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For the past several years, you have probably been hearing these phrases being tossed around like a beach ball on a hot summer day: Carbon Neutral, Net Zero, Carbon Negative, Climate Positive. They all have one thing in common, and that is the reduction of carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Even though they have the same through-line, there are some major differences between Carbon Neutral and Net Zero as they pertain to the Sustainability Consulting work we do here at Paladin. We’re all about empowering our clients on how to accomplish their vision, so when it comes time to decide if they want to go Carbon Neutral or Net Zero, they know exactly what they’re getting themselves into.

What Does “Carbon Neutral” Mean?

Carbon-neutral organizations are committed to evaluating the amount of CO2 emissions they produce, reducing that amount as much as they can, and offsetting the remaining emissions with carbon credits. Carbon neutrality implies that any remaining emissions are offset and/or compensated for with other emissions reduction activities. Some examples of carbon offsetting include:

  • Funding the planting of trees in areas facing deforestation
  • Investing in renewable energy projects
  • Helping deliver clean water access to areas with polluted water sources
  • Investing in carbon sequestration
  • Providing financial aid to farmers growing crops with techniques to reduce waste
  • Funding the optimization of flight patterns in aviation  

What Does “Net Zero” Mean?

On a macro level, “Net Zero” refers to the point in time when humans stop adding to the burden of climate-heating gasses in the atmosphere which leads to issues such as global warming and climate change. For our purposes, net zero carbon on a micro level refers to the reduction of all greenhouse gas emissions from lighting, HVAC systems that use fossil fuels, process use, and computers (Scope 1 Emissions) so they’re equal to those emitted by human activity. Any remaining emissions are so small that they can be re-absorbed by oceans and forests (United Nations).

Key Difference Between Carbon Neutral Vs Net Zero

The key differences between Carbon Neutral and Net Zero are the time frame in which emissions are reduced to zero and the rigidity of the types of emissions to be offset.

Carbon Neutrality implies that emissions are reduced and/or offset immediately, and can include a wider variety of emissions like Scope 2 and Scope 3 emissions. Those include:

  • Scope 2 Emissions: Indirect emissions from electricity, steam, heating, and cooling resources an organization purchases 
  • Scope 3 Emissions: Emissions that are the result of activities from assets not owned or controlled by the reporting entity. Examples include:
    • Purchased Goods and Services
    • Employee Commuting
    • Upstream and Downstream Transportation
    • Leased Assets

Net Zero implies the reduction of all Scope 1 emissions within an established time frame. If there are any remaining emissions, offsets can be purchased but must be focused on the isolation of greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere. 

How Paladin Helps You Achieve Your Carbon-Neutral Building Goals 

Carbon Neutral design, construction, and operations is a realistic approach for Paladin’s clients.  28% of global emissions are operational emissions and 11% are building materials and construction emissions (How to build smart, zero carbon buildings | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)). This encourages us to design as many passive techniques as site and program allow, to select energy efficiency and renewable sources that positively impact operational emissions (and costs), and to evaluate our building materials to reduce embodied carbon. This all adds up to the most positive impact per construction dollar, and sends a strong message to the community that our clients are committed to a more sustainable future.   

One of Paladin’s main missions is to help clients reduce carbon emissions and guide them through the process so their sustainability goals are more refined. By doing so, Paladin can provide a more pragmatic strategy to empower our clients to become environmental stewards in their communities and keep their bottom lines healthy. The mission of Net Zero emissions is a herculean task that will take worldwide cooperation and years to achieve, but we strongly believe that we can get there with a consistent and scaled implementation of projects that aim for Carbon Neutrality.

To begin your path toward Carbon Neutrality, trust the professionals at Paladin. Contact us today to start the conversation.