If you've been gradually becoming aware of climate change in recent months or years you'll likely have noticed how many products and services have started to talk about becoming Carbon Neutral.
But is this a good thing?
As with many things related to slowing and reversing human-caused climate change it's not always possible to take the claim at surface value.
As there's no set-in-stone definition for being carbon neutral and how you get there, it's open to a bunch of interpretation and the climate change fighting value can vary wildly depending on how it's implemented and the industry sector.
So what is being carbon neutral?
At the point that a company has measured its carbon footprint they can call themselves carbon neutral. It is often only Scopes 1 and 2* from their owned operations. For most industries this represents only about 20% of their total emissions.
Companies can then buy verified offsets* for the same volume of CO2e* as they've calculated their organization emits per year.
Unfortunately, as of 2022, about 95% of the offsets available are avoidance* credits, which don't reduce or remove planet-heating emissions in the atmosphere.
The remaining 80% of their emissions is most likely in Scope 3* which are all the greenhouse gas (GHG*) emissions in their supply chain necessary for the company's operations.
To be classed as Carbon Neutral it's not required to include that 80% of emissions. We think that sucks.
This is why the detail really matters when considering a company's carbon neutrality claim, and whether it has any value or should actually be considered greenwashing*.
What does this mean for me?
If you're looking to align your purchasing decisions with your climate values, reduce your own emissions or remove them, then we'd guess that you care about the detail in any carbon neutral claim.
As a rule-of-thumb, for companies to claim to be carbon neutral, no decarbonization* or emissions reductions needs to take place. It’s problematic, including in the effectiveness of the offsets* available now.
Becoming carbon neutral is a good first step but, on its own, it is not a path to limiting climate change, or a place to rest for an organization aiming to decarbonize* their operations in line with a science-backed net zero*.
The short answer is: being Carbon Neutral isn't automatically good for the environment or tackling climate change.
Sooooo, as with many things in tackling global climate change it's important to understand the fine print and whether that particular organization is actively reducing their emissions or if the claim of carbon neutrality is being used to disguise them continuing to operate as they always have, without real efforts to reduce and remove emissions from their operations and supply chain.
Good luck, let us know how you get on!
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For explanations of all the terms in italics with asterisks * check out our Climate Buzzword Dictionary