R&D Leaders Must Play a Key Role in the Journey to Net Zero

CTOs and other executives who lead research and innovation are positioned to be critical change agents in cutting enterprises’ carbon footprints.

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Major companies worldwide have pledged to reach net-zero emissions, but pledges are one thing, and action is another. Momentum can, of course, be difficult to sustain. Carbon reduction may be imperative for the good of the planet, but it requires businesses to think and operate in new ways, to collaborate with more outside entities, to trust data-gathering processes that are new and developing — and to put R&D and innovation leaders at the center of the process.

Science Group convened a forum of R&D leaders and CTOs — including executives from Amcor, Bayer, Mars, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Solvay, and Stepan — to identify ways in which companies can translate net-zero ambitions into material progress. In particular, we wanted to help define the pivotal role that innovation teams can play in the journey. Here, we highlight insights that emerged from this forum about practices that help build a pathway for both industry and the planet to thrive.

A Mandate for Action

If companies want their net-zero pledges to be more than well-intended aspirations, they have to make carbon reduction a core business value: Management must lose sleep over it, the way they have historically lost sleep over safety, quality, and profits. Acting on net zero is a cross-functional initiative, and the division of labor can be murky. Marketing, distribution, and other business functions will contribute to the company’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target on their own timelines. Procurement, for instance, might be able to reduce emissions in short order, whereas R&D — which is, by definition, forward-looking — might be working three, five, or even 10 years out. The key, of course, is that all functions are working in concert toward clearly stated goals. R&D should swiftly and explicitly map out how its own role vis-à-vis carbon reduction differs from that of colleagues in other parts of the business. R&D leaders’ capacity to present scientific arguments to other executives can be a valuable assist to colleagues who must shape a similar plan.

Mapping out a companywide collaboration can be a process of self-discovery — one that reveals interdependencies and potential alliances.



The authors wish to thank the Science Group CTO Forum participants for their contributions to this work: Victor Aguilar, Nici Bush, Nicolas Cudré-Mauroux, William Jackson, Jason Keiper, René Lammers, Caroline Potter, and Robert Reiter.

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