In this age of growing conversation about sustainability and ESG, terms that are making inroads to corporate jargon and increasingly becoming popular around the world are ‘net zero’, ‘carbon neutrality', ‘climate positive’ and so on. Corporate citizens are becoming increasingly aware of their responsibility towards protecting the environment and ensuring sustainability.
Often the two terms, ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’, are used interchangeably, although they do not necessarily mean the same and identical thing. In an era when corporates and professionals are beginning to understand the implications of ESG, sustainability goals, climate change etc. it is pertinent to use the right words in the right place. So, in this article we will talk about these terms and the distinctions between them.
In the wake of increased awareness about #ESG reporting, corporations often express their desire (and/or plan) of becoming carbon neutral. This means they intend to remove the equivalent amount of harmful gases emitted to the atmosphere by them. They essentially start the process by cutting down their CO2 emissions to the extent possible first, and top it up by investing in carbon offsetting or carbon mitigation programmes. This is done essentially by investing in ‘carbon sinks’ which mean forests, oceans or other natural environments that are capable of absorbing equal, if not more, carbon from the atmosphere than they emit. Carbon sinks help organisations to offset or balance out their emissions and thereby allow them to maintain a clean corporate conscience.
Carbon neutral vs Net zero vs. Climate Positive
It is very important to understand the difference between the three terms. Let us look at their definitions first:
Carbon neutrality means having a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. In other words, it means that the sum of carbon any corporation puts into and absorbs from the atmosphere comes to zero. This is done through a combination of efficiency measures that reduce in-house emission and carbon offsetting programmes.
Net zero on the other hand, implies that the sum total of the amount of a combination of greenhouse gases or GHGs, that include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulphur dioxide (SO2) and other hydrofluorocarbons that is emitted by the corporation’s activity and the amount removed by it from the atmosphere is zero. In other words, an equivalent amount of GHGs emitted by it is removed by it from the atmosphere. This implies that net zero is similar in concept to carbon neutrality, but is larger in scale.
It is a concept with a much larger implication. It means an attempt at achieving beyond net-zero carbon emissions by removing greenhouse gases beyond what has been released into the atmosphere.
Summarizing our discussion above, we can see that both the concepts of net zero and carbon neutrality have the same objective, which is to remove harmful emissions from the atmosphere, but the scale and kind of emissions removed are different. And achieving a ‘climate positive’ world is the most ideal situation, although, practically not necessarily the most achievable one.
A ‘Net Zero’ world
Attempts to achieve a net zero world are being taken up across the world, and is a cause for concern for world leaders and features on national agendas. To achieve this, the efforts of governments alone will not suffice, organisations as well as individuals must come together. An organisation targeting at ‘Net Zero’ is ultimately attempting to benefit all its stakeholders. In order to do so, corporations must measure, track and control their GHG emissions through a process called carbon accounting. Some activities that are intended towards achieving this ideal are reducing wastage of electricity, recycling water, avoiding food waste, promoting car pool services amongst employees across all levels, recycling packaging material, reducing use of paper and avoiding wastage of stationery and so on. Not just corporations, as individuals, we also have a role to play towards ensuring a net zero world. We must also adopt a sustainable lifestyle and reduce our carbon footprints to ensure minimum negative impact on the environmental.