Carbon neutral is dead. Long live net zero

Our climate change champion Richard Hagan, managing director of Crystal Doors, says forget carbon neutral, the race to net zero is the new holy grail and that it’s no longer enough to rely on offsetting emissions

Over the past year, ‘net zero’ has become the buzzword of choice in the fight against climate catastrophe. Terms like ‘carbon neutral’ are outdated – it’s not just carbon dioxide emissions we need to cut, but all greenhouse gases. 

Pound-for-pound, other gases like methane (think livestock and landfills) and nitrous oxide (think car exhausts) have a stronger warming effect on the climate. They need cutting out, too. 

For too long, large companies have simply totted up their CO2 emissions, spent a few thousand on offset credits and boasted that the job was done. This has always filled me with anger – those companies had not done anything of value to clean up their own mess. 

My tiny company was investing more than half a year’s turnover to take responsibility for our emissions and reduce them directly, while large companies, with much larger footprints, played pretend. 

Greenwash and lies were making me green – not with envy, but with rage!

Thankfully, things are changing. Many of those dubious ‘carbon neutral’ claims have been withdrawn as the world embraces the new reality of the ‘race to net zero’ – to account for all greenhouse gases, minimise them as much, and as quickly, as possible in line with climate science, and use offsets to balance out what remains. 

Now it’s my tiny company and others like us who are reaping the rewards. Gone are the days where you can just offset and forget.

Under the definition set by the United Nations, net zero means companies must priori-tise reducing all emissions as soon as possible and report annually on their progress. 

That means it is now much easier to find out how committed a company truly is
to sustainability. 

I look for the following key indicators: the company’s pledge to net zero; their last carbon footprint report; and a strategy that follows a scientific approach, matching efforts and targets with what climate science says is needed. 

All three can be achieved even by small companies. Appoint your most enthusiastic employee as chief sustainability officer (CSO), pledge to reach net zero by 2050 and halve your emissions by 2030, and develop a strategy that will lower your carbon footprint every year. There are many reporting templates and resources available online. 

It’s about starting your journey, learning and having fun. That’s worthy of recognition in itself, so start the conversation with your customers and community and let the world know that you have joined the most important race in history.

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