Sep 2, 2021
What’s the difference between Carbon Neutral, Carbon Negative, and Net-Zero emissions (and how do I get there?) a guide
If you’re reading this, chances are your company is currently carbon positive — that means you release more emissions than you reabsorb from the atmosphere, which, you guessed it, contributes towards climate change.
But if you’re reading this, then hopefully you’re also aspiring to do something about that.
As your company seeks to reduce its contribution towards climate change, terms like Carbon Neutral, Carbon Negative, and Net-Zero Emissions are surely coming up in your research. While they may sound similar, they have subtle differences, and understanding these differences will help you and your company determine which one you should be striving for.
Carbon neutrality, also known as net-zero carbon emission, is achieved by balancing out the amount of carbon your company releases with the amount that you remove from the atmosphere. This means first reducing your emissions as much as possible, and then using external reductions to balance out the emissions that you cannot eliminate on your own.
Carbon negativity takes things a step further than carbon neutrality. A carbon negative company removes or sequesters more carbon dioxide than it emits.
Carbon negative can be used synonymously with climate positive. This undoubtedly gets confusing, since carbon positive is a bad thing and climate positive is a good thing, therefore we tend to avoid using the term carbon positive.
As the names suggest, carbon neutral and carbon negative refer to the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. Net-zero emissions, by contrast, is achieved when a company has a negative balance of the emissions of all Greenhouse Gases (GHGs).
This is an important distinction. CO2 is arguably the most talked-about greenhouse gas. This makes sense, given that it is one of the most-emitted GHGs, and that it stays in the atmosphere for a long time. But there are other GHGs to think about including:
Nitrous Oxide, and
Becoming carbon neutral or negative often doesn't address the other GHGs that also contribute to climate change. Net-zero emissions, on the other hand, has a larger scope.
How can my company achieve its emissions targets?
The first step towards becoming carbon neutral, carbon negative, or achieving net-zero emissions is to reduce emissions as much as possible. There are many actions your company can take to reduce its emissions, including:
Switching to a certified renewable energy provider
Improving your energy efficiency
Offering employees vegetarian, vegan, or locally-sourced food options
Eliminating single-use plastic at the office
Improving the efficiency of your supply chain
It’s also crucial to educate your employees about your sustainability goals, why they matter, and what your team can do to help reach them.
What if we can't eliminate all of my company's emissions?
So you’ve been diligently tracking and reducing your emissions, but there are some emissions that you cannot completely eliminate. What comes next?
When it's no longer possible to further reduce your company’s emissions, it’s time to start compensating by purchasing carbon credits.
Without getting too technical, emission reduction projects that either absorb or avoid CO2 can offer carbon credits that companies can purchase to offset their unavoidable emissions. There are many different types of emission reduction projects such as:
Forestry and land use projects - think reforestation and afforestation
Modern farming methods that store carbon in soil
Water management projects that supply rural communities with clean water, reducing GHG emissions, since the water no longer has to be boiled for safe consumption
Waste management projects that capture methane released at landfill sites and turn it into clean fuel
Many different emissions-offsetting projects are out there, and to determine if the projects you're considering supporting are good quality, the WWF has compiled a list of criteria. A good carbon credit should be:
Measurable - each carbon credit should remove at least one ton of CO2 equivalent from the atmosphere
Only counted once - in other words, the removal of the same ton of CO2 should not be counted towards the achievement two different of climate targets
Permanent - emissions reductions or removal cannot not be reversible after the credit is issued
Supportive of overall aims - the carbon credits should serve to facilitate the transition towards achieving global net-zero GHG emissions
Well structured and governed - the program should have transparent rules and procedures that ensure that the the environmental goals are actually achieved
Not cause negative environmental or social impacts - this includes human rights violations. The project should also have other positive environmental impacts, such as reducing air pollution
So. . . Is my company making a difference?
When it comes to going carbon neutral, negative, or achieving net-zero emissions, data is the difference between making some changes and hoping for the best, and truly having an impact.
Afterall, you can’t improve what you can’t measure. You must know where your company stands in terms of its emissions and use a data-driven approach in order to accelerate the transition towards becoming a carbon neutral, carbon negative, or net-zero emissions company.
It is critical for you to be tracking your emissions and other environmental impacts on a regular basis. Sustainability reports are often only generated once per year or less. A year is eons compared to how quickly climate change is advancing, and data from 12 months ago can’t tell you as much about the impact of your current business activities as data from the last week can.
Luckily, we’re here to help. Get in contact with us to discover how with SustainLab, you can track your company’s progress towards your climate targets on a regular basis using the most current data, and how together, we can accelerate your transition towards becoming a better business for a better planet.