Zero carbon footprint targets are "unusual" and have their challenges, according to a consultant who points out that green goals are for now still secondary to attaining growth in Asia, particularly China.
In April, Sony announced its "Road to Zero" sustainability blueprint, under which the Japanese consumer electronics giant pledged to achieve a zero environmental footprint by 2050.
In response to e-mail queries from ZDNet Asia, a Sony spokesperson noted that the company's zero environment footprint extends beyond climate change or carbon neutrality to also take into account resource conservation, chemical management and biodiversity conservation.
Sony's 40-year plan, however, may be a rare phenomenon in the industry.
According to Ynse de Boer, Accenture's senior manager for sustainability services, enterprise zero carbon footprint goals are "unusual and potentially challenging to meet".
Citing the 2008 Carbon Disclosure Project survey, de Boer noted that only two of the 100 biggest companies indicated that they had carbon-neutral targets.
At the same time, companies which had more ambitious carbon reduction targets planned to use carbon offsets to achieve them, "rather than driving authentic zero carbon footprints", de Boer told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.
One challenge in driving zero carbon, said de Boer, is that zero carbon technologies are scarce. "There are only [a] few readily available low-cost solutions to reduce carbon [emissions] or to produce low-cost zero carbon energy. Companies therefore have to invest [in] and research ways to become less carbon-intensive," he explained.
In addition, even driving a low carbon strategy could potentially be disruptive to an organization. It could require wholesale changes to the way the business operates, the closure of business or product lines or "radical" new ways of working, he said.
"An authentic zero carbon footprint may often conflict with other business priorities," noted de Boer. "A key challenge is to disconnect the growth of the business from its footprint."
While a zero carbon status may be equated to being carbon-neutral, which has been the emphasis of many companies including Dell and Google, the latter concept has been largely associated with carbon offsetting, or the purchase of carbon credits, to neutralize carbon emissions.
In the case of Sony, the company spokesperson explained that its top priority is to reduce its own carbon emissions from sites and products. Carbon offsetting will be considered only after "reduction activities are executed to the full[est] extent possible".
Growth targets outweigh low carbon agenda
Accenture's de Boer pointed out that in regional economies, particularly China, growth still takes precedence over being green despite an improvement in attitudes.
In recent years, there has been increasing emphasis on sustainability, including moves by the Chinese government to launch a domestic carbon trading scheme by 2014.
In reality, a low carbon agenda remains a secondary or lower priority compared with business expansion and growing the bottom line, he said.
"At the moment, many treat the [carbon reduction] issue as public relations or a showcase [of] corporate social responsibility, rather than something [of] substance," he said. "Therefore, there is still a long way to go for Chinese companies to have the same kind of urgency as their counterparts in the developed markets, even though they are moving in the right direction."
Nonetheless, a target to achieve zero carbon by a time frame such as 2050 is "certainly reasonable", added de Boer. "But much of the achievement will be based on externalities that a business cannot control, like renewable energy infrastructure," he cautioned.
According to Accenture and Sony, broadly, there are a number of steps an organization should take to work toward a zero carbon footprint.
1. Understand your carbon footprint to identify key areas to take action.
2. Understand the regulatory and stakeholder environment.
3. Set long-term targets.
4. Put incentives in place to reward those who achieve good carbon performance.