In a world grappling with the escalating urgency of climate change, the concept of carbon neutrality has emerged as a beacon of hope. It promises to balance the scales between human activities and the health of our planet, offering a glimmer of optimism in a tumultuous era. But as we delve deeper into the intricacies of this noble endeavor, a critical question arises: Is carbon neutrality truly enough?
Keep reading to embark on a journey to explore the nuances of carbon neutrality and unearth the underlying complexities it often conceals. It’s time to challenge our assumptions and move beyond mere neutrality to discover what it truly means to reverse the effects of climate change.
What is Carbon Neutrality?
Carbon neutrality is the state of achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. This means that a company or organization is emitting no more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than it is removing.
Companies are setting carbon neutrality goals for a number of reasons, including:
- To reduce their environmental impact. Climate change is a major threat to the planet, and businesses have a responsibility to reduce their emissions and help mitigate the effects of climate change.
- To improve their bottom line. Carbon neutrality can save businesses money on energy costs and other expenses.
- To attract and retain customers. Consumers are increasingly demanding that businesses take action on climate change. By setting carbon neutrality goals, companies can show their customers that they are committed to sustainability.
- To comply with regulations. Governments around the world are increasingly setting regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By setting carbon neutrality goals, companies can get ahead of the curve and avoid costly fines.
Can Carbon Neutrality Alone Reverse the Course of Climate Change?
Most companies that set carbon neutrality or Net Zero goals intend to achieve this state of non-negative impact at a specific date in the future. A company like Microsoft takes Net Zero one step further and has committed to becoming historically Net Zero, meaning it intends to backcast all emissions associated with the company since its founding and remove all of them through investment in carbon removal projects.
From an environmental perspective, carbon neutrality and Net Zero set a goal of not making the situation worse than it already is. When a company achieves these goals in a credible way, their impact on the environment is supposed to be non-existent. Not very aspirational I would say.
There are three important issues with the Net Zero and carbon neutrality approach we see in the world. are also global goals with most countries agreeing we should reach planetary Net Zero by 2050 in order to avoid the worst of climate change.
1. Carbon Below The Curve
What is more important than the target dates of 2030 or 2050 to achieve carbon neutrality is how much additional carbon we put in the atmosphere until we reach that goal (if ever). Therefore, it is extremely important to rapidly build up our capacity to absorb carbon (known as sinks in the environmental lingo) from the atmosphere, through nature-based and engineered solutions. By setting goals far in the future, we create the erroneous assumption we can delay concrete action. Any ambitious company and government should set concrete carbon reduction targets and pair them with carbon absorption and avoidance targets right now. We simply do not have the time to wait until 2050, because we know that too many companies will not do nearly enough, so the ones that care should move a lot faster to give us a fighting chance. The world needs to reduce the amount of carbon “under the curve”.
2. Carbon Tunnel Vision
By focusing on carbon as the main danger to planetary health, we are ignoring the biodiversity collapse, plastic pollution, ocean acidification, and other crucial planetary boundaries that pose serious threats to humanity
3. Guilt Accounting
The carbon footprint and neutrality paradigm focuses on assigning guilt to specific companies for the state of the world. In some cases, that makes sense, especially when companies actively lobby against climate regulation, they should be held accountable. But the idea that a company’s environmental responsibility is the same as its environmental damage is an extreme viewpoint and it creates perverse incentives.
Carbon Neutrality is No Longer Enough
From our standpoint, we believe that carbon neutrality represents only a starting point. For companies aspiring to be true sustainability trailblazers, the journey extends beyond mere neutrality to embracing a nature-positive approach. This entails more than just assessing and mitigating negative environmental impact; it involves a profound examination of business models and processes.
The fundamental question shifts to, ‘How can we generate shared value?’ and ‘How can we harness positive impact to fuel our business growth?‘
It’s about forging a path that not only reduces harm but also actively nurtures the well-being of our planet and our businesses.
Companies should transform their environmental responsibility (anchored in guilt accounting and delineating environmental damages in scope 1, 2, and 3) into environmental integrity and ensuring that their growth aligns with the latest climate , biodiversity, and other science.
Environmental integrity does not ask what is the damage I do but starts by asking what is the good I can do.
How Do I Go Beyond Carbon Neutrality?
Regeneration is the answer. You can access Race to Regeneration, a guide answering your questions and helping you step by step to get your regenerative sustainability started.
Or book a call with us to learn more.