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What companies need to know about Carbon Neutrality

Canada has taken a huge step towards combating the climate crisis by  committing to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero by 2050. It has proposed new legislation that legally binds the country to that goal which then creates a mechanism for defining a five-year milestone on the way to achieving it. Simply put, in order to reach net zero all, the organisations and businesses within Canada will need to reach carbon neutrality as well.

Thirty years is a relatively short time frame to transform Canada’s economy towards becoming fully carbon neutral but the active involvement of organisations and corporations embedding social responsibility and emission reductions into their core strategy will help catalyse this change and make this time frame more achievable. 

What is carbon neutrality?

Carbon neutrality is striking a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing or eliminating carbon in the atmosphere. It is achieved by calculating the carbon footprint and formulating reduction strategies to reduce it to zero through a combination of more efficient systems (supply chain, energy systems etc.) and supporting external emission reduction projects through offsets. 

The main steps towards achieving carbon neutrality are Measure, Reduce and Offset:

Measure – Measuring carbon emissions and preparing a greenhouse gas inventory report based on set boundaries and scopes is the primary step. Emissions are broken down into three different scopes : Scope 1 includes direct emissions under the control of the organisation, e.g. fuel combustion on site. Scope 2 includes indirect emissions such as generation of purchased energy, like electricity. Scope 3 includes indirect emissions that are not under their control like those associated with business travel, employee commute etc.

Reduce – The next critical step is to set a baseline target for emission reductions. Once the energy use and emissions data is calculated, setting timely emission reduction goals, and developing strategies to achieve them is essential.

Offset – A carbon offset refers to a reduction in GHG emissions or an increase in carbon storage (e.g., through land restoration,  planting  trees or carbon capture technology)  that is used to compensate for emissions that occur elsewhere.

Carbon Offsets 

To expand more on the previous section, carbon offset is realised through carbon credit: a transferable instrument certified by governments or independent certification bodies to represent an emission reduction of one metric tonne of CO2, or an equivalent amount of other GHGs.

However, there is a dilemma surrounding carbon offsetting as it is sometimes viewed as a delicate matter because of the difficulty to track and validate the offset project’s effective carbon abatement. With that in mind, we have broken down the pros and cons of offsetting in the following :

Pros of offsetting – 

The first thing that comes to mind when we think of carbon offsets, is its simplicity. Instead of making operational changes and modifying their strategies, businesses can offset their carbon usage by merely buying credits which supports the expansion of other sustainable projects such as renewable energy and carbon capture technologies.

Additionally, through the process of offsetting, businesses become more aware of their footprint as you must first calculate your total emissions before conducting any offset. The next step of buying carbon offset credits incentivizes businesses to make positive internal changes to reduce their carbon footprint which can actually be financially beneficial. Less emission, less carbon offset purchase.

Cons of offsetting – 

The most negative aspect of a carbon offset credit is that organizations and businesses are still producing carbon emissions, but those emissions are merely offset by investments elsewhere. While this may result in a net zero carbon footprint in theory, it is tough to argue that a tree planting operation, which takes time to come to maturity and is not permanent, has effectively reduced the carbon produced by your organisation today.

Some of these projects can be non-transparent and difficult to monitor, therefore strict regulations and proper transparency is needed to make sure these offset projects are being implemented properly and not exploited for double counting. 

Carbon offsetting as a last resort 

While offsetting plays an integral part, it’s important to keep in mind that doing one positive thing in one area does not entirely compensate for the damage done elsewhere: it only mitigates for it. Therefore, it is very important to reduce as much as possible and offset only unavoidable emissions.

Just as in the waste management sector where reducing is encouraged over recycling, a clear order of precedence in the emission domain will help make sure reduction prioritised over offsetting. 

Support & initiatives to achieve carbon neutrality 

Committing to becoming carbon neutral by 2050 is no doubt an ambitious goal. There are several initiatives that companies can turn to for support. Changing Habits Solutions is officially listed on the United Nations’ Climate Neutral Now website as one of the organizations who can support companies in taking the necessary steps to become carbon neutral.

By being conscious of the choices they make and their effects on the environment, businesses can reduce their carbon footprint and offset unavoidable emissions to support the transition to a low-carbon and sustainable future. The decisions we make now are crucial in shaping the world we live in and the world we leave for our future generations!

Aalekhya Vasantavada

Contributing Writer

I’m pursuing my master’s in environmental engineering at McGill University. I was born and raised in India where I witnessed a vast majority of the population struggling for basic resources like water and electricity. This fueled my passion for sustainability, and I strongly believe that it is the need of the hour. I have been involved with sustainability tech start-ups and local non-profits in the past, that have broadened my understanding on sustainability and the issues at hand. I look forward to continuing my learning journey, contributing to the sustainability space and hopefully help make a difference!