Updated: May 11, 2021
You have probably seen it before, maybe on a product label or a company advertising for being climate neutral. So what does it mean “Our products are climate neutral.” or “We are climate neutral.”?
Let´s start by understanding what a carbon footprint is. Activities produce a certain amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), for example a factory produces cars or corrugated boxes. These activities are related to production. (Some initiatives though urge that all value chain related emissions are taken into account, including raw materials, logistics and packaging for example.) When measuring the amount of carbon dioxide that these activities produce, then this is defined as carbon footprint.
Now climate neutrality implies that a company is sustainably reducing its carbon footprint and only, if there is no further opportunity to reduce more at this stage, then it takes the option to offset its carbon footprint. Setting the balance between caused emissions on one side and avoided emissions on the other is then the result called carbon neutrality, a term which the United Nations´ (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) officially uses.
You just read about offsetting being part of the measurement of climate neutrality. Offsetting means that a company buys carbon credits equivalent to their carbon impact. So for every ton of CO2 the company emits, they ensure that one ton less is released in the atmosphere. And how can they ensure this? This is done with the help of internationally recognized climate protection projects. As greenhouse gases such as CO2 are distributed equally in the atmosphere, it makes sense to also invest in climate protection projects which are not local.
So the next time you see a product label or website with the statement “We are climate neutral.”, you can investigate which climate protection projects are being supported and through which recognized partner, and hopefully with this approach the company goes beyond reducing its own emissions and not only relies on offsetting and so minimising its impact on our climate.
If you ask yourself, if there is something you can do as a citizen, then the answer is yes. In 2015, UN Climate Change launched an initiative called “Climate Neutral Now”. This initiative shall encourage everyone in society to take action to help achieve a climate neutral world by mid-century, as enshrined in the Paris Agreement. Find more information here.