(source: the companies)
It’s getting hard to read the news without coming across a company promising to “reach net zero” or go “carbon neutral” or even become “carbon negative.”
Mining company Rio Tinto and airline Delta are among the latest companies announcing plans to go carbon neutral, while Amazon, Apple, Tesla and other tech giants are all committed to dramatically reducing their carbon footprints.
So what do all the different pledges mean and how can you compare them?
Net zero, carbon neutral or carbon negative?
Here is a list of definitions to help you navigate the wave of corporate green pledges:
Net Zero: Net zero means that any carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from the company’s activities is balanced by an equivalent amount being removed.
Carbon Neutral: Carbon neutral is slightly different, allowing companies to measure the amount of carbon they release and offset that with a reduction in emissions or a removal of carbon. This can include buying carbon credits to make up the difference, making it appealing to companies that produce a lot of emissions.
Carbon Negative: The next step – becoming carbon negative – requires a company to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it emits.
New pledges, new responsibilities
The United Nations says climate change is the defining issue of our time and without drastic action, adapting to the changes it will bring will be difficult and costly.
Companies are in the spotlight since studies show they’re responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions, creating a blanket of gas that traps heat and raises Earth’s temperature.
Amazon’s corporate carbon footprint alone – measured as the total greenhouse gas emissions attributed to its direct and indirect operational activities – rivals that of some small nations.
In the past, some companies have been accused of “greenwashing” – or overstating their eco credentials to garner favorable publicity. Companies have also been accused of setting headline-grabbing goals that look too far in the future and aren’t measurable.
But for many companies, the narratives have changed, acknowledging the need to find long-term solutions that create real impact.
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Hi, I'm Walter, founder and editor of Carbon Creed: a blog and newsletter for people serious about tech and the low carbon economy.