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Getting to zero: defining corporate carbon neutrality

Publication date:
B. Burtis (ed)
Type of publication:

As concerns about climate change grow, the concept of “carbon neutrality” has captured the corporate imagination and is being embraced by organisations as diverse as airlines, ice-cream makers and reinsurance giants. However, the idea that a company or one of its products or services can have no net impact on climate is surrounded by controversy, and there is little consensus regarding what should lie behind any claim of neutrality.  This report explores a number of the claims that have been made so far and makes a series of recommendations about what should lie behind any declaration of "carbon neutrality". It is argued that the following two key questions frame the debate about neutrality:

Which emissions should an organisation accept responsibility for? (the “boundary” question)?
What strategy should an organisation use to achieve neutrality?

The authors assert that as more and more companies make claims of neutrality, increasing scrutiny can be expected and as such, transparency becomes an overarching issue in determining the credibility of any statement regarding neutrality.
The report is intended to serve as a guide both to companies that have used – or are considering using – the language of neutrality, and to stakeholders that are trying to evaluate whether a particular claim is justified or not.
It concludes with a number of recommendations for companies, which include:

demonstrate a broad understanding of the company's entire carbon footprint prior to making any claim of neutrality – and ensure that any claim covers a relatively significant set of emissions
exhibit caution in making blanket corporate-wide claims of neutrality
be completely transparent
exhibit and sustain broad leadership on climate change
treat neutrality as a long-term commitment – and an ongoing, dynamic challenge