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Operations mangers: net-zero secret weapons

Feb. 10, 2023
If an industrial company is serious about executing on its climate pledges it must put the ball in the hands of its operations managers, according to a survey by ESG software, data and consulting firm Sphera.

If an industrial company is serious about executing on its climate pledges it must put the ball in the hands of its operations managers, according to a survey of 300 operations managers in industrial sectors across the U.K., United States and Germany by ESG software, data and consulting firm Sphera.

Many respondents to the survey, which is part of a report titled, “Operational Landscape: The Inside View of Industrial Decarbonization from Operations Managers,” said that responsibility for net zero is too heavily concentrated at the top of their organization, with 95% reporting that accountability for net zero lies solely with C-suite executives and the board of directors. Meanwhile, 42% of operations managers receive little or no encouragement to contribute suggestions on improving the environmental sustainability of business operations. 

Yet, the report finds a growing desire among mid-level employees to share responsibility for climate change goals, with 40% of operations managers calling for carbon targets to be included in their performance reviews. 

“With high levels of personal and professional commitment to sustainability, operations managers have emerged as the secret weapon for businesses in the fight for more sustainable operations. Yet, many companies are experiencing a gap between carbon pledges and operational practices because of limited involvement by operations managers,” said Paul Marushka, Sphera’s CEO and president. “Our report finds that operations managers have the influence and desire to help drive decarbonization efforts across business operations, as well as supplier and partner networks. Now, what they need are the data, software and best practices to do so.” 

While companies may need to better empower their operations managers, many are still trying to set forth climate goals. The survey also finds that 40% of industrial companies now have a public net-zero strategy, and 43% have allotted more than 20% extra budget to sustainability and net-zero initiatives, indicating an increasingly widespread commitment to climate action at the board level. 

But they’re having trouble executing on their promises. The report found that 85% of companies now have net-zero strategies, but the majority are failing to incorporate them into daily business operations. Only 41% of operations managers have seen sustainability strategies produce significant changes in daily practices, and 32% say their firms do not align with science-based emissions targets. 

Marushka pointed out that transparent tracking of decarbonization results is the missing link between business net-zero pledges and practices that lead to progress, with operations managers consistently calling for more frequent measurement of progress towards decarbonization at every level. 

“Throughout the report, transparent results emerge as essential to building the trust and confidence of employees and customers in corporate climate change pledges,’ he said. 

Respondents to the survey indicated the key to net-zero success is to treat emissions reduction targets like financial targets, which are included in everything from quarterly reviews to employee KPIs. “Existing technologies and content, such as data analytics and AI, already enable companies to rapidly record and reduce their carbon footprint,” Marushka said. 

Additional finding in the report say 73% of companies are already actively exploring or addressing the challenge of Scope 3 emissions, and 43% percent of operations managers are already discussing sustainability issues with suppliers and partners. 

Meanwhile, 22% of operations managers say regulations are still the main driver of business attention to sustainability initiatives. Only 40% of operations managers rate employee engagement with their organization’s sustainability strategy very highly.           

About the Author

Len Vermillion | Editor in Chief

Len Vermillion is editor-in-chief of Control.