Step Zero for Net Zero

Investigation into environmental responsibility directed me to few key drivers of change, and one of them being the significance of businesses in climate action. Through this project, I explored the role of design in supporting SMEs and local businesses in their net zero journey.

STEP Zero for Net Zero, is an early intervention workshop for SMEs facing ambiguity and lack of guidance. The workshop embodies in itself, the idea of net zero transition from a state of uncertainty to positivity. It is rooted within my proposal which urges the environmental sector to reimagine the net zero narrative and reframe its status quo.

SMEs and net zero

SME’s are the backbone of the UK economy as they account for the majority of the private sector. To meet UK’s target of net zero by 2050, SME’s play a pivotal role in achieving it. The workforce within these businesses are the NET ZERO enablers, they are the key drivers of change. The UK government and policy makers are aiding the SMEs with finance, upskilling resources and knowledge to support them in their net zero journey.

Net zero Narrative

Term net zero is overwhelming, yet it is ubiquitous in the present times. What is net zero? As my audience today, how much do you understand these terminologies? Scientifically, it means balancing the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity with the amount removed from the atmosphere This direct and indirect carbon emission can be removed either by reducing, offsetting or capturing carbon.

Reimagine the Net Zero Narrative

The existing framework emphasizes carbon assessment through measuring the carbon footprint. Quantifying the GHGs produced during a baseline year in the past and extrapolating it for the coming decades. It acts as a benchmark against which areas of intervention are established and targeted for carbon reduction. The other side of the coin is indicative of the social & ethical forces impacting the emergent behaviors, it is centered on the needs of people and planet, envisioning an inclusive and fair society which takes on the environmental responsibility for building a regenerative and circular economy for preferable long term vision. Let’s together reimagine the NET ZERO narrative that upholds the values of Economic viability, environmental responsibility and social equity.

Connecting with people

Ethnographic inquiry led me connect with people who are business owners, Carbon managers, user researchers, designers and experts working in the environmental sector. Attending events, Interviews, co-design workshops and feedback sessions helped me to map the net zero status quo. Their strong voices and opinions all directed towards the need for design-led systemic change for reframing the policies, mobilizing transformative innovation, building a climate positive mindset.

net zero status quo

The emerging insights nudged me to question and critique the quantitative methodology of measuring the environmental cost and benefit. It urged me to reframe the net zero status quo which can be scaled across different sectors, and is always focused towards a reducing mindset. My proposal elevates value driven practices and eco-centric ethos, engages with time bound move through strategic transformations, and a place based response grounded within the social construct.

Step Zero for Net Zero workshop

These ideas are catalyzed into a tangible proposal through a structured workshop for the businesses facing uncertainty and lack of guidance about net zero transition. It equips and empowers the business with a decision - making canvas for a climate positive mindset. It aims to influence the wider societal ecosystems beyond the business for a preferable long term future.

Net Zero Canvas

The workshop facilitates the business to embed the three layers of value, place and time alongside the quantitative data sets of carbon assessment. The outcome is an emerging net zero canvas formalizing the value creation opportunities, back casting the transformative innovations and defining the workforce ethos. The team together outlines a hierarchy for the tasks for maximizing environmental and social impact of their business. It will help them in prioritizing decisions for instance, what has more environmental impact in their businesses’ context, their food waste or the packaging? The SMEs own a decision - making canvas and a blueprint of next steps tailored to their needs. It has been co-designed by them and steers their team towards a climate positive mindset through collaboration, ethical evaluation and including every voice within their team.


Transcending from uncertainty to positivity, Step Zero for Net Zero Workshop will empower the SME’s to take the leap towards net zero, amplifying the impact across the wider societal ecosystem. Reinforcing climate action with a design-led systemic change for reframing the policies, mobilizing transformative innovation, and building a climate positive mindset.

Design Approach

I aligned my research approach to the Systemic Design Framework proposed by the Design Council within their publication - Beyond Net Zero. The project gave me the opportunity to build many connections and a space to develop relationships with like-minded people. The more I learned about this subject, more I realized how important it was to talk about it, and tell the stories far and wide.