As the world becomes more aware of the impact of carbon emissions on the environment, terms like "carbon neutral" and "net zero" are becoming more common. For instance, companies and organizations constantly set goals to achieve carbon neutrality or net zero supply chains.
While the terms may seem interchangeable, they have different meanings and approaches.
Here is everything you need to know about carbon neutral vs. net zero.
Below we have summarized the difference between the two, which is better, and easy ways to achieve both. And take advantage of our special offer below to get discounts on eco-friendly products!
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Carbon Neutral vs. Net Zero
What is the difference between carbon neutral vs net zero?
Carbon neutral means offsetting carbon dioxide emissions generated by an activity, process, or product. Net zero is broader than just carbon and includes all greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, net zero focuses on reducing greenhouse gases from the start and only offsetting those that are unavoidable.
That is the fundamental difference between the two. Carbon neutral only refers to carbon dioxide and offsetting carbon emissions, while net zero refers to all greenhouse gases and focuses on not emitting them at all rather than just offsetting what is already produced.
Carbon Neutral Definition
The term carbon neutral refers to offsetting your carbon emissions. People and businesses can’t stop producing carbon dioxide immediately. Therefore, they purchase offsets to mitigate their carbon emissions and reduce their carbon footprint.
Offsets include planting trees and buying renewable energy credits. According to the United Nations, being carbon neutral is a good goal that can help the environment. However, it is not a long-term solution to climate change.
Net Zero Definition
Net zero is the gold standard. It is broader than just carbon and includes other greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, as well as hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride.
Additionally, net zero often uses science-based targets and is generally more difficult to achieve than carbon neutrality. Net zero activities follow a 1.5°C reduction trajectory under the Paris Agreement.
Which is better, carbon neutral vs net zero?
Net zero is better than carbon neutral because net zero eliminates all emissions completely. Being carbon neutral is still a good goal and does help the planet, but net zero takes it a step further.
Net zero provides a more meaningful reduction in emissions because it includes all greenhouse gases and focuses on reduction first.
For instance, a business can calculate its CO2 emissions and buy renewable energy credits to offset them and technically be carbon neutral. However, they didn’t change their behavior.
Buying renewable energy credits and investing in carbon sink projects is an important part of going green, but efforts shouldn’t stop there.
To make a bigger impact, businesses and individuals should understand how they can change their habits and behaviors to reduce emissions from the start and only offset those that are unavoidable.
Is net zero more difficult than carbon neutral?
Yes, achieving net zero status requires more time and effort than achieving carbon neutrality.
Individuals and small businesses might benefit from trying to achieve carbon neutrality first before setting their sights on net zero status.
While larger corporations might have more resources to achieve net zero.
Carbon Neutral Examples
- Reforestation (planting and preserving trees) – a mature tree absorbs 48lbs of carbon dioxide each year
- Regenerative agriculture – processes such as no till farming can sequester carbon and help the environment
- Direct air capture and storage – technology that captures carbon dioxide directly from the air and stores it underground
- Planting bamboo – studies have shown that bamboo can act as an efficient “carbon sink; capturing and storing carbon similar to trees and other plants
- Buying carbon offsets or renewable energy credits – lots of organizations offer “Carbon offsets” or renewable energy credits that fund environmentally friendly projects to offset carbon emissions in other parts of the world. Click here to see where you can buy carbon offsets online.
- Using carbon neutral suppliers like GreenGeeks - If you have a website, GreenGeeks will host your website using renewable energy and offset CO2 emissions using renewable energy credits. They do all the work, all you have to do is sign up!
Net Zero Examples
- Renewable energy such as solar wind – solar panels and wind farms are popular net zero tools
- Hydropower and geothermal power are additional sustainable energy sources
- Avoiding food waste - About 6%-8% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if we stop wasting food
- Using natural light instead of electricity
- Walking to destinations when possible
How to Achieve Carbon Neutrality or Net Zero
1. Calculate Your Carbon Footprint or Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Knowing your emissions levels is the first step.
2. Offset CO2 Emissions
For carbon neutrality, focus on offsetting these emissions by purchasing carbon offsets and renewable energy credits.
You can buy carbon offsets and renewable energy credits online from the Bonneville Environmental Foundation and on the United Nations Carbon Offset Platform. You can also plant trees with One Tree Planted.
Just sit back and relax, all you have to do is sign up!
3. Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
To be net zero, focus on reducing your greenhouse gas emissions. Lots of people try to use electricity wherever possible and use solar to power their needs. It is ok to start small.
Try low-cost solar panels to hook up to your house or car. Or try using solar lanterns for your home or on your next camping trip.
You can also use a small solar generator to charge your phone, laptop, or tablet. Solar generators are small, lightweight and come with solar panels that capture sunlight and turn it into electricity. They can charge multiple devices at once and are a great way to use clean energy and decrease your electricity bill.
Avoid food waste, decrease electricity use, walk or ride bikes - anything that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in small ways is helpful.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Which Companies are carbon neutral vs net nero?
Many companies have already become carbon neutral and have pledged to be net zero by 2050. Below are some examples.
- Goldman Sachs
- American Airlines
- United Health
2. Which countries are carbon neutral vs net zero?
Suriname and Bhutan have achieved net zero status. More than 100 countries have committed to being net zero by 2050. Some examples are below.
- United States
- New Zealand
- South Korea
3. Are carbon neutral and net zero just greenwashing or marketing terms?
Some companies just use these terms as buzzwords to keep up with the latest trends. However, regulators are cracking down on this behavior and fining companies that don't show real results.
4. Is carbon neutral good?
Carbon neutral is helpful for the environment and better than doing nothing. However, it is not a long-term solution.
5. What does climate neutral mean?
Climate neutral is the same thing as net zero.
6. What is a carbon sink?
Carbon sinks absorb CO2 . Examples include our forests, the ocean, and other projects that capture and store carbon.
7. How to avoid greenwashing?
To avoid greenwashing, find proof of the eco-friendly benefits claimed. Companies that truly care about the environment will have specific and tangible examples of how they are reducing emissions or offsetting them.
8. Is being carbon neutral or net zero worth it?
Yes, the future of our planet depends on reducing emissions and making eco-friendly choices. Also, it can save money by reducing expenses in your business or your personal life.
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