What Is the Difference between Carbon Neutral, Net-Zero and Climate Positive ?

Nowadays, more and more companies are committed to becoming carbon neutral, net-zero, or even positive climates. With global company like Google, who claims that they are the first company to remove its carbon legacy, we might ask: How is it possible ?

Terms such as “Carbon Neutral”, “Net-Zero”, or “Climate Positive” have been around for some time, but in recent years, more and more companies have integrated them, mainly for marketing purposes. The diversity of phrases and lack of clarity can confuse various parties. However, communicating transparently about this can encourage businesses to be more proactive.

Based on the targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement, there are only 28 years left to reach global net-zero emissions. So it would be nice if we understand better terms about carbon neutrality. To verify whether a company is willing to reduce or even erase their carbon footprint when they are claiming carbon neutrality, it is crucial to understand these terms.

For starters, let’s understand into the core of carbon neutrality:

  • Carbon Neutral means that every CO2 emission released into the atmosphere from the company’s activities is balanced by the equivalent amount being removed.\
  • Climate positive means that the activity exceeds the achievement of net-zero carbon emissions to create environmental benefits by eliminating additional CO2 from the atmosphere.
  • Carbon negative has the same meaning as “Climate Positive.”
  • Carbon Positive is how an organization describes climate positive and carbon negative. They are mainly marketing terms, and the understanding can be confusing – it is advised to avoid using it.
  • Climate Neutral refers to reducing all greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to the point of zero while eliminating all other negative environmental impacts that an organization might cause.
  • Net-Zero carbon emissions mean that an activity releases net-zero carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
  • Net-Zero emissions balance the whole amount of GHG released and the amount removed from the atmosphere.

What is called Carbon Neutral ?
Carbon Neutral was the New Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year in 2006 – and since then, its use has been increasingly common. Carbon Neutral (or Carbon Neutrality) is a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon emissions from carbon sinks. Simply put, eliminate all carbon emissions altogether. Carbon sinks are any system that can absorb more carbon than they emit, such as forests, soils, and oceans.

According to the European Union Commission, natural sinks remove between 9.5 and 11 Gigaton CO2 per year. Until now, no artificial carbon sinks can remove carbon from the atmosphere on the scale needed to reduce global warming. Therefore, to become carbon-neutral, companies have two choices: drastically reducing their carbon emissions to net-zero or balancing their emissions through offsetting and purchasing carbon credits.

What does it mean to become Carbon Neutral ?

Being carbon-neutral is a new trend for companies worldwide, but how to make it happen? As a first step, it is recommended to calculate your company’s carbon footprint. The company can apply a carbon accounting framework to the initiative they are trying to address.

After the total carbon footprint is calculated, you will better understand how much your company needs to overcome. Then, reduce carbon emissions by analyzing the worst carbon indicator – where your company emits the most emissions and acts upon it. Finally, offset what is left.

It is not possible for companies to produce zero-carbon emissions; therefore, offsetting is a viable approach to become neutral carbon. By offsetting carbon emissions, You send a strong message to your community that you are committed to paving the way for a sustainable future. The funds from neutralizing your carbon footprint will provide low-carbon technology to communities most at risk of climate change impacts. However, you must also ensure that the offsetting project is transparent and involves local communities in the process.

What is the difference between Carbon Neutral and Net-Zero ?

As determined earlier, carbon neutral and net-zero are two similar terms. Companies are working to reduce and balance their carbon footprint in both cases. When carbon neutral refers to balancing the total amount of carbon emissions, net-zero carbon means no carbon is emitted from the start, so no carbon needs to be absorbed or offset. For example, if a facility fully uses solar power and does not use fossil fuels at all, then the facility can label its use of energy as “Zero Carbon”.

However, when referring to “net-zero”, it is essential to determine the net-zero for carbon or emissions. Conversely, net-zero emissions refer to the overall balance of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) produced and GHG emissions absorbed from the atmosphere. In other words, Net-Zero describes the point in time when humans stop adding to the burden of climate heating gases in the atmosphere.

Carbon Negative or Climate Positive: doing more for the planet

Carbon negative and climate positive are two similar terms. It happens when a company removes or absorbs more CO2 from the atmosphere than it emits. Then, the company has a negative number of carbon emissions and positively impacts the climate.

To become climate positive, company needs to understand its carbon footprint precisely. For example, if a textile company wants to launch carbon-positive labelled clothes, they need to calculate the products’ total carbon footprint: from the energy required to produce and distribute products to emissions related to the sourcing and production itself and end-of-life product. The company also needs to handle additional measures to absorb more carbon.

There is only one way to become a climate positive: by calculating Scopes 1, 2 and 3 of carbon emissions, which allows companies to reduce their emissions significantly. Companies and individuals must quickly reduce their carbon footprints. After you are familiar with the terms carbon neutral, climate positive, and net-zero, now it’s time to achieve your next sustainable step: calculating and reducing your company’s carbon footprint.


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