Several governments and organizations are talking about carbon neutrality, de-carbonization and reaching net-zero in relation to the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While most target horizon 2050, some set goals that defy the imagination. This is particularly the case ofApple and Microsoftcompanies that have both targeted the 2030 horizon.
At present, these are near impossible but necessary goals which, if achieved, will benefit society as a whole.
Associate professor in management at HEC Montréal and head of education for the Master’s in Management and Sustainable Development, I am interested in environmental issues, ecological transition, and the transformation of organizations in connection with climate change. In this article, I intend to clarify why these goals are important, their implications for organizations, and the challenges inherent in pursuing them.
Giving a shock to the company
The almost impossible goals are organizational objectives whose objective probability of being achieved is highly uncertain. Moreover, with regard to current practices, skills and knowledge, their realization seems impossible.
So why set such extreme goals? In the hope of obtaining results that no one would have thought possible. But it is still necessary that their establishment be carried out in an adequate manner.
The principle is simple. By setting extreme goals, you create an internal crisis in order to initiate change. We refocus the organization’s attention on possible futures by sending a strong signal about our priorities. And this should normally stimulate exploratory learning and force employees to think creatively and see problems differently.
In other words, we give an electric shock to the organization, to force it to innovate and reach new heights of excellence.
Decarbonization: the road is still long
In the case of Apple and Microsoft, the two companies aim to decarbonize all of their activities by 2030. And this shift also concerns their suppliers, who must also commit to reducing their emissions to allow a decarbonization of their value chain.
These objectives correspond precisely to almost impossible objectives. Why ? Because current capacities related to the decarbonization of our economies are limited, which restricts access to supplies of low-carbon components and raw materials. Among the reasons that explain these limitations, we find the general state of progress of the electrification of transport and the energy transition, and the limited number of companies that have already made substantial decarbonization efforts.
While Apple and Microsoft’s ability to hit their targets is questionable, there is room to better understand what this type of goal entails for an organization.
An uncertain path to a clear goal
An organization committing to an almost impossible goal ventures towards the unknown and the extreme novelty. This extreme novelty requires innovation across all spheres of the organization’s activities.
While most organizations learn incrementally, extreme novelty involves a shift to much riskier exploratory learning. Indeed, an organization can only ensure its survival by performing effectively in the short term, while positioning itself for an uncertain future. By promoting exploratory learning, we think outside the box and increase the risk of failure, since innovation is focused on the long term.
In the case of the response to climate change, there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the cost of emission rights, the costs associated with the energy transition, and the solutions that will allow us to achieve our decarbonization objectives. One thing remains certain, however: the link between GHG emissions and global warming.
Any organization committing to a carbon neutrality objective is therefore committing to a clear and necessary objective, but whose path to take to achieve it remains uncertain.
The Challenges of Pursuing Near-Impossible Goals
Pursuing near-impossible goals comes with its own set of challenges and risks.
A first challenge is to realize that not all employees react in the same way to this type of objective. While the latter may motivate the most experienced and capable employees to come up with innovative and useful ideas for solving the problem, other employees will see their ability to mobilize and apply their knowledge effectively. lessen. The latter then go back to randomly submitting their ideas, which diminishes their quality.
A second challenge is to properly assess the organization’s capacity to engage in this type of exercise. On this point, two elements should be kept in mind: the performance of the organization and its available resources.
Regarding the performance of the organization, a succession of several recent successes could better position employees towards these objectives, because they would be more confident in their ability to achieve set goals. Conversely, adopting near-impossible goals in an organization that has had recent poor performance could lead to further demotivation and have the opposite effect to that desired. In short, the goals must not be entirely impossible and the employees themselves must believe that it is possible to achieve them.
Regarding the available resources, these represent a key to achieving these goals. By resources, we mean money, knowledge, experience, manpower, and equipment. Near impossible goals involve innovating to the extreme. This suggests a high failure rate. Therefore, one must be able to allocate resources to several different projects.
Finally, the objectives must be inspiring. Their implementation must also be done in a coherent and transversal manner, that is to say across all of the organization’s activities and not by department or by function. In this way, we make sure to promote creativity and innovation, but above all to channel energy around the most promising innovations.
Almost impossible must still rhyme with possible
GHG reduction targets related to achieving carbon neutrality represent, for many organizations, almost impossible objectives. Despite their extreme nature, these objectives are not devoid of interest. When used well, they can spur innovation and open up new possibilities.
However, not all organizations are ready for such goals. In this case, other strategies are to be expected, such as celebrating small victories in order to build employees’ confidence in their abilities. In this case, for example, we are talking about the success of a first GHG reduction project. These organizations may also aim to build a base of idle resources, for example by allocating budgets or blocks of time off that allow employees to work on decarbonization projects. These approaches are preferred before adopting more ambitious objectives.
Because after all, near-impossible goals must retain some of the possible.
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Decarbonization by 2030: an almost impossible goal, but necessary
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