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Cutting through the carbon

28 Oct 2021

The beginnings of our journey to net zero by 2030

I’ve always believed that Octopus was on the right side of the climate emergency – part of the solution rather than part of the problem. A big part of this belief was down to Octopus Energy, which is using technology to make the world’s transition to renewable energy faster and cheaper for tens of millions of customers around the world. Another reason was our investment business which has always had a strong focus on backing businesses focused on building a more sustainable planet.  

However, when I actually started to dig into our own journey to net zero it soon became apparent that we weren’t doing enough to reduce our own emissions, let alone engaging with our portfolio companies to reduce theirs too.  

The scientific data could not be clearer. It’s no longer an exaggeration to say that the accelerating climate emergency poses an existential threat to life on Earth. We’re at a tipping point. Unless we have bold, urgent and unapologetic leadership from all sectors and levels of society, our future generations will inherit a planet that is broken.  

How we plan to get there

What’s below is the start of our commitment. We know we’re not perfect and we know that we don’t have all the answers right now, but we’ll continue to be honest and communicate our failures as well as our successes. I sincerely hope that our own lessons, and the actions we’re taking, will help other companies on their own journeys towards building a better tomorrow.

Our biggest commitment towards net zero is linked to our status as a B Corp. We’ve decided to join other members of the B Corp community – like Patagonia and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream – and sign up to the B Corp Climate Collective. As part of this pledge, we’re committing to get to net zero by 2030.

In working out how we’ll achieve this, we’ve made a plan aimed at tackling our biggest sources of emissions. First, we’re partnering with a developer to create a ground-breaking sustainable office in the heart of London. Secondly, we’re introducing a carbon budget that will be implemented across all our Group companies to reduce their supply chain and employee emissions as fast as possible. Thirdly, we take our responsibility as a fund management company very seriously. Our investors have entrusted us with more than £11 billion of their money and we think it’s vital that we work with the management teams of our investee companies on their own carbon reporting and transition planning, encouraging them to set and meet their own net zero commitments. 

The final piece of the puzzle

One point that’s important to understand is that almost every company in every sector is going to be left with some residual emissions and carbon offsetting will be part of the net zero solution. There is a lot of discussion (and debate) around available offsetting solutions so I thought I’d explain how we’re thinking about things at the moment.   

Like most companies, the first thing we thought about was trees. In fact, we really wanted to plant our own forest. But a tree planted today won’t grow to a size where it’s capturing a meaningful amount of carbon from the atmosphere for another 15 years. In our view, that’s just too long to wait. We need faster solutions.   

So we looked at some of the recognised carbon offsetting providers that sell carbon credits, but the majority of these projects focused on carbon reduction (protecting forestry for example). And while they’re great projects in their own right, protecting something that’s already there just didn’t feel right to us. So we went back to the drawing board to look for something a bit different. And we think we might have found it…  

The rising tide of ‘blue carbon’

The potential solutions we’ve found sequester carbon around ten times more effectively than a forest and allow us to capture our emissions in the same year that we emit them. They’re ‘blue carbon’ projects. ‘Blue carbon’ refers to ocean-based carbon capture solutions, which have flown under the radar despite the fact that they absorb a quarter of the emissions generated by human activities each year. We’re intending to work with the Blue Marine Foundation – one of the world’s leading marine charities – to fund projects leveraging the ocean’s potential to capture carbon, as well as protect it. We aim to simultaneously capture enough carbon over the next decade to meet our net zero commitment, while turning barren landscapes into thriving ecosystems (perhaps even home to Octopus).  

We’re also partnering with the Blue Marine Foundation and the Government to support research that will help develop a recognised ‘Blue Carbon Code’. One that can be used by other businesses looking to offset their emissions through similar solutions.

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