Carbon Neutral vs Net Zero: Understanding the Difference and Why It Matters

Carbon Neutral vs Net Zero Understanding the Difference and Why It Matters

In the face of escalating climate change, the urgency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has never been more critical. Two terms that frequently surface in discussions around climate action are “carbon neutral” and “net zero”. While they may seem similar, they represent distinct strategies in the fight against global warming.

“Carbon neutral” refers to the balance achieved when the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the atmosphere is offset by an equivalent amount removed. On the other hand, “net zero” is a broader concept that involves balancing not just CO2, but all greenhouse gas emissions, across an entity’s entire supply chain.

This blog post aims to delve into the nuances of these two terms, exploring their definitions, how they are achieved, and their implications for our planet. By understanding the difference between carbon neutral and net zero, we can better appreciate their roles in mitigating climate change and fostering a sustainable future.

Carbon Neutral: What Does It Mean and How Is It Achieved?

The term “carbon neutral” is often used in discussions about climate change and sustainability. But what does it really mean? In essence, being carbon neutral involves balancing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by human activities with an equivalent amount of CO2 removed from the atmosphere.

Balancing Carbon Emissions

The process of achieving carbon neutrality involves two main steps: reducing emissions and offsetting the remaining emissions. The first step is to evaluate the CO2 emissions produced by an organization or individual and find ways to reduce those emissions. This could involve improving energy efficiency, switching to renewable energy sources, or changing behaviours to reduce energy consumption.

Carbon Offsetting

The second step is carbon offsetting, which involves compensating for the remaining emissions by reducing emissions elsewhere or removing an equivalent amount of CO2 from the atmosphere. This could involve planting new trees, which absorb CO2 as they grow, or investing in carbon sinks, which are natural or artificial reservoirs that store carbon-containing chemical compounds. Another method is carbon capture and storage (CCS), a technology that can capture up to 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions produced from the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial processes, preventing the CO2 from entering the atmosphere.

Benefits and Challenges

Achieving carbon neutrality has several benefits. It can help to mitigate climate change, improve air quality, and create new jobs in the green economy. However, it also presents several challenges. These include the cost of implementing carbon reduction and offsetting measures, the scalability of these measures, the verification of carbon offset projects, and the permanence of carbon storage.

Examples of Carbon Neutral Entities

Many businesses, organizations, and countries have committed to or achieved carbon neutrality. For example, Microsoft has committed to being carbon negative by 2030, meaning it will remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits. Similarly, the European Union has set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2050.

In conclusion, carbon neutrality is a crucial goal in the fight against climate change. It involves balancing out CO2 emissions with equivalent carbon removals, and it requires concerted efforts from all sectors of society.

Understanding the Difference Between Carbon Neutral and Net Zero

In the fight against climate change, two terms have become increasingly prominent: “carbon neutral” and “net zero”. While they may seem similar, they represent different strategies and commitments in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Carbon Neutral

Being “carbon neutral” means that an organization or individual has balanced the amount of carbon dioxide they emit with an equivalent amount offset, often through carbon offsetting projects. Carbon offsetting can involve initiatives like planting trees, investing in renewable energy, or supporting carbon capture and storage (BECCS) projects.

Carbon neutrality typically covers a defined part of business operations and usually accounts for CO2 emissions, but not other greenhouse gases. It’s important to note that while carbon neutrality is a good starting point for businesses, it alone is not enough to achieve a 1.5°C pathway.

Net Zero

On the other hand, “net zero” refers to reducing all greenhouse gas emissions across an organization’s entire supply chain. This means that a company reduces its absolute emissions to support the target to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as agreed in the 2015 Paris climate summit.

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has set out the world’s first Net Zero standard, providing companies with a framework and tools to effectively implement the Net Zero target.

Net zero is considered the gold standard for corporate climate action. It requires emissions reductions in line with a 1.5°C pathway, which is what all businesses must do in order to achieve net-zero global emissions by 2050.

The Importance of Clear Definitions

Understanding the difference between these two terms is crucial as they represent different levels of commitment and action in the fight against climate change. Both terms have an important role to play as part of a hierarchy of emissions mitigation work carried out to meet climate targets.

While the terms “carbon neutral” and “net zero” are often used interchangeably, they have distinct definitions and implications. Therefore, it’s important for businesses, policymakers, and individuals to use these terms accurately to ensure clear communication and effective action against climate change.


In conclusion, the terms “carbon neutral” and “net zero” are not interchangeable, but rather represent distinct strategies in the fight against climate change. Both are critical in our efforts to limit global warming and achieve a sustainable future, but they operate on different principles and scopes.

Carbon neutral” refers to the practice of offsetting an equivalent amount of carbon emissions that an entity produces, often through carbon offset projects such as renewable energy generation or reforestation. This approach typically covers direct emissions (scopes 1 and 2), with optional additions of indirect emissions (scope 3). However, it’s important to note that carbon neutrality does not necessarily require ambitious emissions reductions, and it may not be sufficient to achieve a 1.5°C pathway.

On the other hand, “net zero” is a more comprehensive and ambitious strategy. It involves reducing all greenhouse gas emissions across an entity’s entire supply chain (scopes 1, 2, and 3) in line with the latest climate science. Any remaining hard-to-decarbonize emissions can be compensated using carbon removal. The goal of net zero is to align with a 1.5°C pathway, which is the target set by the Paris Agreement to limit global warming.

While both strategies are essential, it’s clear that net zero is the more ambitious and comprehensive of the two. It requires a broader scope of action and a deeper commitment to emissions reduction. However, achieving net zero is a complex task that requires collaboration across sectors and industries.

As we move forward, it’s crucial that we understand these distinctions and the roles that both carbon neutrality and net zero play in our collective efforts to combat climate change. Only by embracing these strategies and working towards their implementation can we hope to mitigate the impacts of climate change and secure a sustainable future for our planet.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Scope 3 emissions?

Scope 3 emissions are all indirect emissions that occur in a company’s value chain, including both upstream and downstream emissions. These can be the hardest to calculate and reduce, but they often represent the largest source of a company’s carbon footprint.

How can companies reduce their Scope 3 emissions?

Companies can reduce their Scope 3 emissions by engaging with their suppliers to improve their environmental performance, redesigning products to require less energy or fewer materials, encouraging customers to use products more efficiently, and investing in renewable energy projects.

What is the role of natural gas in climate change?

Natural gas is mainly methane, a strong greenhouse gas. Some natural gas leaks into the atmosphere from oil and natural gas wells, storage tanks, pipelines, and processing plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in 2020, methane emissions from natural gas and petroleum systems and from abandoned oil and natural gas wells were the source of about 33% of total U.S. methane emissions and about 4% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

What are the environmental impacts of natural gas extraction?

Natural gas extraction, particularly through hydraulic fracturing or fracking, can have significant environmental impacts. These include water consumption, potential contamination of groundwater, disposal of wastewater, air pollution, and induced seismicity or earthquakes.

What are the safety concerns associated with natural gas?

Natural gas leaks could cause explosions, so strict government regulations and industry standards are in place to ensure the safe transportation, storage, distribution, and use of natural gas.

What are negative emissions and how do they work?

Negative emissions refer to the process of removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than is being added. This can be achieved through various methods such as afforestation, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), direct air capture, enhanced weathering, and ocean alkalinisation. However, these methods are still under development and their scalability, cost, and long-term impacts are not yet fully understood.

What are the ethical considerations associated with negative emissions technologies?

Negative emissions technologies, while promising, also raise ethical questions. For instance, large-scale deployment of these technologies could have significant impacts on land use, biodiversity, and food security. There are also concerns about the distribution of costs and risks, the potential for moral hazard, and the challenges of governance and public participation.

What is the role of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in addressing global warming?

The IPCC is a scientific body under the United Nations that reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical, and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. It provides policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.

Can economic growth be decoupled from carbon emissions?

Yes, it is possible to decouple economic growth from carbon emissions. This is evidenced by the fact that 35 countries, including the US, UK, and Denmark, have managed to grow their economies while reducing their CO2 emissions between 2000 and 2014. However, to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, emissions must fall to net zero in the second half of the century.

What is carbon intensity and how is it related to economic growth?

Carbon intensity refers to the amount of carbon (in the form of CO2 emissions) released per unit of GDP. It is a measure of a country’s economic efficiency in terms of its use of natural resources. Countries that have high carbon intensity are more dependent on fossil fuels and less efficient in their use of energy. Reducing carbon intensity is a key aspect of mitigating climate change and can be achieved through various means such as improving energy efficiency and transitioning to renewable energy sources.


EnerTherm Engineering: Your partner for industrial decarbonisation

Are you ready to take your facility to the next level of energy efficiency and carbon reduction? Do you want to save costs, enhance competitiveness, create jobs, improve health, and increase resilience? Do you need expert guidance and support to assess and implement industrial decarbonisation measures in your facility?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you need EnerTherm Engineering. We are a leading engineering consultancy firm specialising in industrial decarbonisation solutions. We have the experience, knowledge, and tools to help you achieve your decarbonisation goals and targets.

We offer a range of services, such as:

  • Carbon audit and baseline assessment

  • Decarbonisation technology analysis and selection

  • Decarbonisation pathway creation and evaluation

  • Multi-criteria decision analysis and optimization

  • Project management and implementation

  • Monitoring and reporting

We work with you every step of the way, from planning to execution, to ensure that your industrial decarbonisation project is successful and sustainable. We also provide training and education to your staff and stakeholders to ensure that they are fully engaged and informed.

Don’t wait any longer. Contact us today for a free consultation and quote. Let us help you transform your facility into a low-carbon and high-performance one. Let us help you make a difference for your business and the planet.

Picture of Francois Pierrel
Francois Pierrel
Hi, my name is François and I am passionate about solving process engineering problems. Over the years, I have developed a number of process equipment and control systems which have had a significant impact on reducing energy usage, waste and impact on the environment. My business ethos is to always get to the root cause of problems and data analysis and modelling are always at the forefront of any project we undertake.
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