AAT has supported the development of a self-service platform for accountants to achieve the statutory objective of net zero.
Net Zero Now is a self-service platform designed to make pursuing net zero a practical activity that is within reach of small and medium-sized businesses.
AAT has joined ICAEW, ACCA, and the Good Business Charter in developing and road-testing a protocol, especially for accountancy, to support the tool.
The protocol has been developed as a reliable, authoritative standard for any accountancy organisation to plan actions and measure their effectiveness. It can be downloaded free of charge here. Net Zero Now has also developed a playbook full of helpful actions to get businesses started on their net zero journey, which is also available for free.
However, Net Zero Now itself is a subscription-based software system that is designed to work in parallel with the protocol. The online platform does the heavy lifting and enables practices to calculate their carbon emissions, set targets, get tailored reduction plans, and compensate for unavoidable emissions – all of which will help them set a concrete course for net zero.
Net zero: working towards the right goal
Many AAT members are still getting to grips with the subject of reducing carbon emissions, a task not made any easier by different terminologies and definitions in circulation.
For example, businesses often talk about achieving carbon neutrality, which seems very similar to net zero. Depending on the definition, carbon neutrality can mean balancing carbon emissions through offsetting (say, purchasing carbon credits), without necessarily driving down emissions.
Net zero is about directly reducing the level of emissions by as much as 90% and only using offsetting as a last resort. It also specifies actions on three kinds of emissions – including Scope 3, which takes account of indirect activities from purchased goods and services to investments, leased assets and waste disposal.
As such, net zero is a long-term endeavour that can take years to achieve and involve rethinking processes, which is why it could be useful to have software tools to manage and direct efforts.
Net zero: accreditation
Once businesses begin taking the right actions, they will naturally want to demonstrate it through accreditation.
There are solid business reasons for wanting to do this. Clients are beginning to require evidence that their supply chain partners are working towards net zero. It is also easier to attract and retain staff if a business can show that it is taking its environmental commitments seriously.
Net Zero Now’s subscription produce includes certification against the accountancy sector protocol. Two levels are available:
Level 1 – entry-level, granted once an organisation has a plan and had made a clear commitment to work towards net zero.
Level 2 – the higher level of accreditation is granted to companies that have two years of data and progress in implementing their plan.
Case study: accountants’ experiences
The accountancy protocol – and the Net Zero Now platform – have been road-tested, prior to launch, with encouraging results.
Here’s what emerged from a pilot between November 2021 and January 2022, involving Grunberg and Wilson Wright.
- It’s relatively simple for accountancy firms to get to net zero, compared to other sectors.
- Practices also experienced the same kinds of challenges in going net zero, so a sector-wide approach can be highly effective.
- The key emissions sources for the profession are energy for offices, employee commuting and business travel and IT equipment.
Adam Williamson, AAT’s Head of Responsible Business and Policy, commented:
“AAT is very aware that net zero can seem daunting, and we want to work closely with our members help them engage with it. The free resources, such as the Net Zero Now Protocol and Climate Action Playbook, are a great opportunity for organisations at the start of their net zero journey. Those seeking a helping hand might also want to consider the full software option.”
Paul Struthers, Managing Director, UK & Ireland at Sage, said: “We know through our partnership with Net Zero Now we are helping practices gain access to great insight and support that will enable them to start their sustainability journey, using technology and insight to drive forward their net zero ambitions.”
Fraser Campbell, UK Head of Accounts & Business Advisory at accountancy firm Azets, welcomed the launch:
“The launch of Net Zero Now is a positive step forward for the SME community, at a time when all businesses need to address Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) policies. Failure to develop ESG plans will increase growth headwinds for ambitious companies, as ESG commitment is increasingly sought by employees, suppliers, customers and funders.
“Sustainability and ESG in general are in the spotlight like never before, but businesses need support in delivering meaningful improvements due to challenges including a lack of expertise, time, and supply chain due diligence creating barriers.”
Jenny Herrera, CEO, Good Business Charter, said: “We want to ensure our current and potential members, especially the smaller ones with fewer resources to work on this, are connected to effective ways they can meet net zero. We have a good number of professional services firms and we believe working on a protocol that takes their specific industry and sets out tangible ways to achieve net zero will be such a valuable tool.”
David Nunn is Content Manager at AAT.