What does "carbon neutral" actually mean anyway?

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As a business offering a carbon-neutral delivery service, we naturally talk about carbon neutrality a lot. But seeing as "what is carbon neutral?" is put into Google roughly 3,000 times every month, we realise there may be a small grey area to address.

Here’s the thing, there’s far more to the carbon neutral topic than explaining what it is – we couldn’t do the topic justice without delving into why it’s important and how it can be achieved.

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

Understanding carbon emissions

You can’t talk about the significance of carbon neutrality without first understanding carbon emissions.

When we talk about carbon emissions, we're mostly chatting about carbon dioxide (or CO2, if you’re a fan of brevity) – the stuff that's exhaled by us humans, produced by burning fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas, and is now pretty infamous for its starring role in climate change. It's a natural part of Earth's atmosphere, but things get a bit sticky when there's too much of it.

So why's that a problem? Well, carbon dioxide is a bit like that guest who overstays their welcome at a party – it tends to hang about in the atmosphere, creating a blanket that traps heat. This process is what we know as the greenhouse effect.

A little of it is a good thing (it keeps our planet warm enough to live on), but too much and we're talking global warming, disrupted weather patterns, and all sorts of bother for our planet and its inhabitants – humans included.

What does it mean to be carbon neutral?

Right, now we're up to speed on carbon emissions, let's talk about what we mean by "carbon neutral".

There are two aspects to this: not emitting any carbon in the first place (like an all-electric delivery fleet powered by renewable energy, for example 👀), and offsetting the carbon emitted. The first option is a lot better for the planet, and also much easier to understand. The second is a little more complex.

Let’s go with another party analogy (stick with us). You throw a party and you’re inevitably left with a bit of a mess – our CO2 emissions. Afterwards, you clean up meticulously and there’s no evidence that a party ever even took place – you've balanced the mess created with the mess cleaned.

That's carbon neutrality in a nutshell – for every bit of CO2 you release into the atmosphere, you commit to removing an equal amount. The net release of CO2? Zilch, zero, nada!

How does a company become carbon neutral?

The short answer is with a lot of hard work and a genuine commitment to the environment – or by building sustainability into your business from the very beginning. If you’re in the former group, you need a good plan, and to give your people the capacity and resources to make proper changes happen.

First off, you need to know the size of the hill you’re climbing, or in other words the size of your company’s current carbon footprint. This means looking at everything: from how much electricity you use, to how your products are manufactured and how they're transported.

Once you've got your number, the next step is to reduce that footprint. That might mean switching to renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency or opting for greener transport options.

But, even with the best will in the world, it's tough to reduce your emissions to zero – that's where carbon offsetting comes in. This can involve investing in projects that reduce CO2 in the atmosphere elsewhere, like planting trees or funding renewable energy projects.

It's not a get-out-of-jail-free card by any means – more like an extra tool that can top up your efforts to reach carbon neutrality.

Why should a company become carbon neutral?

So, why bother going carbon neutral? Aside from getting to help the planet in a time when it desperately needs it, there are loads of benefits.

First up, it can actually save you money. For example, energy efficiency – which, believe us, is on the agenda of any business that cares about carbon neutrality – often means cost efficiency, too.

Then there's your brand reputation. Customers are becoming increasingly eco-conscious, and they want to know that the companies they support share those values. By going carbon neutral, you're showing people that you're committed to doing your bit for the environment – and many will reward you with their custom because of it.

There's also a little thing called "regulatory compliance". Governments around the world, including ours here in the UK, are stepping up their climate change targets. By getting ahead of the game and going carbon neutral now, you could save yourself a lot of headaches in the future.

In short, going carbon neutral is good for the planet, good for your customers, and good for your bottom line. Sounds like a win-win-win situation to us!