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Net Zero – why it’s important we are all on the journey?

Many of you will have heard the term “Net Zero” being used but what does this mean and how does it differ from being Carbon Neutral?

Net Zero and Carbon Neutral are often used in the same breath but there is a difference. Whilst being Carbon Neutral means offsetting any emissions from Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) generated during a process or activity, being Net Zero means you have reduced your emissions as much as possible with a minimum of 90% reduction from your baseline as standard, then the residual can be offset but only through “Gold Standard” carbon removal offset schemes.

However, the biggest difference between the two terms is the scope of them. Carbon Neutral can refer to a process or a product, but Net Zero is across the board and takes into account three scopes.

Scope 1 – this is your direct emissions from things like heating and lighting and as well as the emissions from fleet vehicles.

Scope 2 – this is the indirect emissions from your purchased energy. A great example of this is when there is an EV fleet, the emissions from the electricity generated to power this would be Scope 2.

Scope 3 – this is emissions that are not produced by the company itself. An example of this is when we buy, use and dispose of products from suppliers.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol have categories Scope 13 into the following 15 categories:

Upstream Activities:

  • Purchased goods and services
  • Capital goods
  • Fuel- and energy-related activities
  • Upstream transportation and distribution
  • Waste generated in operations
  • Business travel
  • Employee commuting
  • Leased assets
  • Downstream Activities:
  • Downstream transportation and distribution
  • Processing of sold products
  • Use of sold products
  • End of life treatment of sold products
  • Leased assets
  • Franchises
  • Investments

The interesting part of this is that for most businesses Scope 3 represents 80% to 90% of their Net Zero journey which means to be truly Net Zero you can not do this on your own, you need those around you that work with you, supply you, who you supply, your end user, to all be working towards the same goal. If you look at the upstream and downstream information, you can clearly see that whilst we can fairly easily look at sorting out Scope 1 and 2, if we don’t all work together then the biggest piece of this, Scope 3, won’t be achieved and then none of us will be able to achieve true Net Zero.

Where this makes me truly think is that previously it was very easy to pass off making the small changes ourselves by thinking “somewhere else in the world is always going to be polluting more”, we now need to start consciously making decisions on what we are using and buying and where we are sourcing and buying products and services, as these small changes, stitched together locally, nationally and globally start making the kind of changes we need to see to achieve Net Zero.

Article written by: Julie Brooks, Construction and Sustainability Berkshire ambassador

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