A quick guide to carbon neutrality

30 June 2015

First of all, if you’re new to this you’re probably experiencing some carbon confusion. Before we start, let’s do some carbon jargon busting:

‘Carbon neutral’ is a condition in which there’s no net increase in the global greenhouse gas emissions released to atmosphere, as a result of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with an organisation, product or service.

‘Carbon neutrality’ is a state of being carbon neutral.

‘Carbon offset’ is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions arising from an organisation, product or service, in the form of carbon credits, which are used to counteract emissions.

‘Carbon footprint’ is the sum of all emissions of greenhouse gases caused directly or indirectly by an entity over a defined period, or in relation to a specified unit of product or provision of a service.

‘Greenhouse gas (GHG)’ are gaseous compounds (such as carbon dioxide) that absorb infrared radiation, trap heat in the atmosphere, and contribute to the greenhouse effect.

‘Greenwash’ is a form of spin in which green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception that an organisation's products, service, aims or policies are environmentally friendly.

Can an organisation ever be totally carbon neutral?

In the absolute sense probably not, but if you use a recognised specification, reduce the GHG emissions associated with the organisation, product or service and get involved in carbon offsetting then yes, you could make a claim to be carbon neutral.  However, to avoid making false claims and being accused of ‘greenwash’ it’s absolutely essential you follow a recognised specification.

Why has ‘carbon neutral’ become a dirty word? 

Some unscrupulous organisations have jumped on the carbon neutral bandwagon without making any internal changes whatsoever.  They’ve basically paid to offset their total emissions without embracing the concept fully.  This is a real shame because many people still view carbon neutrality as a cop out, when in actual fact the mechanisms that have been established to allow official carbon offsetting can make a real difference in the developing world and the future of carbon emissions on a planetary scale.

Avoiding false claims

To avoid the accusation of ‘greenwashing’ and to make a robust carbon neutrality claim, a recognised specification should be followed that will guide you through the whole process.  Don’t offset the whole of GHG emissions straightaway. It’s fundamental to a genuine claim that the reporter has measured and reduced its GHG emissions before purchasing carbon credits to offset them.

For carbon neutrality claims to be thorough and robust the reporting entity should first ensure that an accurate carbon footprint is calculated, that a carbon reduction plan is implemented and that emissions are reduced to the lowest reasonable amount.  Only the remaining residual GHG emissions should be offset and an appropriate carbon credit provider should be used.

Carbon neutrality standard

The recommended carbon neutrality standard is ‘PAS2060:2014 Specification for the demonstration of carbon neutrality’.

The following steps are contained in PAS2060:2014 Specification for the demonstration of carbon neutrality.  When applicable for each step, there’s reference to other recognised standards, methodologies, certification bodies and the appropriate offsetting schemes.

  1. Determine the scope of the entity and the associated GHG emissions;
  2. Quantify the carbon footprint;
  3. Develop a carbon management plan;
  4. Reduce the carbon footprint (GHG emissions);
  5. Commit to carbon neutrality;
  6. Offset residual GHG emissions;
  7. Declaration of carbon neutrality.

What next?

Inspired to take control of your GHG emissions and make a carbon neutral claim?  Do it right, but avoid the ‘greenwash’ and purchase a copy of the official standard. PAS2060:2014 Specification for the demonstration of carbon neutrality is available at http://www.bsigroup.com/en-GB/.


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