Why AutoTrader is targeting 2040 to go net zero


The UK government is targeting 2050 to hit net zero, when all emissions will be reduced across the board. It’s a valiant target, but some businesses are taking it a step further.

AutoTrader Group is one business that is putting pressure on itself to hit net zero a decade earlier. It has set near-term targets to halve carbon emissions before the end of 2030, before fully achieving net zero across our entire value chain by 2040. But why try and jump ahead of what the government has set out?

“We've always had strategies around our people, charity work, and community outreach. I think as the business and culture have evolved, we've just tightened up and three years ago, we started to really focus on environmental strategy,” says Laura Harvey, Director of Communications at AutoTrader Group.

In June 2021, AutoTrader signed up to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) Business Ambition for 1.5°C. By doing so, it committed to achieving net zero before 2050 and to reducing emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals. AutoTrader’s goal is to achieve net zero earlier than this and it’s committed to achieving net zero across its entire value chain (Scopes 1, 2 and 3) by 2040 and every year thereafter. Its near and long-term targets have been validated by the SBTi, with its near-term targets forming a core component of its net zero strategy.

The process has started with arguable small changes in the business, but ones when added up can make a significant change, all falling under the phrase ‘reuse, recycle, reduce.’

“We already had a sustainability network who were doing really great stuff. They introduced changing packaging, different recycling bins, more education, swap shops. What you think might be basic initiatives but other businesses weren’t doing,” says Harvey,

It was important to get the senior management engaged with the sustainability project, and they were.

“We had a set of recommendations: one we need a net zero target, second we needed a board level corporate responsibility committee that would help manage and oversee the strategy. Third was around how we then articulated that strategy and how it fed through the whole business,” says Harvey.

Approaches to meeting the net zero target then started to grow. AutoTrader has switched from physical servers to cloud-based servers, delivering a massive carbon reduction and is more conscious about the suppliers it uses for example.

When the business started making changes, it also needed a way to measure the successes above and beyond what is generally expected from a listed company.

Kaye Lee Director of Group Finance at Autotrader says: “We’d started to measure scope one and two, but we've been doing that for many years as it’s the minimum requirement as a listed PLC, but that's a really small part of our footprint.”

So Lee and her colleagues at AutoTrader shifted and brought in help that would help the business plan its journey to net zero.

“We then sought to get our targets approved by the SBTI, a recognised body. They've got a really clear approach to how they calculate your reduction pathway so we felt it was the best approach to take. In terms of why we set 2040, I think we just want to be ambitious. We know if we are proactive we can do better,” says Lee.

But any target, no matter how ambitious and no matter how strong the reason for taking it, needs to be embraced by the entire company. It’s why AutoTrader’s carbon literacy programme has been so important.

“Carbon literacy training is all about you as an individual and your impact and the changes that you can make to make a difference more broadly. Feedback was really positive and we thought, well, we should get all our people through,” says Harvey.

Today over 80% of AutoTrader’s workforce has been through the programme and it now forms part of the induction process for any new starters.

It’s arguably the most important part of AutoTrader’s net zero target because it helps spread the conversation beyond just the business, but also brings people in who perhaps don’t have the same level of understanding or enthusiasm.

“There are people who live and breathe this in their personal life and it’s important for them to go on the training because they can then share their experiences and that's how you can work collectively to make a change,” says Lee.

While the UK government’s 2050 net zero target is ambitious, more businesses that go a step further – like AutoTrader – will make it considerably more achievable.