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Net Zero Carbon – Achieving Zero And Telling The World With Confidence

06 March 2020
A growing number of organizations have set out their commitments to achieve Net Zero Carbon or Carbon Neutrality in a bid to help the UK reach its target by 2050 and to help fight the global climate crisis.

These range from large multinationals, cities and even the whole industries. Those wishing to get ahead are even making commitments to achieve a negative carbon position (for example Microsoft).

Whilst each organization will have its own path towards achieving Net Zero Carbon, this article explores how an organization is to achieve and make a credible claim of Net Zero Carbon that stands up to scrutiny.

What is Net Zero Carbon?

Net Zero Carbon (also referred to as Carbon Neutrality) means that an organization has to take out of the atmosphere as much carbon as it emits into the atmosphere. The carbon impact when you take an equal amount of emission away from an equal amount of absorption (also known as sequestration) is therefore zero.

It’s worth noting that Net Zero Carbon focusses entirely on the impact of carbon, as the name would suggest, however there are lots of other particles which we emit into the atmosphere which shouldn’t be forgotten.

Achieving Net Zero Carbon

Reaching Net Zero Carbon sounds easy in principle. In practice however, this is going to be difficult for lots of organizations. Especially for those which are heavy emitters of carbon due to their nature – such as heavy industry, petrochemical industry and aviation.

To achieve Net Zero Carbon, organizations have to do as much as possible to reduce their emissions. This includes investing in more efficient technologies and processes, changing their energy to low carbon and renewable sources and in some cases fundamentally rethinking their entire business model.

The aviation industry is a good example of how an industry is having to rethink their practices and technology. They have set out a “decarbonisation road-map” which includes use of sustainable fuels, upgrading fleet and carbon removal measures.

What can’t be reduced then needs to be offset through absorption.

The absorption side of the equation is more of an emerging science. At present, the technologies that were expected to drive carbon absorption are not yet fully commercially viable. These included carbon capture and storage, and carbon dioxide scrubbers.

As technology matures, prices fall, and the value placed on carbon absorption increases, these new technologies may become more widespread. A number of organizations that have made commitments towards Net Zero Carbon by 2030 have included the use of these technologies in their projections. Today, the most common way of attempting to reach Net Zero Carbon is through the mechanism called Carbon Offsetting.

Carbon Offsetting is where an organization acquires (usually through a payment) a carbon saving from another. For example a company might pay for the reforestation of an area or investing clean energy projects. This has a negative carbon impact – specifically the action of planting trees will remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it creates. This carbon saving can be calculated and purchased by an organization which is creating carbon emissions. This carbon saving is used to offset the carbon emissions in the calculation earlier in this article.

There has been concern around the integrity of some carbon offsetting schemes in terms of how real the carbon savings are. Another challenge towards carbon offsetting is that it encourages organizations to pay their way out of taking action themselves. It is important therefore that when an organization is looking to offset its carbon emissions it should use a reputable offsetting scheme which is independently verified for its carbon savings.

A group of NGOs (including the WWF) established Gold Standard (https://www.goldstandard.org/) which sets out best practices in climate and sustainable development interventions (offset projects). This includes assessing each carbon saving project against globally accepted methodologies.  

Making a credible claim of Net Zero Carbon or Carbon Neutrality

Most organizations will at some point look at how they could potentially achieve Net Zero Carbon. Knowing whether your organization has actually achieved Net Zero Carbon and being able to demonstrate this to internal and external stakeholders will be important. Invariably any claim made will attract scrutiny.

Fortunately there is an industry established method outlined within the specification, PAS 2060:2014. This sets out the method to be followed by a company looking to determine and then potentially claim they are carbon neutral.

The diagram below outlines the overarching method of how an organization should approach determining Net Zero Carbon. This is essentially an enhancement of the Plan-Do-Check-Act model.


The benefit of using a specification such as PAS 2060 is that is sets a route through some of the uncertainty around establishing carbon emissions.

What parts of my activity should I cover within the carbon emission assessment?

PAS 2060 defines three emission scopes. Direct emissions, indirect emissions and other indirect emissions. Companies must consider direct emissions (from a fleet, industrial processes) and indirect emissions (electricity purchased or emissions created during the production of energy to be used by the business).

Other indirect emissions are where emissions are generated by other organizations on behalf of the company, such a business travel, outsourced fulfilment and logistics, managing waste and water. This is certainly the more difficult scope to determine and any emissions in this scope that contribute more than 1% of the total footprint need to be included. Understanding the carbon emissions and relative contribution of these indirect activities is crucial to establishing a valid carbon emission calculation for your organization.

What methods can be used when determining carbon emissions?

The credibility of a carbon neutrality claims relies to a greater extent on the robustness of the carbon emission calculation. ISO 14064 Part 1 sets out an internationally recognised approach for the quantification and reporting of greenhouse gas emissions. Other useful approaches include:

  • The GHG Protocol sets out best practices in how to report on emissions.

  • PAS 2050 provides a framework for assessment of life cycle greenhouse gas emissions. This could help with the assessment of Other Indirect Emissions.

External providers, such as NQA, are able to provide carbon emission assessment services in accordance to ISO 14064.

What internal or external validation of Net Zero Carbon can take place by organizations such as NQA?

PAS 2060 requires an organization to make a declaration of achievement of Net Zero Carbon through a defined set of Explanatory Statements and public disclose of the documentation.

PAS 2060 requires the validation of the achievement of neutrality. This can be undertaken by:

  • Self-validation

  • Third party independent validation

Organizations would generally adopt third party validation to demonstrate internally and externally that their process has been robust and compliant with an internationally recognised approach – providing an added level of assurance.

NQA can provide third party independent validation of Net Zero Carbon claims in accordance to PAS 2060:2014.
Using your existing environmental or energy management system to support PAS 2060 compliance and Net Zero Carbon

Having an existing environmental management system such as ISO 14001 helps to support the journey towards PAS 2060 certification and Net Zero Carbon. The benefit of having an existing environmental (ISO 14001) management system is that it requires an organization to understand and assess its environmental aspects and impacts.

Whilst ISO 14001 does not require a detailed carbon emission calculation to take place, it sets a solid framework for an organization to understand its direct, indirect and other indirect emission sources. Depending on the maturity of the system, some organizations will have the majority of the data required to undertake a carbon emission calculation.

Furthermore, the ISO 14001 standard helps a company to consider the lifecycle and supply chain environmental impact of its products and services. This is useful when considering other indirect emission sources.

The assessment and quantification of carbon emission sources can be further enhanced by having an energy management system (ISO 50001).

An energy management system aligned with ISO 50001 provides a systematic framework for collecting, analysing, determining and improving energy efficiency across organizational processes and activities. The data collected (for example fuel consumption, electricity consumption) to support the energy management system can also be used to determine carbon emissions.

What to do next?

If you are interested in exploring how your company can begin your journey to achieve Net Zero Carbon, we can support you through the process. For more information on this topic or for a quote please email us or give us a call on 0800 052 2424.

Please find further information via the links below:

Author: N Wright, Managing Director, NQA