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10 things to know about carbon-neutrality

As more production companies start to prioritise carbon-neutrality, confusing terminology can lead to misunderstandings about what it means for the Earth’s future.

The Paris Agreement on climate change calls for 195 countries to adopt a legally-binding global action plan to limit the effects of global warming. Introduced in 2015, the Agreement aims to adopt climate-friendly policies to help achieve climate-neutrality before the end of the century.

For the last three years, EU member states have worked towards the goal of reducing emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030. With sustainability at the top of the agenda for governments across the globe, localities and companies are ramping up their efforts to make a difference.
 

Sustainable production

Social responsibility has been a part of Palsgaard’s DNA since it was founded back in 1908. Recognising that the large-scale production of emulsifiers is energy intensive, the company’s key corporate social responsibility (CSR) goal is to make all production sites carbon-neutral by the end of 2020.

Palsgaard has been actively working to reduce emissions since 2006 – when the New Oxford American Dictionary coincidentally declared carbon-neutral the word of the year!
 

Reaching carbon-neutrality

Many other production companies are also aware of the impact their activities have on the environment and are striving to achieve carbon-neutral status. Carbon-neutrality can help meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement and the production industry is working on achieving this goal in a number of ways including: 

  • Reducing emissions by switching to renewable energy
  • Purchasing carbon offsets
  • Reducing waste and decreasing water usage
  • Localising production to reduce the transportation of goods
  • Offsetting carbon by funding initiatives like reforestation projects

Deciphering the language

The idea of carbon-neutrality is being embraced around the world and in many different industries. Some airlines, for example, give customers the option to offset their flight emissions from a holiday or work trip. Even the entertainment and sports industries are getting into the spirit, as shown by Vancouver hosting the world’s first world carbon-neutral Olympic event in 2010.

But what does carbon-neutral actually mean? With all the sustainability jargon and green messaging flying around, it’s not a surprise that there’s some confusion. Here are ten things about carbon-neutrality to break through any misunderstandings: 

  1. Carbon-neutral refers to an activity, such as producing goods, that releases net zero carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
  2. Climate positive goes a step beyond achieving net zero carbon emissions. In fact, being climate positive involves removing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Earth’s atmosphere – generating an environmental benefit and creating a ‘positive’ impact.
  3. Carbon negative means the same thing as ‘climate positive’. Wondering how that works? If a production process reaches carbon-neutral status, and then the production company removes additional CO2 from the atmosphere, the result is net negative carbon emissions – meaning a ‘positive’ impact.
  4. The term ‘carbon positive’ is popular in marketing and is essentially the same as climate positive and carbon negative.
  5. The term ‘carbon footprint’ covers the entire production journey. It encompasses all emissions associated with sourcing and production along with the energy used to produce and distribute a product.
  6. A company’s or product’s carbon footprint is calculated using the global warming potential (GWP) of each step in a production process and an emissions factor. All greenhouse gases have an accompanying emissions factor and GWP.
  7. The GWP measures how much energy will be absorbed by the emissions of one tonne of a greenhouse gas over a given period of time, relative to the emissions of one tonne of CO2. The larger the GWP, the more that a given gas warms the Earth’s atmosphere as compared to CO2.
  8. An emissions factor is a number that attempts to express how much of a pollutant is released into the atmosphere as part of a particular activity. It is usually given as the pollutant’s weight divided by another variable like the volume or duration of the pollutant-emitting activity.
  9. The discussion about emissions is not just limited to CO2. Other greenhouse gases exist, too. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has an overview of these, including a breakdown of emission types measured in the US in 2016.
  10. Companies can purchase carbon offsets, acting as a ‘credit’ where greenhouse gas reductions from one party offset the emissions of another party. Offsets are usually measured in tonnes of CO2

Clearing the air

So, next time you hear the words carbon-neutrality, you will have a better understanding of what it means and how all the different elements come together. As companies around the world act to achieve carbon-neutral production, we will collectively be closer to meeting the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

About the author

Mar Holkers

Mar Holkers is Plant Manager for Palsgaard Netherlands and was instrumental in arranging for the emulsifier factory to achieve a zero-carbon footprint in 2018.