others. Cue howls of outrage from ‘woke activists’ such as [checks notes] Ford, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover, the RAC, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and quite a few of Sunak’s own backbench MPs.
In this case, the change of tack will have messed up years of planning in the motor industry which was predicated on the switch being made in 2030. Effectively they will be penalised for doing exactly what they were asked to do: make a massive change to their business models, their manufacturing lines and their supply chains. Whatever the market for EVs will be in 2030, it will almost certainly be much smaller than it would be under the previous targets – although if there is a change in Government in the meantime (as the polls suggest), this could change back again.
This isn’t the place to dig into the politics of the decision (which don’t make any sense either), but from a generic point of view, here’s why you should never dilute Sustainability targets, whether you’re in an organisation or in No 10 Downing Street:
- As mentioned above, you penalise those doing the right thing and reward the laggards. This means that, for any other target, there is no incentive for anybody to make an effort as the carpet might get pulled out from under them again;
- You create a dangerous precedent – next time a target becomes tricky, the expectation will be to loosen it rather than try harder;
- Somebody somewhere has to pick up any bill for the change in trajectory, adding to the cost of meeting the diluted target;
- If the target is going to be missed (as in the case in the opening quote), you remove the main driver for an emergency course correction to meet the target – as another CoSM member said just last week “no manager likes a red flag in their report”;
- You will destroy trust in anything else you want to do, damaging your brand, internally and externally. You could get accused of greenwash;
- You will personally look weak.
TLDR: it isn’t worth it