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Net Zero 101: A beginner's guide to lowering your carbon footprint

The definition of “Net Zero”


Net Zero has become a buzzword in the world of sustainability and climate change. But what exactly does it mean?


In simple terms, Net Zero refers to achieving a balance between the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) being emitted and the amount being removed from the atmosphere.


Essentially, Net Zero is all about balancing the books on GHGs. It's about ensuring that every bit of carbon dioxide (CO2) we produce is matched by an equal amount being removed from the atmosphere. It's like having a bath that is being drained at the same rate that it’s being filled.


But how do we remove GHGs from the atmosphere? Direct Air Capture with Carbon Storage (DACCS) is one of the few technologies that can remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Basically, it uses chemical processes to capture and separate CO2 directly from ambient air so that it can be injected into geological reservoirs or used to make long-lasting products. However, it’s worth noting here that DACCS is still immature, both technically and commercially.


Another way of reducing future emissions is supporting certified carbon offsetting projects, like investing in renewable energy or energy efficiency projects. Alternatively, we can enhance the capacity of natural carbon sinks through methods like reforestation or soil management, which act as nature's own vacuum cleaner, absorbing CO2 from the air. 


So, in a nutshell, when we talk about Net Zero, we're essentially saying we don't want to add any more GHGs to our atmosphere than we're taking away. It's about ensuring that our planet's delicate carbon balance isn't tipped any further in the wrong direction.


Net Zero vs Carbon Neutral


Confusingly, Net Zero and “Carbon Neutral” are terms often used interchangeably in the context of environmental sustainability and efforts to address climate change. However, there are subtle differences in their meanings:


Net Zero

  • Encompasses all GHGs

  • Includes Scopes 1, 2 and 3

  • Emissions reduction required

  • Partial offsetting allowed


Carbon Neutral

  • Focusses on CO2

  • Usually covers only Scopes 1 and 2

  • No carbon reduction required

  • Offsetting allowed


Therefore, the choice of terminology and target setting may depend on specific contexts and the comprehensiveness of the approach taken to address climate impacts.


What about these “Science Based Targets”?


Science Based Targets (SBTs) are a type of carbon reduction target that are validated by the Science-Based Target initiative, shortened to SBTi. Essentially, SBTi are a body who set the rules for developing and validating carbon reduction targets in line with the latest climate science. They offer a tangible and scientifically backed path for reducing GHG emissions by ensuring that businesses aim to reduce their emissions at a rate that would keep global warming below the 1.5°C threshold.


In a nutshell, for an organisation’s carbon reduction target to be validated and labelled as "science-based", it must achieve a reduction of at least 4.2% per year. But this depends on scenarios and what sector you are in. 


Adopting SBTs isn’t only a proactive step in contributing to global climate efforts but also sends a clear message to investors, customers and stakeholders that your business is committed to sustainable practices. But it’s also worth noting that SBTs may not be the right path for your business – they're typically designed for large corporations and might not be the most constructive for start-ups. Although recently, specific guidance has been released by SBTi for SMEs.


How to choose the right carbon reduction target for your business


Deciding on the ideal carbon reduction target for your business involves a delicate balance of ambition and feasibility.


Start by assessing your current carbon footprint. You need to know where you stand before you can plot a course forward. Carbon accounting is the process of measuring, recording and reporting GHG emissions and removals from various activities, operations or entities. It provides a structured approach for quantifying an organisation's or a product's carbon footprint. Investing in carbon accounting software automates the processes of data collection, emissions calculations and reporting. These tools not only save time but also reduce the risk of errors associated with manual calculations.


Once you've established your carbon footprint and baseline emissions, consider the unique factors of your business. What's the size and nature of your operation? What are your future growth plans? What’s your budget for sustainability? The answers to these questions will influence the scale of your carbon reduction targets.


Then, turn your attention to the broader picture. Look at industry norms, national targets, and global goals like the Paris Agreement. They provide context and a yardstick for your own commitments.


Remember that setting a carbon reduction target isn’t just a box-ticking exercise. It’s a commitment that will likely require changes in how you operate. Therefore, your target must be ambitious enough to contribute to global efforts against climate change, but also achievable without undermining the viability of your business. It's a delicate balancing act, but a necessary one to future-proof your organisation.


Lastly, make sure to factor in time. Aiming for Net Zero is not an overnight endeavour. It requires long-term thinking and planning, and your targets should reflect that. Set interim milestones to help measure progress and maintain motivation. The journey may not always be easy, but the rewards - for your business and our planet - are worth it.


The importance of achieving Net Zero


Striving for Net Zero isn't just an environmental concern—it also makes sound business sense. There is a growing public consciousness of climate change, and businesses that make a genuine commitment to reduce their carbon footprint are likely to be rewarded with greater consumer trust and loyalty. It's no longer enough to simply offer quality products or services; customers now want to know that businesses are taking steps to protect our planet. 


Additionally, aligning your business strategies with Net Zero can lead to cost savings in the long run. By taking a proactive approach to managing your environmental impact, you could discover new efficiencies, reduce waste and make significant savings on energy costs. This is where carbon accounting comes into play and saves you resources —it's about looking at your operations, identifying where emissions are produced, and finding ways to reduce or offset them. 


Achieving Net Zero can also be an opportunity to innovate and diversify. For example, shifting towards renewable energy sources, adopting circular economy principles, or developing low-carbon products and services can help to future-proof your business. 


Let's not forget the wider societal benefits too. By moving towards Net Zero, businesses can play a crucial role in combating climate change, preserving biodiversity, and ensuring the sustainability of our planet for future generations. It's about stepping up and taking responsibility, not just for your own business, but for the world we all share. 


In short, achieving Net Zero is not just about doing the right thing, but also about enhancing business resilience, boosting your brand and making a positive impact on society.


Step by step: Net Zero guide on how to get started


Starting on your Net Zero journey might feel a bit daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. You just need a structured, strategic approach.


Begin by carbon accounting, a crucial step in identifying your carbon emissions and understanding your current environmental impact. This gives you a baseline from which you can start to make reductions. 

net zero steps


Next, establish your carbon reduction target. Remember, this should be ambitious yet feasible, aligned with your business operation and industry standards. Don't forget to factor in the long-term nature of this endeavour. Set incremental goals to monitor progress and maintain momentum.


You then need to formulate an action plan. How will you achieve your target? You could consider energy efficiency measures, switching to renewable energy sources, or even modifying your business practices. Remember, it’s not just about reducing emissions, but also enhancing your capacity to remove carbon from the atmosphere. To keep on track, consider adopting SBTs.


Next, ensure your plan is communicated effectively across your organisation. Everyone, from the CEO to the newest recruit, needs to understand their role in achieving Net Zero. 

Lastly, track, review and adjust your strategy as necessary. Remember, the road to Net Zero is not a straight one, and obstacles will arise. However, with perseverance, ingenuity and a commitment to sustainability, your business can contribute meaningfully to the global fight against climate change. 


Remember, starting the Net Zero journey is a significant step towards a sustainable future. Not only is it beneficial for our planet, but it can also lead to cost savings, enhanced reputation, and business resilience. Embarking on this path might be one of the most rewarding decisions you'll make for your business and the generations to come.


The challenges and solutions to achieving Net Zero


The journey to Net Zero is not always a smooth ride. It’s packed with speed bumps and potential detours that businesses must navigate. One major challenge lies in the unfamiliarity and lack of knowledge around sustainable practices. However, fostering a culture of learning and investing in education can help demystify the complexities of Net Zero. 


Then there's the resistance to change, a common issue in many organisations. It's crucial to remember that the transition to Net Zero is not just about new policies or processes; it's a fundamental shift in mindset. To overcome this, engagement at all levels is vital. Clear communication about the benefits and the strategic importance of Net Zero can help align everyone on the same path.


Another challenge businesses often face is financial. Implementing sustainability measures may seem like a daunting investment at first. However, the initial cost needs to be seen as just that - an investment. In the long term, the shift to green practices can lead to substantial savings. Think of it as a loan to the environment that will pay dividends down the line in the form of reduced operational costs.


Yes, there will be challenges on this journey, but with every hurdle crossed, your business becomes more resilient, more sustainable, and ready for a future where Net Zero is the norm. The race to Net Zero may not be easy, but remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Every step counts.


Carbon accounting tools for Net Zero


Transitioning to Net Zero isn't a shot in the dark—it's a strategic manoeuvre that can be guided and measured using carbon accounting tools. These technological solutions offer an insight into your company's carbon emissions, pointing out the hotspots and suggesting ways to reduce them. 


Imagine carbon accounting tools as your very own sustainability GPS, guiding you on the most efficient route towards your Net Zero goals. They enable you to monitor and track your GHG emissions across all your operations, from energy consumption to supply chains to products. It's like having a bird's eye view of your carbon footprint, giving you the ability to zoom in on specific emission sources.


These tools aren't just about number-crunching, though. They are robust platforms that allow you to model various scenarios, explore mitigation strategies and understand their potential impacts. They can help you project the savings from energy efficiency measures or estimate the reduction in emissions from a switch to renewable energy sources. 


Most importantly, they enable you to set tangible, realistic targets based on your unique business operations and industry standards. Through this, carbon accounting tools turn the abstract concept of carbon emissions into something concrete, manageable and ultimately, reducible. 


As the world shifts towards a more sustainable future, having a handle on your carbon accounting is no longer optional—it's becoming a business imperative. Using these tools effectively can set your business on the fast track to achieving your Net Zero ambitions while paving the way for sustainable growth. In the race towards Net Zero, carbon accounting tools could be your most valuable ally.


Reach out to our expert team to find out more about how our carbon accounting solution can help your business take the necessary steps towards Net Zero.


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