Net Zero vs Carbon Neutral

 The release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report last year, has spurred discussions on setting carbon commitment goals such as Net Zero and Carbon Neutral.

The world has a massive carbon problem: since the start of the industrial revolution, human activities have led to the release of two-trillion metric tons of Greenhouse Gases (GHG’s) into the atmosphere, which increases by an additional 50 billion tons every year. It is irrefutable: carbon emissions must be reduced (Read: The race we don’t want to win).

In this piece, we look at the differences between Net Zero and Carbon Neutrality and offer companies guidelines to achieving meaningful carbon savings whilst avoiding the pitfalls of greenwashing.

Net Zero

 Net Zero is not a new concept. It has formed a large part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, and simply means that any carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of a company’s activities, must be balanced by an equivalent amount being removed.

2021 saw a surge in net zero commitments by companies inspired by the humdrum of U.N climate summit, COP26. The Net Zero Tracker, put together by a team of non-profit organisations and research centres revealed that 622 of the 2000 largest publicly traded companies in the world have committed to a net zero strategy.

However, this commitment only becomes meaningful if these companies include all 3 types of emissions in its carbon reconciliation:

Net Zero Scope Emissions Don't Waste 

Scope 3 emissions are generally larger than both Scope 1 and 2 combined. But are often the most neglected when carbon targets are

Net Zero Scope Emissions Breakdown

Carbon Neutral

 Carbon neutrality is achieved when a company measures its carbon footprint and takes steps to reach a state of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. These can be done through a combination of internal efficiency projects (e.g. installation of energy-saving lights) and also supporting external emission reduction projects (e.g. financing low carbon sustainable projects) and receiving carbon credits thereof. Carbon neutrality is typically favoured by high carbon generating organisations.

 As with Net-Zero, organisations striving for Carbon Neutrality must incorporate all 3 scopes of emissions into its carbon reduction strategy.

Guidelines for achieving Net Zero or Carbon Neutrality

 We’ve put together a simple 5-step guide to for companies wanting to start their journey of reducing their carbon emissions:

  1. Define and measure your carbon footprint

 Here companies need to understand what their current carbon footprint is. To iterate, all 3 emission scopes must be covered. Typically, companies would contract the services of an advisory firm specialising in carbon and climate change, to assist with the carbon measurements. Once the measurements have been conducted, the data can be used to form a baseline for target setting.

  1. Target Setting

When setting targets, companies must be cognizant of the difference between net zero targets and science based targets (read: The Journey To Net Zero: Part 1- Net Zero Vs Science Based Targets). To summarise: Companies should endeavour to set net zero carbon targets that are compatible with science-based target requirements.

  1. Planning and Implementation

Planning is subjective to the operations and requirements of the company; however, the rule of thumb is to address the lower hanging fruits inside the company (e.g., switching to energy saving timed LED lights, going paperless, reducing employee flights and travel etc.).

Once the quick wins have been achieved, external emission reduction projects can be investigated (e.g., investing in low carbon energy projects, planting trees in schools).

Slow and incremental implementation of the plan will assist companies in identifying what works and what requires further analysis and research.

  1. Review the impact of your changes

 It is important to review the changes that have been made at a pre-determined timeframe (e.g., 6 months after implementation). Some critical questions to ask during this step can include: is the company on track to meet its net zero goals? Has there been any problems with implementation of the plan? Has additional carbon been generated from the changes implemented?

  1. Communicate

 Whether your organisation has decided on a net zero or carbon neutrality route, the journey will be long and as such, it is vital that successes are communicated and celebrated.

This not only motivates the teams within the organisation to continue the carbon reduction journey, but it also gains the confidence of external stakeholders such as investors and clients alike.

 At Don’t Waste, our clients are able to track various environmental savings achieved through their recycling activities, for instance, the amount of CO2 and kWh of energy saved.

5: Avoid greenwashing

 Whilst intentions can be honourable, it is easy for organisations to fall into the pitfalls of greenwashing when embarking on a net zero emission journey. To avoid this, companies must firstly prioritise reducing internal emissions before looking at offsetting measures.

When engaging in carbon offsetting, companies must ensure that the carbon credits are verified and steer away from double-counting credits.

The Decisive Decade

2020- 2030 has been touted as the “decisive decade”, where governments, corporate structures, and even greater society must take urgent and strategic steps to actively reduce and mitigate the impacts of climate change by limiting global warming temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Through our decades of experience in working with real estate and investment companies in improving their ESG standings, Don’t Waste has made it a priority to consistently adapt its waste management systems and its waste management software to assist companies with waste administration, reporting and allows clients a high level of data management, report generating functionality, as well as compliance and environmental performance- the essential tools required when starting the journey of Net Zero.


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