Questions concerning ZNU goes Zero
1. What does "ZNU goes Zero" mean?
ZNU goes Zero is an initiative of the ZNU - Centre for Sustainable Leadership at the University Witten/Herdecke which deals with responsible climate protection.
Together with as many of its partners as possible, the ZNU has set the goal of achieving carbon neutral operations at their German locations by the end of 2022 at the latest. In order to make an additional contribution to stay within earth’s planetary boundaries, the partners will not only avoid, reduce and compensate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), but also switch to green electricity and support additional projects according to the motto “Trees, Soil and/or Education”.
2. What is the goal of ZNU goes Zero?
The ZNU aims at identifying solutions for the ZNU partners to act responsibly in terms of climate protection. In this process, the ZNU wants to work participatorily and cooperatively together with their partners who are genuinely and credibly dedicated to the topic of climate protection. By participating in ZNU goes Zero, the companies automatically fulfil the requirements of the “Initiative Allianz für Klima und Entwicklung (BMZ)” (Alliance for Climate and Development initiative). The ZNU is a member of this initiative since 2019 and recommends the participants of ZNU goes Zero to also register there (https://allianz-entwicklung-klima.de). Furthermore, ZNU goes Zero is also compatible with the Science Based Target Initiative (https://sciencebasedtargets.org).
3. What political effect does ZNU goes Zero want to achieve?
We want to lead the way in terms of climate protection and demonstrate politicians concrete approaches for how holistic climate protection can be implemented, especially in SMEs. We are of course open to cooperative approaches with politics – climate protection is after all a collective process of all social actors!
4. What is the ZNU’s understanding of itself as a quality assurer?
In its role as quality assurer, ZNU ensures that all companies participating in ZNU goes Zero implement responsible climate protection in five steps. The fulfilment of each step is checked by the ZNU by means of a data collection sheet, which the participating ZNU partners complete annually. The collected data is documented separately on an internal database and confidentially handled.
For each step, the ZNU defines verifiable measures and criteria:
- Step 1 requires a climate assessment of the corporate footprint according to the GHG Protocol or DIN ISO 1464.
- Step 2 requests the documentation of concrete reduction potentials to avoid and reduce GHG emissions and provide evidence of these by giving concrete examples. The participants have to set ambitious targets and action plans for the reduction of CO2, which are reviewed annually based on a data collection sheet and via the audit for the ZNU-Standard – Driving Sustainable Change.
- Step 3 includes that the companies use green electricity which must be verified by green electricity certificates and quality seals. A detailed description of the ZNU criteria can be found in the ZNU guide "Green Electricity" (Ökostrom). The ZNU provides support in checking the relevant certificates in advance.
- Step 4’s net carbon neutrality is based on the regulations of internationally recognised standards, which are also recommended by the Umweltbundesamt (Federal Environment Agency). These include, among others, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the UN, the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Gold Standard. More information on these and other standards can be found in the associated ZNU goes Zero guide "Net Carbon Neutrality and CARBON NEUTRALITY+". The ZNU provides support in advance in checking the relevant certificates or decommissioning protocols.
- Step 5 comprises CARBON NEUTRALITY+ which stands for the additional commitment of ZNU partners to support projects which build up biomass or improve education. This commitment, which exceeds the requirements for net carbon neutrality, is a particular feature of the ZNU goes Zero initiative. Which projects are to be recognised here and to what extent will be examined individually by the ZNU.
5. What are the differences between ZNU goes Zero and other programs?
ZNU goes Zero distinguish itself from other programs in Step 2, 3, and especially in Step 5. For instance, Step 2 requires proof of avoidance and reduction measures based on concrete examples and reduction targets in percentages. In Step 3, only the use of "good" green electricity is taken into account. Step 5, CARBON NEUTRALITIY+, goes beyond "mere" compensation using certificates because it calls for the additional commitment of building up biomass, for example by planting trees or humus projects, as well as supporting educational development measures.
6. Why are so far only Scope 1 and 2 considered? What is the perspective in respect to Scope 3?
The process towards corporate carbon neutrality must first and foremost focus on the emissions caused by the company itself. This ensures that the company's footprint is actually reduced through methods and measures of greenhouse gas avoidance and reduction. Hence, all participating companies demonstrate a comparable level which allows communication of the successes of the initiative. Only then should the consideration and avoidance be extended to include Scope 3 emissions and thus to the upstream or downstream supply chain.
The ZNU is aware of the importance of considering the whole supply chain. Therefore, it will add Scope 3 criteria step-by-step to the process, with initial focus on the Scope 3 criteria that can be directly influenced by the company.
7. How are the ZNU-Standard Driving Sustainable Change and ZNU goes Zero connected?
The ZNU-Standard Driving Sustainable Change requires under category "Climate":
- “The company works systematically on effective climate protection both at the corporate and local level as well as along the value chain.
In order to avoid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they are systematically recorded, documented and evaluated at least at the company level. Based on international standards (GHG Protocol, ISO 14064), at least all emissions that fall under Scope 1 and 2 of the GHG Protocol are recorded. The aim is to use as much primary data as possible in the process.”
By participating in the initiative ZNU goes Zero the requirement "Climate II.1." of the ZNU-Standard Driving Sustainable Change is therefore fulfilled.
8. Does the ZNU-Standard Driving Sustainable Change and ZNU goes Zero address all steps of the supply chain?
The requirements of the ZNU-Standard Driving Sustainable Change apply to all locations of the certified partners and also address the for the company relevant sustainability issues along the supply chain. The ZNU-Standard is a management system standard and not a product standard. This also applies to ZNU goes Zero where the focus is laid on the corporate level as well, i.e. everyone is responsible for greater sustainability and climate protection at their own company location and then gradually expands their range of responsibility.
9. Which medium-sized companies participate already in ZNU goes Zero?
A continuously updated overview of the participating companies can be found on our homepage, ZNU goes Zero - Participants.
10. Is it an obligation to participate in ZNU goes Zero as member of the ZNU partner network?
The main goal of ZNU goes Zero is, for as many of the partner companies as possible, to have carbon neutral production sites at their German locations by the end of 2022 at the latest (Scope 1 and 2). The ZNU would like to win over as many partners as possible for the initiative, but it is not an obligation to participate – in contrast to implementing the ZNU-Standard Driving Sustainable Change.
11. How is the carbon neutrality tested and verified?
In order to achieve net carbon neutral operations at all of the German locations of our partners, ZNU goes Zero requires the partners to go through a five-step procedure. First, the site-specific GHG emissions are recorded. This is done in compliance with internationally recognised standards, such as the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG). The aim of the second step is to avoid or reduce the company’s GHG emissions through specific measures. The partners are asked to set concrete percentage reduction targets. This entails raising awareness in employees, optimizing processes, and implementing other company- and sector-specific measures to increase the energy efficiency which are then made transparent to the ZNU by means of examples. Verifications are possible via the ZNU-Standard Driving Sustainable Change, EMAS, ISO 50001 or ISO 14001. The third step requires the use of certified green electricity. If all measures to increase energy efficiency have been implemented, the remaining unavoidable GHG-emissions should be offset via the purchase of verified emission certificates in the fourth step. In the last step encompasses building up biomass as well as educating people on climate relevant topi. This additional requirement for net carbon neutrality is a unique feature of the initiative ZNU goes Zero.
12. What does "net carbon neutrality" mean? What does CARBON NEUTRALITY+ mean?
Currently and in the foreseeable future, it is not possible to completely avoid all CO2 emissions at the sites of a company. If the unavoidable CO2 emissions are offset through the purchase of certificates, we speak of “net carbon neutrality”.
CARBON NEUTRALITY+ stands for climate protection that goes beyond net carbon neutrality by creating additional biomass to bind CO2 as well as putting educational measures into practice. Projects that can be included are for instance reforestation- or humus projects.
13. Are the products of the partner company also carbon neutral if they participate in ZNU goes Zero?
No. ZNU goes Zero refers to the GHG emissions at the locations of the company, where pragmatic and immediate measures can be implemented. The carbon neutrality does not include the individual products. Cooperative climate protection along the value chain remains a central topic for the ZNU, which will soon be addressed.
14. How is greenwashing avoided?
Through the application of a step-by-step approach, reduction potentials are successively identified, reduced, and avoided. Proof for each of these steps must be provided to the ZNU annually via a data collection sheet and is checked in detail by the ZNU. The focus of ZNU goes Zero is on the first two steps (identification and reduction), before the reduction potentials of green electricity, offsetting, and building up of biomass and implementing educational projects take effect. This means that there is no “sale of indulgences” because targets and measures to reduce and avoid emissions must first be set and implemented before the unavoidable emissions can be compensated.
Especially Step 5 CARBON NEUTRALITY+ goes beyond regular market-based strategies by initiating climate protecting projects even after net carbon neutrality is reached to further refute the accusation of greenwashing.
15. Are there German compensation projects through which companies can offset their emissions?
Since the beginning of 2021, arable land and pastures are part of the German emissions inventory. Therefore, no compensation certificates can be purchased from German afforestation or forest protection projects because the emission saving of these projects are reflected in the overall German emission balance but cannot be used for offsetting by individual companies.
Excluded from this are peatlands, for which carbon offsetting certificates can be issued in Germany.
16. How can partners maintain a vivid dialogue with the ZNU on further developments and progresses?
In addition to the semi-annually working group “ZNU goes Zero – emissions”, a consultation session will take place on a regular basis from 2021 onwards. The aim is to provide a continuous update on the developments of the initiative and the cooperation with the offset partners. The ZNU acts as a link between the partner network and the offset partners, such as Plant-for-the-planet.
17. How can partners support the successful communication of ZNU goes Zero and when will the achievements of partners that are al-ready participating be published?
The reduction of CO2 emissions is a process that consists of many individual steps and projects. Within the ZNU network, there are many positive examples that demonstrate reduction efforts in an impressive way. It is important for the ZNU to document these "minimisation successes" internally as well as externally.
The participating companies document their progress annually using the ZNU goes Zero recoding sheet. This data is stored, checked, and aggregated on a data base by the ZNU which anonymised results can then be used internally and externally for communication purposes (without naming specific companies).
Due to the collection of data and concrete examples, it is possible to point out further points of improvement to partner companies and thus learn from each other.
Especially the documentation of the measures that are taken to reduce the emissions contribute to the success of ZNU goes Zero: By deriving the most successful examples of CO2e reduction efforts, benchmarks, and projects such as tree planting, the success of the initiative can be measured and credibly communicated.
The results are presented anonymously by the ZNU (without naming specific company names) on a regular basis, for instance at the annual ZNU conference or at ZNU working groups.
18. How is the ZNU prepared if, against all expectations, the PwC audit for Plant-for-the-Planet turns out be unfavourable?
We greatly appreciate the longstanding cooperation with the initiative Plant-for-the-Planet and currently assume that the allegations will be quickly clarified and completely rebutted by Plant-for-the-Planet. Nevertheless, the ZNU reserves the right to immediately dissolve the business relationship with Plant-for-the-Planet if there are doubts about the implementation of the measures mentioned and if the criticism expressed in the “Zeit” report was confirmed. The ZNU would remove Plant-for-the-Planet as provider for Step 4 and 5 and would recommend alternative cooperation partners for the ZNU goes Zero initiative.
19. The ZNU-Standard Driving Sustainable Change and the initiative ZNU goes Zero are so far better known in the B2B sector than in the B2C sector, what approaches are being taken to reach more publicity in the future?
The ZNU is currently in dialogue with various ministries, associations, trading companies and other initiatives, such as the Alliance for Climate and Development, in order to make the ZNU standard and the climate protection initiative better known. A milestone was certainly the acknowledgment of the ZNU Standard and ZNU goes Zero by Minister Müller at the ZNU Conference 2019. The ZNU informs about ongoing activities during working groups and consultation hours that take place regularly during the year as well as in the ZNU newsletter.
20. Can anyone join ZNU goes Zero? Or is it an exclusive club?
The prerequisite for participation in ZNU goes Zero is a partnership with the ZNU. In the future, however, the ZNU will make its know-how available to all interested parties in the sense of a transformational process and invites them to follow suit.
21. What are the next steps?
Step by step, we want to inspire as many ZNU partners in the network as possible to participate in ZNU goes Zero. Furthermore, we will approach other actors - such as politicians - in order to strengthen social awareness for climate protection and existing initiatives. In addition, we are in the process of identifying other providers of compensation measures besides Plant-for-the-Planet and recruiting them for ZNU goes Zero - the providers should be committed to the motto "education, soil and/or trees".