Net Zero means greenhouse gas emissions (‘sources’) are reduced until they are balanced with removals. It covers everything within the value chain that is ‘material’ (non-negligible) to total emissions, and reliably measurable. The value chain is the whole process of value being created – including e.g. supply chains, and the usage of your sold products/services. Net Zero doesn’t allow current offsets as they aren’t credible enough.
This contrasts with the less robust ‘carbon neutral’ which typically allows offsets and often takes less responsibility for the whole value chain (a limited boundary). Net Zero is the necessary long term goal due to problems with offsets and not taking accountability for supply and use phase emissions.
Long term goals will inevitably be impacted by what is decided and done at national and global level, such as the implementation of the Paris Agreement, however clear commitment and effort is necessary from all organisations. Beware that the definitions for Net Zero and carbon neutrality are evolving and some organisations use them in misleading ways.
Step 1 – Establish a suitable level of ambition with buy-in from the top of your organisation i.e. board or owner, through understanding and communicating why Net Zero is necessary.
Step 2 – Understand your value chain, to create the boundary of what you need to include – see the definition above.
Step 3 – Create an ‘inventory’ – a list of emission sources you will include. This must include all reliably measurable and material emission sources, whether they are direct or energy-indirect emissions (‘scopes 1 and 2’, largely those covered in Pledges 2-4 plus any refrigerant gasses e.g. in air conditioning), and your material/relevant indirect (‘scope 3’) emissions causes e.g. business travel, use of your goods/services, and suppliers emissions. You should be working towards covering as many of these as possible prioritising by size, level of control and measurability. Use the Greenhouse Gas Protocol standard terminology where possible – this tells you what each of the 15 categories in the answer include.
Step 4 – Begin putting in place a robust GHG emissions monitoring system to quantify what you are responsible for. Consider if you can get verification and/or certification from outside your organisation.
Step 5 – Identify targets to reduce carbon emissions in line with 1.5 degrees: this will need to include a Net Zero target of 2040 or earlier. You don’t need to know exactly how you will reach it but should start on projects will progress you towards this goal. Setting percentage reduction interim targets will help you stay on track e.g. 50% reduction by 2030 – you may choose to use the ‘Science Based Target’ approach to determine these .
Remember you must include relevant indirect emissions within Net Zero. This will mean also considering product or service design and offerings. When considering these indirect / value chain emissions, as other businesses reduce their impacts, you’ll simply need to choose the right partner/supplier – e.g. using Net Zero transport couriers when they become available.
Optionally, offset all currently unavoidable emissions within your defined boundary and become ‘carbon neutral’ as an interim step. This does not count as Net Zero and must not be instead of cutting emissions. You can get more information about this and record offsetting commitments in Pledge 5.
This is about commitment to the necessary long term goal. As it becomes clearer how Net Zero will be achieved through national & international schemes, and as more credible greenhouse gas removal certificates become available to replace current, dubious offsets, the expectations and guidance will be updated to reflect this.
For more information on Net Zero (as well as offsets and carbon neutrality), see our guide.
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