Microsoft: 59% of UK organizations will miss government 2050 net zero target without urgent action on carbon reduction, research reveals


LONDON–(COMMERCIAL THREAD) – Only 41% of UK organizations are on track to meet the government’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, according to a new study released today by Dr Chris Brauer, Goldsmiths, University of London in partnership with Microsoft.

The results reveal a strong ambition and strategic vision for sustainability within UK organizations, but most leaders struggle to translate this intention into action, with almost three-quarters (74%) described as having “one foot in and one foot out ”on sustainability.

Based on online surveys of 1,707 UK business leaders and 2,153 employees, the research report includes information from leading UK organizations, as well as leading experts in sustainable commerce from government, industry and academia.

The ambition-action gap has not gone unnoticed by British workers. According to the survey, the majority (72%) of employees surveyed felt that environmental sustainability should be a top priority for companies over the next five years, but only 19% say their employer is effectively implementing their plan. current sustainability. Tellingly, only 17% of employees believe their work space is as environmentally friendly as their own home. This is important because nearly half (48%) of employees surveyed said the strength of a company’s sustainability plan would impact where they choose to work.

The challenges for businesses and a plan for net zero

The report highlights the most pressing sustainability challenges identified by UK leaders to achieve the net zero goals and outlines a practical plan of short and long term actions to overcome them. When asked to identify their top three most pressing challenges over the next five to ten years, the top challenges highlighted by the organizations surveyed include:

  • Activate the strategy – Concerns about a clear organizational sustainability strategy (43%)
  • Advice – 41% of those surveyed cited clear government guidance as a challenge, but the report underscores the need to global systems thinking, including collaboration between government, business, academia and NGOs to collectively overcome barriers to net zero
  • Skills – Have internal expertise and skills to support a sustainable development strategy (40%)
  • Funding – Have access to funding to implement their sustainable development plan (36%)
  • Making the most of technology –The availability of technology to support sustainability initiatives (33%)

Sustainable development leaders

The research team has developed a dashboard against which to compare the progress of UK organizations on environmental sustainability. Based on the results, organizations were classified into one of the following three groups:

  • Sustainability leaders – only 11% of UK organizations – stand out for their ability to unlock funding and develop technologies to achieve sustainability goals, with very supportive leadership and strong stakeholder buy-in. This group is on track to meet the net zero goals.
  • Aspiration – 74% of organizations – better to raise their ambitions and design sustainable development strategies than to execute them. They have the operational potential to reach net zero, but faster transformation is needed.

  • The latecomers – only 15% of organizations – have built sustainability into their strategy, but are currently making very slow progress towards their goals. This group is unlikely to reach net zero by 2050, unless ambition turns into real action.

One factor that sets sustainability leaders apart is their ability to harness the potential of technology to amplify and accelerate their net zero strategies. Three-quarters of this group invest in R&D for new technologies (76%), including technology to measure carbon emissions (76%), and many are also developing the in-house skills needed to get the most out of these technologies. .

Technologies for sustainability

The report also explores the role of technology in the journey to net zero. When the business case is proven to make a significant contribution to sustainability, organizations invest in the greenest solutions. Examples include enterprise productivity technologies (used by 89% of companies), collaboration technologies (70%), cloud technologies (69%), and carbon emissions measurement technologies (33%).

And there is an appetite for increasingly sophisticated technology over the next five years to reduce carbon emissions. Business leaders will focus on more intensive use of carbon measurement technology (56%), robotic process automation (RPA, 51%), machine learning (53%) and “digital twin” technologies (55%) – a growing territory for the digital simulation of large-scale business processes and strategies without the waste of the real world.

Clare Barclay, CEO of Microsoft UK, comments: “If the UK is to achieve its net zero ambitions, the public and private sectors must join forces to define the meaning of true net zero, agree on how to measure progress and build markets that can deliver fair and prosperous future for all.

“Technology will play a key role in addressing these challenges and it is clear from our research that organizations that have made technology central to their strategies are those that have made the most significant progress against their sustainability goals. And while it is encouraging that so many of the organizations surveyed take the threat of climate change seriously, now is the time to move from ambition to action. We must work collectively to accelerate our journey to net zero. ”

Dr Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation, Institute of Management Studies (IMS) at Goldsmiths, University of London, comments: “UK organizations have strong net zero ambitions. But to truly tackle the climate emergency that lies ahead, actions must speak louder than words. Today’s findings not only call for progress, they outline a practical short- and long-term plan to help organizations accelerate net zero progress. If organizations can prioritize areas such as cross-sector collaboration, stakeholder buy-in, internal expertise, and technology to track carbon reduction progress, the positive environmental impact could be seismic.

Sam Kimmins, Head of RE100 at The Climate Group, adds, “These numbers can and should increase as large organizations use their size and influence to lead the way. Companies really need to work with their suppliers to quickly achieve common sustainability goals. If a large company greenes a supply chain that also supplies 30 other companies, you get a positive multiplier effect. ”

Please visit to download a copy of the report.


Notes to Editors

Microsoft is accelerating progress towards a more sustainable future by reducing its own environmental footprint, committing to be carbon negative by 2030, accelerating research, and advocating for policies that benefit the environment.

By 2050, the company will eliminate from the atmosphere all the carbon dioxide it has emitted (directly or through the consumption of electricity) since its creation in 1975. It will also be zero waste and positive water by now the end of this decade.

For more information on Microsoft’s sustainability initiatives, please visit:

About the research

The research was conducted in the summer and fall of 2021 by Microsoft in partnership with Dr Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation, Goldsmiths, University of London, leading a team of economists, data scientists, environmental scientists and sociologists. They used a mixed method approach to create a template, dashboard and blueprint for reducing carbon emissions in UK businesses. This included:

  • An in-depth review of the literature on academic, industrial and media knowledge and data sources.

  • Barometer surveys conducted by YouGov among 1,707 executives who are senior decision-makers and over and 2,153 adults who are full-time employees. Fieldwork was undertaken between July 30 and August 18, 2021. The survey was conducted online.

  • Using the survey results, the researchers developed a dashboard to differentiate companies and indicate how close they are to meeting their decarbonization goals. The criteria in this scorecard were grouped into two categories – sustainability and innovation – and allowed for an in-depth sustainability mapping exercise, using the survey results, to place organizations on a scale between different levels of sustainability. ‘adoption.

  • In order to be able to extrapolate the scoreboard results to the economy, the results were weighted by the organizations share in the total economy, assuming a standard normal distribution of the population and the veracity of the responses. The results are statistically reliable and the figures presented have been rounded for simplicity.

  • Qualitative exploration – interviews with a variety of academics, professionals and UK business case study leaders around the research model and results of this project. The quotes were analyzed and used as evidence to support the hypotheses.


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