What is Net Zero?

We provide small businesses owners with some definitions and guides on what Net Zero means for them, and how to achieve it.

Table of Contents

Net Zero refers to Greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions, such as CO2 or methane.

It does not mean emitting no GHGs – the key term here is net. It is the balance between GHGs released in the air and those removed from the atmosphere. 

What is the difference between Net Zero and carbon neutral?

The IPCC defines carbon neutrality as Net Zero CO2 emissions. When carbon dioxide is the only GHG considered, the two concepts are equivalent. Instead, when considering all GHGs (including methane for example), using the carbon neutral term is not correct. 

Also, based on how you work towards zero CO2 emissions, carbon offsetting is measured differently. The PAS 2060 Standard highlights carbon neutrality allows any kind of carbon offset scheme, while Net Zero is more restrictive and has to demonstrate emissions reductions.

A report from the University of Oxford suggests a variety of greenhouse gas removal strategies which may be applied to meet the UK 2050 targets:

  • Use wood or carbonated waste instead of cement as building materials.
  • Replace chemical fertilisers with biochar (charcoal).
  • Wetlands and salt marshes restorations.
  • Use farmlands as carbon sinks.

So the technical definitions can be confusing and applied slightly differently depending on the organisation.

To put it more simply, to achieve net zero, your company must balance its emissions as well as demonstrate reductions. To achieve Carbon Neutral however, you can just purchase offsets.  

Think of the atmosphere as your bank account and GHGs as money.

“Money in” would be the GHGs entering your account, while “money out” are the GHGs leaving your balance. 

You reach Net Zero when you break even, i.e. your overall “income” (GHGs emitted) and “expenses” (GHGs removed) are the same.

Buzzword Buster

Term Meaning How is it different to Net Zero?
Net Zero Balance between release into and removal from the atmosphere of GHGs
Net Zero emissions See Net Zero
Net Zero CO2 emissions Balance between release into and removal from the atmosphere Refers to CO2 only – not all GHGs
Zero Carbon No CO2 emissions released This is a more ambitious target than Net Zero as it does not allow to balance out the emissions released with those removed
Zero Emission See Zero Carbon
Carbon Neutral See Net Zero CO2 emissions
Climate Neutral See Net Zero CO2 emissions. This concept also includes local human activities (e.g. aviation) emitting other GHGs
Carbon Negative CO2 emissions removed from the atmosphere are larger than those emitted Unlike Net Zero, which implies breaking even, this term implies a negative balance
Carbon Positive See Carbon Negative
Climate Positive See Carbon Negative

 

Image source: Pexels

What is a Net Zero target?

Net Zero targets were introduced by the Paris agreement in 2015 to keep the global average temperature well below 2 (ideally 1.5) °C.

196 countries committed to achieve a neutral GHGs balance as soon as possible (by 2050 at the latest).

National governments delegated the implementation of targets at a subnational level, involving regions, cities, and businesses. For example, in the UK Glasgow has set a Net Zero target of 2030, while the UK’s total target is 2050.

Moving from words to actions, let’s look at the goals’ deadlines set down so far by some actors involved.

Countries 

Location Type Target Year Status/reference
UK Country 2050 Approved law
Canada Country 2050 Draft law
France Country 2050 Approved law
Scotland Country 2045 Approved law
Germany Country 2050 Approved law
Brazil Country 2060 Submission to UN
China Country 2060 Statement of intent
South Africa Country 2050 Policy position
United States of America Country 2050 Statement of intent
Bristol City 2030 Pledge
Belfast City 2050 Climate Plan
London City 2030 Statement of intent
Glasgow City 2030 Council recommendation
Liverpool City 2040 Roadmap development 
Edinburgh City 2030 Short window improvement plan
Manchester City 2038 Climate Change Action Plan
Leeds City Region 2038 Energy Strategy and Delivery Plan
Sheffield City Region 2040 Energy Strategy
Cardiff Capital Region 2050 Energy Vision

 Businesses & Net Zero

Platforms such as The Carbon Trust or SME Climate Hub can help your business become a net zero emissions company, as can we!

What does it mean for a small business?

The Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC) divides city-level emissions into three scopes depending upon where they were generated.

  • Scope 1: sources located within the city; emissions directly controlled by a company, such as the use of a gas boiler or a fossil-fueled fleet.
  • Scope 2: sources located within and without the city; indirect emissions referring to the grid-supplied power a company uses up for its activities.
  • Scope 3: sources located outside the city; all other indirect emissions, such as business travel, procurement, etc.

To make life easier for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the Science Based Targets (SBTi) allows them to submit emission targets for scopes 1 and 2 only. 

So, how do business owners submit their targets to SBTi?

  1. Fill out the form included in this letter.
  2. Choose a target out of the available options.
  3. Review and sign the above mentioned letter.
  4. Send pdf scan of letter and form to targets@sciencebasedtargets.org.
  5. Pay a $1000 fee.

Small business Net Zero Strategies

In practice, there are a number of actions you can take to get you started.

Unless you’re a solo entrepreneur, encourage your staff to do their part in some of the following initiatives:

  • Flexible working (not everyone on site at the same time).
  • Minimise business travelling by teleconferencing long-distance clients.
  • Promote low-carbon commuting to work schemes, like cycling or car sharing.

Also, you can reduce your premises’ carbon footprint by adopting these solutions:

  • Sign up to a green energy tariff.
  • Apply for energy efficiency grants.
  • Replace old light bulbs with energy-efficient LED lights.
  • Install smart meters to better track your energy consumption.
  • Invest in double glazing and roof insulation to reduce heat loss.

Curb the carbon emissions of the equipment you use as suggested below:

Besides the relatively simple steps above mentioned, you could adopt more sophisticated on-site clean energy technologies. 

For instance, you could install solar panels on your roof along with a storage battery. Doing so, you can use the surplus renewable energy produced when it’s cloudy and become more and more independent from the national grid.

Hopefully, after reading this article Net Zero will not just be a buzzword for you and the targets to achieve will be less daunting. 

As a business owner, you can set reasonable milestones by implementing the recommended steps above and rely on associations and local authorities to walk along your Net Zero journey.

Adam Bastock
Author: Adam Bastock

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