With more focus than ever before on net-zero carbon – and the growing need for us to act collectively as a global community to combat climate change – a whole new lexicon has appeared that aims to help businesses talk about how they’re measuring, quantifying, and promoting their green credentials.
But there are big discrepancies on what these new terms mean, which creates confusion and makes it hard to distinguish the ‘greenwashers’ from those who are genuinely doing the right thing.
At Boxfish, our energy experts are dab hands at jargon busting, so we wanted to share our take on some of the key terms being used right now. Hopefully this will help you to cut through the noise and figure out what companies are actually doing to protect the environment.
In our opinion, net-zero carbon is essentially when a company’s carbon emission into the atmosphere measures zero. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t emit any carbon, just that their offsets (i.e. what they take out of the atmosphere) and inputs (i.e. what they put in) cancel each other out. So, a company could still be pumping out tonnes and tonnes of CO2 every year but, with some clever accounting and offsetting, show that they have a net-zero impact.
Carbon neutrality, or being called carbon neutral, is effectively the same thing as net-zero carbon.
Zero-carbon describes an organisation, site or process that emits no carbon as part of its activities – easy to say, but almost impossible to achieve in practice. It might just be possible to emit no new carbon as part of your scope 1 and 2 emissions, but it is very unlikely for scope 3 emissions.
A company that claims to be carbon negative has taken the idea of carbon neutrality a step further and is removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they are emitting, through mechanisms such as reforestation and industrial carbon capture. Currently, CO2 is the only greenhouse gas for which achieving negative emissions could be considered feasible at a realistic scale.
Carbon offsetting is a way for companies to further reduce their carbon footprint past the level achieved from efficiency measures or using renewable electricity. It involves cancelling out carbon emissions by removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere, through activities like reforestation and tree planting or industrial carbon capture. Carbon offsetting can therefore be used as a tool to deliver net-zero carbon and net-negative carbon depending on how far an organisation is willing to go.
Scope 1 emissions are defined as all of the direct emissions resulting from the activities of an organisation that are under their control (e.g. fuel combusted in on-site boilers, exhaust emissions from owned fleet vehicles, leaks of refrigerant from air-conditioning systems, etc.).
Scope 2 emissions cover all indirect emissions associated with the use of energy purchased from a third party. For most organisations, electricity purchased from a utility provider will be the sole source of scope 2 emissions – although some industrial processes may need to include emissions associated with the purchase of steam, heating, or cooling if they are bought in.
All other indirect emissions associated with the activities of the organisation – that originate from sources they do not own or control – are called scope 3 emissions (e.g. carbon associated with the purchase of goods and services, business travel, employee commuting, transportation and distribution of finished goods, leased assets, franchises, etc.).
You can find out more about Scope 3 emissions here: www.carbontrust.com
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