What’s the difference between Carbon Neutral and Net Zero?

Sep 30, 2021

written by Chloé Chartier, reviewed by Alexa Ouellette. Sustainability Analysts at Ecometrica

What does being Carbon Neutral mean?

Being Carbon Neutral means the amount of carbon (carbon dioxide, aka CO2) being emitted is equal to the amount of carbon being absorbed from the atmosphere, thanks to carbon sinks such as forests, which absorb and store more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit. (European Parliament, 2021). 

For a company to be Carbon Neutral, typically a company first reduces their carbon (CO2) emissions as much as they can. Then they invest in carbon sinks (offsets) to balance out the remaining amount of carbon emitted by their operations. If all carbon emissions produced by the company are equal to the amount of emissions being reduced through their carbon offsets, the company is considered to be Carbon Neutral.

What does Net Zero mean, and how is it different from Carbon Neutral?

Net Zero is a similar concept to Carbon Neutral, however it goes beyond just carbon and is typically on a larger scale. Net Zero refers to when all greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere are equivalent to the greenhouse gases being removed from the atmosphere on a global scale (ClimateSeed, 2021). In other words, net zero emissions will be achieved when human activity no longer causes global warming. 

Crucially, being Net Zero includes all greenhouse gases, not just carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most well-known greenhouse gas, but other commonly referenced greenhouse gases include methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20), and there are many more (David Suzuki Foundation, 2021). 

Some companies will be able to eliminate all the sources of greenhouse gases from their operations. This is called Absolute Zero, and requires no offsets. However the majority will not be able to achieve this target, and will need to purchase offsets in order to account for greenhouse gases emitted. The combination of these two approaches is included in Net Zero.

In order to stop global warming, Net Zero must be achieved at a global level. It must also be permanent, meaning that any greenhouse gases removed from the atmosphere are not re-released. For example, forest fires release the greenhouse gases captured in the trees back into the atmosphere. While individual action and private sector action is crucial, there needs to be action at the national government level in order to achieve Net Zero emissions (United Nations, 2020) and this is why COP26 is so important. 

 

How to start the journey towards being Carbon Neutral or Net Zero

In order to ensure the emissions from your activities are balanced out through reductions and offset initiatives, you first need to calculate your emissions. This process, called Sustainability Reporting, has many different standards and reports, but the most widely accepted standard is the GHG Protocol, considered to be the gold standard in Sustainability Reporting. This is the standard that Ecometrica uses in their Sustainability Reporting software. 

Diving into the world of Sustainability Reporting can seem overwhelming at first. Ecometrica’s Sustainability Reporting software is an end-to-end environmental accounting and sustainability management solution designed to make Sustainability Reporting as easy as possible. Not everyone can be a climate change expert, and that’s why Ecometrica’s Sustainability Platform has been designed from the ground up, with all the emissions factors built in. It delivers accurate emission reports with minimal training. To find out more, take a look here or sign up for a demo and we’ll walk you through it.

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