You may have been told by someone in your organisation to investigate carbon neutrality and how your business can become certified, or maybe you’re the climate champion in your organisation and you want to encourage climate action to be taken, or you simply need to know more about carbon neutrality before taking any further steps. No matter your situation, having complete comprehension of carbon neutral certification and all of its facets is important.
This article seeks to give a high level overview of carbon neutral certification and everything that may affect your decision to proceed with certification. As you read this article you will learn more about the certification process, the various providers of certification, the difference between being ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘carbon neutral certified’, the prolonged benefits of certification for your organisation, and most importantly, how carbon neutral certification works to combat the climate crisis.
This article covers some length, if desired click the links below to go straight to your preferred section.
- What is Carbon Neutral Certification?
- How can I become Carbon Neutral Certified?
- What's the difference between carbon neutral and carbon neutral certification?
- Benefits of carbon neutral certification for your organisation.
- Providers of certification.
- How Carbon Neutral Certification helps out our planet.
What is Carbon Neutral Certification?
Carbon Neutral Certification is the official label or documentation that attests to an organisation's true carbon neutral status for a full reporting period (12 months). Certification demonstrates the earned credentials and verifies that the organisation has successfully reached a state of carbon neutrality for a particular time period. But what exactly is 'carbon neutral', 'net zero emissions', and how does an organisation achieve this?
Carbon Neutral: Carbon neutral is a term used to describe when the greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere by an organisation over a certain time period, for example, 6 months, are negated through the purchase and retirement of carbon offsets. In doing so, the emissions caused by the organisation are offset by projects which are directly removing, avoiding, or capturing carbon.
How does a company become carbon neutral? For an organisation to be carbon neutral, they need to accurately measure their operational Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions for a defined period of time. Following this, the organisation's carbon footprint, which is represented in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (t CO2-e) is computed. The calculated amount of t CO2-e is then offset through the selection of and investment in a verified carbon offset project. Carbon offset projects support the removal, avoidance, or capture of the otherwise released greenhouse gas emissions. They are the final piece of the puzzle that ensures an organisation's carbon footprint is balanced out.
Organisation's purchasing carbon credits from a certified project are indirectly providing support to the selected carbon offset project. One carbon credit represents one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (t CO2-e) that has effectively been 'neutralised'. For further clarification of the carbon offset process, and how it differs from the carbon neutral certification process, click here.
Carbon neutral, net zero, and what really is carbon neutral certification?
Carbon Neutral and Net zero, in particular achieving 'net zero targets', are phrases that are commonly thrown around. Whilst they are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings and play different roles within the carbon neutral certification process.
Carbon Neutrality is the basis for any action that involves negating the impact of carbon emissions through the purchase of offsets and is only relevant for a specified moment in time, an event or a product. Generally, carbon neutrality is achieved on an annual basis, once an organisation has measured and then offset its emissions, however, it can also be achieved at the time of payment when thinking about purchasing "spot offsets" for things like flights or electricity.
If an organisation wishes to achieve carbon neutral certification through the help of Pathzero, they need to have measured and offset their total greenhouse gas emissions for a minimum of 12 months. Often the certification process also includes a verification of the emissions boundary and validation of the inventory data. This is where the ambiguity surrounding 'carbon neutrality' comes in. An organisation can claim to be carbon neutral, but without certification, the organisation may not be meeting the requirements of credible certification bodies such as Climate Active and therefore, lacks significant reliability.
How do net zero emissions fit in? Net zero targets combine the removal of carbon emissions with reduction. When an organisation is reaching net zero emissions they are first working to reduce their emissions, for example by switching energy providers, before they offset the remaining emissions which can't be avoided or reduced. To achieve net zero, all remaining emissions are offset through the purchase of carbon removals. Our article, What is Carbon Neutrality, Net Zero, and all those other buzzwords, goes into further depth on this topic.
Considering all of this, what actually consists of carbon neutral certification?
Carbon Neutral Certification is given to organisations when they effectively reach a state of "zero" emissions, meaning they are carbon neutral (their greenhouse emissions for their certification period have been balanced out through the purchase of offsets), and they have worked to reduce as much of their emissions as possible given their current time period.
To claim the status of a Carbon Neutral Certified Organisation, any emissions released within the most recent reporting period (12 months), must be completely offset. For example, an organisation may have its 2014 emissions inventory measured and offset today. Although the organisation would be able to claim that they were carbon neutral for that reporting year, they will not be able to claim that they are a carbon neutral certified organisation. This is because certification requires measurement of the most recently completed reporting period as this is most representative of an organisation's current operations.
These strict technicalities have been set by various governing bodies to ensure any claims that are made are true and to also ensure that future and continued environmental actions are taken.
How can I become carbon neutral certified with Pathzero?
To become carbon neutral certified there are 6 fundamental steps that an organisation needs to undergo to comply with, according to the Pathzero Protocol. These include:
1. Measure your emissions for 12 months: To measure a total emissions inventory an organisation must identify and measure its scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions sources for all sources within its emissions boundary. The computed amount of each emission source added together equates to the total carbon footprint, which as previously mentions is quantified into t CO2-e. The frequency at which an organisation has to measure its emissions is left up to the discretion of the organisation; however, to receive carbon neutral certification, a 12-month measurement of the most recent reporting year, whether calendar or financial year, must be complete.
2. Identify reduction opportunities and create an emissions reduction plan: Based on the data provided by the carbon measurement, an organisation will be able to identify its largest emission sources. Using this information, an emissions reduction plan must be established. At least three emission reduction initiatives must be implemented, which the organisation will employ to minimise its overall impact on the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions it releases.
3. Offset your residual emissions: Being carbon neutral means removing as much carbon from the atmosphere as your organisation emits. There will always be some emissions that cannot be reduced and your organisation can offset these by purchasing carbon credits. Purchase eligible carbon credits directly through the platform or provide evidence of retirement to meet the Protocol’s criteria
4. Get your work verified and validated: The Pathzero Protocol requires a registered consultant to verify the emissions boundary for your organisation to ensure the completeness of emission sources. In certain instances validation of the activity data, you have entered is also required.
5. Enter into a license agreement that ensures the obligations are met to use the carbon neutral company label: To ensure that an organisation is able to represent themselves as carbon neutral certified, certifiers like Pathzero, require the organisation to enter into a license agreement that states the terms and conditions of use.
6. Communicate (optional): Once an organisation is officially carbon neutral certified it can communicate this with key stakeholders. This can be done by making carbon reports public or sharing reports within your financial reporting, adding a digital carbon neutral company badge to your website, posting on socials, or even writing a new blog to share on your website.
All Carbon Neutral Certification Processes vary slightly depending on the provider. For relevance, we have leaned closer towards Pathzero's certification process according to our Carbon Neutral Protocol. Our Co-Founder & CEO, Carl Prins, has previously written a blog that unpacks these steps with more details. To read it, click here.
What is the difference between Carbon Neutrality and Carbon Neutral Certification?
The major difference between being carbon neutral and carbon neutral certified is the series of requirements or protocol, that must be met to be a certified organisation.
As displayed above, carbon neutral certification specifies a series of steps to be completed, in order, and with sufficient accuracy and credibility. The stages of certification are built in alignment with a Carbon Neutral Protocol, which defines the requirements for attaining a credible carbon neutral certification.
To be carbon neutral, however, an organisation doesn't have to follow these requisites and therefore has more flexibility with its measurement, reduction, and offsetting choices. A term referred to as 'spot offsetting', denotes that an organisation can choose to purchase carbon credits for a specific aspect of its business. For example, an organisation may decide to make their business flights carbon neutral, which means they are only measuring and offsetting the carbon impact of their business flights. The organisation is therefore eligible to use the term 'carbon neutral' when referring to the flights, even though they haven't measured their full operational scope and offset their total carbon footprint.
Carbon Neutral Certification requires everything within the organisation's operational control to be measured over a full reporting period which then must also be offset. They must also create and implementation of reduction initiatives and have certification and validation checks conducted. All of these requirements, which are built within the protocol, however, are not obligatory if choosing to just be carbon neutral, whether this is for a certain product, an event, or an organisation's full operational scope.
It is due to the additional and compulsory steps that certification receives more recognition and is globally excepted. Certification provides organisations with a safety net that secures them with a reputable and trust claim. We speak more on this in a previous blog on the benefits of certification, click here to read.
Benefits of certification for your organisation.
Internal benefits: Information and increased awareness
Carbon neutral certification, in particular, the measurement process provides organisations with valuable information which they can use for better and more educated decision making.
The need for information that is produced by carbon measurement and reporting is driven by numerous forces; capital markets, consumers and employees, government departments, and supply chains. All these forces play a role in both the financial and environmental performance of your business.
Information and key insights provide customers, employees, and key stakeholder groups evidence of your carbon impact as well as display environmental progress over time. When reduction initiatives are implemented, for example, information is vital to track and report on the strategies and if they were successful.
Depending on the industry, an organisation may need carbon management data from their suppliers to understand how their scope 3 emissions impact their carbon measurement. Government departments in certain cases also demand an organisation's carbon measurement or proof of offset if they are in the process of a government tender or working agreement.
Pathzero's Carbon Management platform integrates the full carbon management process in one location, making information easy to access, understand and showcase to stakeholders. Information is key for driving both internal and external improvement, without it carbon neutral and net zero claims may not be trustworthy.
External benefits: Customer perception and branding
With climate change becoming a globally recognised issue, consumers are looking to brands that have undergone the carbon neutral certification process. Choosing to become a certified organisation demonstrates core company values of leadership, morality, and integrity. Further benefits to the perception of a brand include:
- Organisational integrity: Carbon Neutral Certification is associated with credible actions, providing integrity to your claim.
- Easy brand transparency: By producing carbon reports organisations are able to provide visibility into their environmental actions and reduction initiatives.
- Reputable brand recognition: Certified Carbon Neutral labels increase market credibility which is said to increase both customer reach and loyalty.
- Align with stakeholder needs: Undertaking emission reduction opportunities demonstrates strong corporate social responsibility values and demonstrates a commitment to reducing your environmental impact.
- Viewed as a leader: Taking environmental action beyond that of your regulatory requirements demonstrates strong leadership values.
There is an arrangement of unexpected benefits certification can arise, many of which are discussed in our article, Want to know the brand benefits of Carbon Neutral Certification?
Providers of certification
Certification is provided by a variety of both public and private organisations. Choice of provider can differ depending on organisational goals, location, and budget.
- Carbon Neutral Organisation Certification: Pathzero has created a carbon management tool that has all the required tools and resources needed to be carbon neutral certified in one place, including in-house consultants for verification and validation checks. The platform simplifies the process, providing templates, guidance tools, and question boxes throughout to ensure every step is achievable, removing the need for lengthy excel spreadsheets, and expensive consultants. The full process is compliant with certification bodies. Due to this, the data computed and processes completed during the Carbon Neutral Certification process with the Pathzero platform can be used, with the help of our registered consultations, to apply for certification with Climate Active, Carbonneutral.com, and Climateneutral.org.
- Climate Active Certification: Climate Active is an Australian government-administered and run carbon neutral certification program. It is in fact the only government-sanctioned carbon neutral certification in the world. Climate Active is often used for organisations with complex inventories or requiring their products/services to be carbon neutral.
Climate Active certification needs to be completed by registered consultants. This can be cost-prohibitive. Pathzero's climate active registered consultants can assist Pathzero members with climate active certification, without the need for long hours due to carbon management information already present within the application.
- Other certification providers: Besides Pathzero and Climate Active, there is also a range of other certification providers. The type of certification and value they bring can vary along with the industries and purpose they serve.
How certification helps our planet
Commonly referred to as the race to zero, reducing the overall impact greenhouse gas emissions have on the planet will work to slow the rate of, and eventually, minimise the effects of climate change. The earth is a self-restoring mechanism that has infinite power to heal itself, however, the rate at which humans release carbon emissions into the atmosphere is significantly more than can be handled. When the impact and release of emissions become less and less, more energy can be targeted to restoring the health of our planet for future generations.
Carbon Neutral Certification targets two critical areas: reduction and offsetting (removal/avoidance/reduction). Both of these work to mitigate the impact greenhouse gas emissions have on the planet. Whilst the individual impact of one organisation being carbon neutral certificated isn't going to stop the climate crisis, a collective movement, where all organisations actively reduce and offset their emissions just might.
By choosing to be carbon neutral certified your organisation is setting standards and expectations for both your industry and organisations at large. Not only are customers going to choose to purchase from organisations that actively work to minimise their environmental impact, but they will also begin to push other companies and governing bodies to make this process mandatory, like financial reporting.
Carbon Neutral Certification is at the forefront of the climate crisis. It is a process that is achievable, through the right platform and help, for all businesses. This article covers everything on certification, however, we also have an array of specific and shorter articles that may answer more targeted questions. For convenience these are listed below:
Interested to learn more about Carbon Neutral Certification? Schedule a demo with one of Pathzero's registered consultants.