Home/Carbon neutrality: What it means and how your business can get there
December 16, 2019

Carbon neutrality: measuring emissions, reducing them, and offsetting what’s remaining.

What does carbon neutral mean?

Consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive to climate change and are starting to look at the environmental impact of their consumption. As a response to this, we’re seeing the words ‘carbon neutral’ pop up on product descriptions and marketing campaigns.

But what does carbon neutral actually mean?

According to the NZ Commerce Commission’s Guidelines For Carbon Claims, there is no universally accepted definition of carbon neutrality. However, the basic premise is as follows: Measure emissions, reduce them, and offset what’s remaining.

At CarbonClick we think the following definition captures it best; “Carbon neutral means that — through a transparent process of measuring emissions, reducing those emissions and offsetting residual emissions — net calculated carbon emissions equal zero.”

This means that net-zero refers to reaching zero through reduction and offsetting. It does not mean that no emissions were produced in the activity. For instance, Lufthansa’s website offers carbon-neutral flying through offsetting, even though their flights will inevitably produce carbon emissions.

How to get to New Zero GIF — World Resources Institute

How to become carbon neutral

Here’s how you can get involved in the action and become carbon neutral:

STEP 1. Measure.

To properly measure your emissions, make sure you’re complying with the GHG Protocol Corporate Standard and ISO 14064–1:2006. This means you must measure your Scope 1 (direct), Scope 2 (indirect) and Scope 3 emissions (other) — click the link to learn more.

Important note: Calculation can be difficult. There are currently variations amongst carbon calculators for flights, and carbon emissions produced by supply chains are very complex. Clearly set out what assumptions you have made in your calculator to avoid confusion amongst consumers.

STEP 2. Reduce.

This is the most important step — without it, we can’t fight climate change. Science Based Targets is an initiative that can help your business create an ambitious reduction plan in line with the Paris agreement. It’s recognized by the UN Environment Program that we can’t keep allowing our emissions to grow and just offset them. Offsetting is not a silver bullet and the danger is that it can lead to complacency. CarbonClick only works with businesses who have committed to reducing their emissions and are enacting a plan to do so.

STEP 3. Offset

Even the most successful carbon reduction plans will result in some leftover emissions. Therefore, offsetting your emissions will be the final step that helps you reach net zero. For countries, that might be encouraging forestry and issuing carbon credits. For businesses, offsetting with a trusted third-party is the way to go. Important note: Make sure the offsets that you’re purchasing are certified by a reputable third party like the Gold Standard.

For a full guide check out the one made by the Sustainable Business Network here.

Things to keep in mind

To avoid misleading consumers and breaching the Fair Trading Act of 1986, the Commerce Commission advises the following:

  • Carefully explain what you mean by ‘carbon neutral’ and be careful with your advertising message. For example, if you have a carbon neutral product line, but your advertising implies your whole business is carbon neutral, you may breach the Act.
  • When offsetting, clearly explain what you have offset and how you have done it.
  • Avoid claiming a product is ‘low carbon’ because it’s unclear how environmentally friendly such a product is without context and comparison.

To certify your carbon neutrality, you’ll need to get an emissions inventory for your business that has been audited by an independent third party.

If you’re already reducing your emissions, get in touch to see how CarbonClick can help you on the offsetting part of your carbon neutral journey.


Carbon neutrality: What it means and how your business can get there was originally published in CarbonClick on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.