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Net-Zero, Carbon Offsetting, and Paying to Pollute

Learn about how to achieve net-zero the right way through emissions reduction and sustainable carbon offsetting.

In recent years, there has been a growing global focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to tackle the urgent issue of climate change. One key concept that has emerged in response to this challenge is net-zero emissions, which refers to a state of carbon neutrality where an entity reduces its overall carbon footprint to zero. Net-zero emissions is a critical goal, with countries and companies around the world committed to achieving it.

For businesses, achieving net-zero emissions is not only essential for the future of the planet, but it also presents an opportunity to demonstrate corporate social responsibility and lead the way in sustainable practices. However, the approach to achieving net-zero emissions is not always clear.

What is net-zero? Because producing no emissions at all is impossible, net-zero focuses on creating a balance between the emissions produced and the emissions removed from the atmosphere. An entity can claim it has achieved net-zero when it has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible and has offset the remaining emissions through the use of carbon credits or other carbon offset mechanisms.

Carbon offsetting

While in an ideal world, achieving carbon neutrality would involve reducing emissions to zero exclusively through the use of carbon-free technologies, the current limitations of science and the availability of green technologies makes this an unfeasible option. As a result, most net-zero pledges today rely heavily on carbon offsetting.

Carbon offsetting involves compensating for one's carbon emissions by investing in projects that either absorb carbon dioxide or prevent its future production. When utilised correctly, carbon offsetting is a brilliant tool for achieving net-zero emissions and mitigating global warming; however, this is not always the case.

Paying to pollute

Consider this example. In 2021, Company 1 and Company 2 both produced 5000 tonnes of carbon dioxide through their operations. Throughout 2022, Company 1 implemented an array of footprint reducing measures including installing solar panels, exchanging business travel for online meetings, and switching their old cooling system for a greener model. Due to Company 1’s carbon reduction measures, they produced only 750 tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2022. The company then paid to offset these emissions, therefore achieving net-zero emissions for the year of 2022.

Contrastingly Company 2 refused to make any operational changes in 2022 and consequently, their carbon footprint remained the same as the previous year, 5000 tonnes. The company then paid to offset these emissions, and therefore also achieved net-zero emissions for the year of 2022.

Company 2 did what many people refer to as “paying to pollute”; they made no changes to their operations but paid for carbon offsets to achieve net-zero emissions. Besides from missing the point of net-zero, the massive problem with this method is that carbon offsets can take years to actually provide carbon dioxide reductions. The returns from carbon offsetting are often far from instant, for example, estimates suggest that the amount of time it takes for one tree to offset a tonne of carbon dioxide is 100 years, or its entire lifetime. Considering the importance of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, our planet simply does not have the time to wait for these offsets to deliver.

Achieving net-zero the right way

In contrast to Company 2’s unethical methods for achieving net-zero, Company 1 followed what many consider the key rule in carbon neutrality, “reduce what you can then offset what you can’t”. This idea is paramount to achieving net-zero the right way and therefore playing a significant role in the reduction of global warming.

As a rule of thumb, organisations are recommended to aim for an 85% reduction in emissions before focusing on offsetting residual carbon. Consequently, the ideal process for achieving net zero emissions adheres to the following steps:

  • Commit: Gain the commitment from key players in the organisation, including senior management.
  • Prioritise: Understand your emissions and determine the boundaries, then prioritise which areas need to be addressed and establish a strategy to address them.
  • Reduce: Implement your emissions reduction strategy.
  • Offset: Offset your remaining emissions using carbon credits.
  • Evaluate: Reflect on your performance, consider how you can improve things, and repeat the process.

Beginning a journey toward net-zero emissions can be an overwhelming prospect for any business. With complex concepts and a variety of options for emissions reduction and offsetting, it can be difficult to know where to start. However, there are resources available to help companies navigate the path toward carbon neutrality, and one such tool is FutureTracker.

FutureTracker is a platform designed to help businesses measure, manage, and minimise their environmental impact. The platform helps businesses to evaluate their current carbon footprint, set achievable targets for emissions reduction, and develop a plan to achieve those targets. The platform also offers a range of resources to help businesses understand the different methods for reducing emissions, and to identify the most effective strategies for their specific needs.

Book a demo today to learn how FutureTracker can help your business.

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