Company bosses question benefits of net zero transition

Two-thirds of senior company executives believe it is not currently commercially viable to operate as a net-zero emissions business, a global survey commissioned by British lender Standard Chartered showed.

The survey of 250 executives, in a report called ‘Zeronomics’, found that a focus on shorter-term returns meant 77% of companies “struggle to justify” giving up reliable revenue from a proven business model in exchange for uncertain future returns.

“Companies also doubt whether the work needed to transition their organisations will be worth it,” the report said, with 62% of executives believing the expected benefits of transitioning to a lower-carbon business do not outweigh the costs.

Companies are under pressure from investors to ensure their businesses are ready to prosper in the global transition to a low-carbon economy, as policymakers retool economies in response to the challenge posed by climate change.

However, the pace of change remains slow, frustrating investors who are calling on companies to move more quickly and be more open about their plans.

Despite that, the survey found the executives saw a number of hurdles in the way of progress, including the need for greater levels of finance, particularly in emerging economies, and better measurement and reporting standards.

Among factors that could help drive quicker change were more evidence of the potential cost benefits, increased pressure from supply chain partners and investors, and an effective global tax on carbon emissions, the executives said.

“Despite the need for immediate action, the transition to net-zero carbon is a long-term project with long-term benefits,” the report said. “However, companies are not set up to take the long view.”

A concurrent survey of 100 leading investors found 93% believed the relatively short tenure of the average chief executive was hindering their ability to act – a view shared by 79% of the executives.

While 64% of the investors said most business leaders were focused on short-term performance over long-term value creation, 90% said the net-zero plan communicated by a company CEO was a “critically important” driver of its appeal as an investment.

“Two-thirds believe that a company’s net-zero transition strategy and leadership is now a better predictor of future corporate success than its past financial performance,” the report said.

“If CEOs become climate leaders, this may pave the way to net zero.”