A Pinch of Knowledge: What is decarbonization and how does it relate to carbon offsets?
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In the other blogs in this series, we’ve covered the basics of carbon credits and offsets, when offsets are appropriate, and the two main types of offsets. But before a business should even be concerned with obtaining offsets, they have to do the hard work to plan their decarbonization, starting with goal setting. In the same vein, individuals who are interested in offsetting some of their emissions should first figure out ways to reduce their carbon footprint, and then offset the rest.
What exactly are companies working toward? You’ve probably heard a lot of businesses claiming they’re working toward net zero or carbon neutrality, but what do they mean? The term net zero means that emissions produced are equal to emissions captured and stored. Carbon neutrality is a generic term for activities that a company takes on to counteract their environmental impact. These terms on their own don’t describe how a company plans to get there, so sometimes they take a shortcut, like EasyJet, with offsets. The misuse of these terms has made some consumers wary of them. Let’s talk about how companies should set goals and the best standard to use so you know when they’re doing the right thing, right.
Businesses should set goals using science-based targets. A science-based target has the ultimate goal of limiting global warming to 2℃ or 1.5℃ by 2050. The SBTi’s Corporate Net-Zero Standard is the world’s first framework for corporate net-zero target setting in line with climate science. It requires long-term deep decarbonization targets of 90-95% across all scopes (including value chain emissions) before 2050. The remaining 5-10% can be covered by offsets (learn more about that in this blog).
Individuals probably aren’t able to reduce their carbon footprint by 90-95%, we get that. Begin by calculating your carbon footprint with Salt so you understand where you’re starting. Then, set a goal to reduce your footprint and choose steps you can take to reach that goal. You can continue to add more sustainable changes over time to create an eco-friendly lifestyle. In the meantime, offset what you can’t eliminate with Salt.
The Basics of Decarbonization
Creating a plan to decarbonize a business is a complicated and daunting task. There is an entire industry of consultants who work with businesses to create these plans. Hiring a consultant is a good idea to take some of the stress off, ensure that the calculations are correct and can stand up to public scrutiny.
1. Commit: Get the team on board and explain the goal being set and why.
2. Map: About 80% of a company’s emissions come from their supply chain, so it’s important to map it and collect data from suppliers.
3. Calculate: Collect data on the business’ carbon footprint. For carbon accounting purposes, emissions are generally broken down into three categories, called Scopes:
- Scope 1: directly caused by facilities or equipment that a company owns or controls
- Scope 2: indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy
- Scope 3: all indirect emissions (not included in scope 2) that occur in the company's value chain, including both upstream and downstream emissions
4.Plan: Create a public-facing roadmap explaining the reduction goals and the plan to achieve them.
5. Reduce + Measure: So how does a business actually go about reducing emissions in each Scope? Scopes 1 and 2 are generally straightforward. Scope 3 is where it gets much more complicated (and where a consultant starts to sound like a great idea).
- Scope 1: Electrify the business fleet, cut consumption and become more energy efficient
- Scope 2: Buy clean electricity using Renewable Energy Credits/Certificates (RECs), Green Tariffs, Off-Site Power Purchase Agreements, or generate renewable energy on-site
- Scope 3: Collaborate with suppliers, look into more sustainable materials and packaging, create a take-back or repair program (and much more that we don’t quite have time for)
Congratulations! You now know more about how businesses decarbonize than most consumers. You have the power to use this information to analyze businesses' claims and efforts to determine if they are making real, positive change or just using greenwashing to attract good-intentioned eco-conscious consumers. You also have the knowledge to decarbonize your own life, and offset the rest. Now get out there and be part of the positive change!