Net Zero Guide

Net Zero Guide

Demystifying the language around Net Zero

It is important to be speaking the same language when it comes to sustainability, and so here is a guide of terms used.

This is an evolving area and many of the definitions contained within this guide will continue to be updated as time progresses. A clear understanding of Net Zero terminology is crucial because it:

  • Reduces Confusion: It helps avoid misunderstandings caused by jargon and technical language.
  • Facilitates Communication: It enables effective dialogue between different stakeholders involved in climate action.
  • Supports Decision-Making: It provides a common framework for setting targets and measuring progress.
  • Encourages Engagement: It makes the concepts more accessible, encouraging wider participation in climate initiatives.

Demystifying the language around Net Zero plays an essential role in advancing the global agenda for carbon neutrality and environmental sustainability.

Measures that organisations take to prevent, reduce, or eliminate sources of GHG emissions within their value chain. Examples include reducing energy use, switching to renewable energy, and retiring high-emitting assets. Another similar term is decarbonisation, which refers to the process by which CO2 emissions associated with electricity, industry, and transport are reduced or eliminated.

No greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are attributable to an actor’s activities across all applicable scopes. Under this definition, no offsets or balancing of residual emissions with removals are used.

The accuracy gap is the difference between the emissions a company calculates and those for which it is accountable. When businesses successfully close the accuracy gap, they avoid risks – including legal non-compliance – and earn benefits like increased brand equity. The accuracy gap can be traced back to the methodologies and data used in emissions estimates.

A criterion for assessing whether a project has resulted in GHG emission reductions or removals in addition to what would have occurred in its absence. This is an important criterion when the goal of the project is to offset emissions elsewhere.

Emissions of GHGs, precursors of GHGs and aerosols caused by human activities. These activities include the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, land use and land-use changes, livestock production, fertilizer production and usage and industrial processes.

These refer to the withdrawal of GHGs from the atmosphere as a result of deliberate human activities. These include enhancing biological sinks of CO2 (NbS and NCS) and using technical methods to achieve longterm removal and storage. Carbon capture and storage (CCS) from industrial and energy-related sources, which alone does not remove CO2 in the atmosphere, can reduce atmospheric CO2 if it is combined with bioenergy production (BECCS).

To set emission reduction targets and embark on the net zero journey, an organisation must first specify a base year. The yearly reduction targets are set by the percentage of the total emissions in the base year.

A Behaviour Change Programme for Sustainable Business is an initiative designed to modify organisational practices and individual behaviours to support sustainability goals. Such programmes aim to align business operations with environmental stewardship, ensuring long-term success and positive societal impact.

Measures that companies take to prevent, reduce, or eliminate sources of GHG emissions outside their value chain. Examples include purchasing high-quality carbon credits and providing direct finance to climate mitigation.

The production of biochar is a method of carbon removal. Biochar is a charcoal-like substance created by heating agricultural waste (corn husks, stems, leaves, etc.) until its chemical composition changes. After the CO₂ has been stored in this way, the biochar is used to create a substance that can be added to the soil, such as a fertilizer. This means that the CO₂ is almost permanently removed and will not be released back during decomposition.

Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage is a negative emissions technology that offers net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere as well as providing energy.

This is a process in which a relatively pure stream of CO2 from industrial and energy-related sources is separated (captured), conditioned, compressed and transported to a storage location for long-term isolation from the atmosphere.

A carbon credit is a tradeable instrument that represents either:

  • a permit to emit one tonne of CO2 or equivalent GHG (tCO2e) into the atmosphere or
  • a certificate that represents the avoidance or removal of one tonne of CO2 or equivalent GHG (tCO2e) from the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide is a colourless gas that occurs naturally in the atmosphere. It is also created in many industrial processes. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and therefore contributes to global warming.

For any greenhouse gas, the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂e) is the mass of CO₂ which would warm the earth as much as the mass of that gas. CO₂e provides a common scale for measuring the climate effects of all greenhouse gases.

Carbon Inserting is a  carbon reduction project, verified by an offset standard, which occurs within a company’s supply chain or supply chain communities.

This is achieved when an actor’s carbon offsetting activities exceed their anthropogenic emissions.

Carbon Neutral is achieved when an actor’s anthropogenic emissions are balanced by their carbon offsetting activities.

Carbon offsetting is voided GHG emission, GHG emission reduction or GHG removal and sequestration made available to another organisation in the form of a carbon credit to counterbalance unabated/residual GHG emissions.

  • Avoidance offsets: Offsets which result in the avoidance of GHG emissions that would otherwise occur without the protective actions implemented to generate the offset, for example, the avoidance of deforestation.
  • Reduction offsets: Offsets that result in a reduction of GHG emissions from an activity that is additional, for example, CO2 capture and geological storage.
  • Removal offsets: Offsets based on the withdrawal of GHG emissions from the atmosphere, for example through the use of GHG sinks or GHG removal technologies. Note: removal offsets are important in achieving net-zero emissions as they help remove and store residual emissions.

Products or services whereby part of their life cycle GHG emissions are balanced by carbon offsets through the purchase and retirement of carbon credits issued under recognized certification standards for measurement, reporting and verification of GHG abatement.

Products of services whereby 100% of their life cycle GHG emissions are offset through the purchase and retirement of carbon credits issued under recognised certification standards for measurement, reporting and verification of GHG abatement.

A Carbon Reduction Strategy is a plan or set of actions designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases. It typically involves identifying the main sources of emissions within an organisation or community and then developing targeted initiatives to reduce or offset those emissions. The strategy can include a variety of measures such as improving energy efficiency, switching to renewable energy sources, enhancing waste management, and promoting sustainable transportation options.

For businesses and organisations, this strategy is often part of their broader sustainability goals and may be driven by regulatory requirements, cost savings, or corporate social responsibility efforts. It is also a key component in the global effort to mitigate climate change by reducing the overall carbon footprint.

This is achieved when an actors activities result in no net effect on the climate system. This requires the balancing of residual emissions with emission removal as well as accounting for regional or local biogeophysical effects of human activities that, for example, affect surface albedo or local climate.

A reservoir (natural or human, in soil, ocean, and plants) where a greenhouse gas, an aerosol, or a precursor of a greenhouse gas is stored, or a process that removes CO2 from the atmosphere.

An economy based on low-carbon power i.e. one that emits a minimal amount of greenhouse gases. It is also known as a low-carbon economy (LCE) or low-fossil-fuel economy (LFFE).

This is a technology to capture CO2 from the atmosphere. The CO2 can be permanently stored in geological formations or used as a feedstock in the production of fuels, chemicals, building materials and other products containing CO2.

A carbon removal project engages in double-counting if the same climate investment is sold multiple times. Avoiding double-counting is therefore an important principle of high-quality climate investment.

Downstream emissions are emissions that occur after a company has sold its goods and services. Together with upstream emissions (or supply chain emissions) they make up a company’s scope 3 emissions.

A factor that quantifies the emissions or removals of a greenhouse gas per unit activity. Since real emissions cannot usually be measured, factors based on a sample of measurement data can be used instead to calculate emissions. Emissions factors are always an average figure under a given set of conditions. They are used in different tiers – see Scope 1,2 and 3 below.

Commercial Energy Audits and Surveys are comprehensive assessments of an organisation’s energy use with the goal of identifying opportunities to improve energy efficiency and reduce costs. They involve:

  • Analysis of Energy Consumption: Reviewing energy bills and usage patterns to understand where and how energy is used.
  • Identification of Inefficiencies: Spotting areas where energy is wasted, such as outdated equipment or poor insulation.
  • Recommendations for Improvement: Providing actionable advice on how to save energy, which can include upgrading to more efficient technology or changing operational practices.

These audits are typically carried out by qualified energy auditors who use a variety of techniques to assess energy use and efficiency. Regular energy audits, conducted every three to five years, are an essential part of effective energy cost control and can also help businesses meet regulatory requirements and sustainability goals.

Energy monitoring and targeting (M&T) is an energy efficiency technique based on the principle that “you cannot manage what you cannot measure.” It involves tracking energy consumption to establish a baseline, setting targets for energy use reduction, and implementing measures to achieve these targets. The process includes:

  • Identifying and explaining excessive energy use: Understanding where and why overconsumption is happening.
  • Detecting unexpected changes in consumption: Finding out when energy use is higher or lower than expected.
  • Visualising energy consumption trends: Observing patterns over time to inform decision-making.
  • Forecasting future energy use and costs: Planning for changes in the business and their impact on energy consumption.
  • Diagnosing specific areas of wasted energy: Pinpointing inefficiencies to address them directly.
  • Developing performance targets: Setting goals for energy management programs.
  • Managing energy consumption: Treating energy as a controllable cost rather than a fixed one.

Energy Monitoring and Targeting can lead to significant energy cost savings and contributes to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. It is a key component of a sustainable business strategy, helping organisations to become more energy-efficient and environmentally responsible. For large organisation the monitoring and targeting requires the use of a third-party energy management, monitoring and targeting software application.

The Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) is a mandatory energy assessment scheme for large organisations in the UK. It requires these organisations to conduct detailed reviews of energy use and identify savings opportunities at least every four years. The scheme is part of the UK’s strategy to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions as part of its broader commitment to achieving Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050.

ESOS supports the Net Zero goal by:

  • Identifying Energy Savings: Organisations must audit their energy consumption and identify cost-effective savings opportunities.
  • Promoting Efficiency: The audits encourage the implementation of measures that reduce energy use and carbon emissions.
  • Driving Innovation: By highlighting areas for improvement, ESOS pushes companies to invest in energy-efficient technologies and practices.
  • Supporting Policy: ESOS assessments can inform government policy and support the development of a low-carbon economy.

The scheme is evolving to include assessments of actions needed to meet future Net Zero commitments, making it a more effective tool for reducing both energy and carbon emissions. This alignment with Net Zero objectives ensures that ESOS will continue to play a crucial role in the UK’s environmental strategy.

Enhanced weathering is a method of carbon removal. By spreading finely ground rock such as basalt, the natural weathering process is accelerated, permanently removing CO₂ from the atmosphere via CO₂ mineralisation.

Floating wind is a term for an offshore wind turbine mounted on a floating structure that allows the turbine to generate electricity in water depths where it is not possible to build fixed-foundation turbines.

Fugitive emissions are leaks of gases and vapours. They are part of an organisation’s scope 1 emissions.

The avoidance of GHG emissions that would otherwise occur without the protective actions implemented by an offset project.

The GHG Protocol provides the most widely used greenhouse gas accounting standards. Their corporate accounting and reporting standard describes the requirements and guidance for companies, and serves as the basis for virtually every corporate reporting program in the world.

Quantified absolute decrease in GHG emissions specifically related to/arising from an activity.

Withdrawal of a GHG and/or a precursor from the atmosphere by a GHG sink or GHG removal technology.

A reservoir (natural or human, in soil, ocean, and plants) where a GHG, an aerosol or a precursor of a GHG is stored. Note: the UNFCCC Article 1.8 refers to a sink as any process, activity or mechanism which removes a GHG, an aerosol or a precursor of a GHG from the atmosphere.

Processes or activities that release GHG emissions into the atmosphere.

An increase in the Earth’s temperate as a whole, due to the increase in levels of greenhouse gases that absorb infrared radiation.

Greenwashing is the practice of providing misleading or false information about the sustainability of an organisation’s activities. Because organisation’s may not realise that majority of their emissions are in scope 3 or that many carbon offsets are of dubious efficacy, greenwashing can happen unintentionally as well as intentionally.

A UN body that provides politicians with regular scientific research on climate change, including its implications and potential future risks, and adaption and mitigation plans.

ISO 50001 Energy Management System is an international standard designed to help organisations improve their energy use through the development of an energy management system. It provides a framework for establishing, implementing, maintaining, and improving energy performance, including energy efficiency and consumption. The standard is based on a model of continual improvement, like ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, and is applicable to any organisation, regardless of size, sector, or location. Certification to ISO 50001 is optional but can demonstrate to external parties that an organisation has implemented an effective energy management system.

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is a method for evaluating the environmental impact of a commercial product or service through all stages of its life cycle, from cradle (raw material extraction) to grave (final disposal).

Long-term science-based targets show the degree of emission reductions needed for companies to reach net-zero before 2050 in line with keeping global temperatures to 1.5°C. This level of emission reductions is sometimes called “residual emissions”.

Methane is one of the two main greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture, with 28 times the impact of carbon dioxide (CO2e). It is largely a product of livestock production, mostly from enteric fermentation in ruminants but also from slurry, manure and waterlogged land. Enteric methane exists within natural cycles, and the methane emitted will be cycled or sequestered in due course.  However, increased ruminant numbers at a global level are having an impact both through higher emissions that must be cycled, and land use change.

Near-term science-based targets outline what companies will do now, and over the next 5-10 years, to reduce emissions in line with what the latest climate science deems necessary to limit warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Actions that conserve, restore or improve the use or the management of high carbon ecosystems (e.g. forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands) while increasing carbon storage and/or avoiding GHG emissions.

Actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.

Technologies that reduce the concentrations (or stocks) of greenhouse gases by removing them from the atmosphere and hold them in long-term geological storage.

This is the amount of anthropogenic (GHG) emissions that remain after any emission reduction and/or removal via carbon offsets have been accounted for.

Net GHG intensity represents the ratio between net GHG emissions and an amount of energy. Net GHG intensity can be expressed for an individual energy product, or more broadly for an assortment of activities conducted by a company which influence net emissions and can be related to an amount of energy produced, sold or otherwise handled by a company.

The Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions attributable to an actor’s activities and products, along the full value chain, that remain after any emission reduction and/or removal via carbon offsets have been accounted for.

This is achieved when more anthropogenic GHG emissions are removed from the atmosphere than are emitted into it. Where multiple GHGs are involved, the quantification of negative emissions depends on the climate metric chosen to compare emissions of different gases (such as global warming potential, global temperature change potential, and others, as well as the chosen time horizon). This state (net negative emissions) can be achieved at the global, national or company level.

This is the amount of emissions resulting from an actor’s operations (Scope 1 and Scope 2) that remain after any emissions reduction and/or removal via carbon offsets have been accounted for.

Net Zero is a state of balance between anthropogenic emissions and anthropogenic removals. In most cases, it is important to specify either net-zero CO2 emissions or net-zero GHG emissions, which also includes non-CO2 GHGs. Net-zero GHG emissions must be achieved at the global level to stabilise temperature increase, and targets set using the Net-Zero Standard must cover all UNFCCC/Kyoto GHG emissions. The SBTi’s Net-Zero Standard outlines what companies need to do to enable the global economy to achieve net-zero. The Standard makes clear that for corporate net-zero targets in line with keeping global warming to 1.5°C require rapid and deep emission reductions.

This is achieved when anthropogenic GHG emissions to the atmosphere are balanced by anthropogenic removals. Where multiple GHGs are involved, the quantification of net-zero emissions depends on the climate metric chosen to compare emissions of different gases (such as global warming potential, global temperature change potential, and others, as well as the chosen time horizon). This state (net-zero emissions) can be achieved at the global, national or company level.

The process of reaching net zero. An organisation’s net zero journey involves first measuring its entire carbon footprint, then reducing every emissions source possible, then compensating the remainder with high-quality climate investment

This means that all emissions resulting from an actor’s operations (Scope 1 and Scope 2) are reduced, where possible, and all residual emissions are addressed by removal offsets.

Nitrous oxide is the other of the two main greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture, mostly from cropped land – it has 298 times the global warming potential (CO2e) of carbon dioxide and is mostly created by fertiliser production and its breakdown in the soil, together with the decay of other organic matter.

The Paris Agreement is an international treaty on climate change, adopted in 2015 and ratified by almost every country in the world. The Agreement commits its signatories to keep global warming to well below 2°C above pre-Industrial levels, and preferably limiting the increase to 1.5°C.

1.5°C: Science has made it clear that we must limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. We need to keep global warming to 1.5°C to have a fighting chance of having a habitable and thriving planet for all of us.

The temporal evolution of natural and/or human systems towards a future state. Pathway concepts range from sets of quantitative and qualitative scenarios or narratives of potential futures to solution oriented decision-making processes to achieve desirable societal goals. Pathway approaches typically focus on biophysical, techno-economic, and/or socio-behavioural trajectories and involve various dynamics, goals and actors across different scales.

The multi-century period prior to the onset of large-scale industrial activity around 1750. The reference period 1850–1900 is used to approximate pre-industrial global mean surface temperature.

Race to Zero:  A global campaign to rally leadership and support from businesses, cities, regions, investors for a healthy, resilient, zero carbon recovery that prevents future threats, creates decent jobs, and unlocks inclusive, sustainable growth.

A hypothetical scenario that best represents the conditions most likely to occur in the absence of any climate change mitigation.

Energy generated from naturally replenished resources such as sunlight, wind, water and biomass.

These are the GHG emissions that remain after efforts have been made by an actor to reduce emissions from its operations.

A plausible description of how the future may develop based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about key driving forces (e.g. rate of technological change) and relationships. Note that scenarios are neither predictions nor forecasts but are used to provide a view of the implications of developments and actions.

Direct GHG emissions occur from sources that are owned or controlled by the company, for example, emissions from combustion in owned or controlled boilers, furnaces, vehicles, etc.; emissions from chemical production in owned or controlled process equipment.

Scope 2 accounts for GHG emissions from the generation of purchased electricity and steam consumed by an organisation. Purchased electricity and steam are defined as electricity and steam that is purchased or otherwise brought into the organisational boundary of an organisation. Scope 2 emissions physically occur at the facility where electricity and steam are generated.

Scope 3 emissions is a reporting category that allows for the treatment of all other indirect emissions. Scope 3 emissions are a consequence of the activities of an organisation but occur from sources not owned or controlled by the organisation. Some examples of Scope 3 activities are extraction and production of purchased materials; transportation of purchased fuels; and use of sold products and services.

An emissions reduction target is science-based if it accords with what climate science tells us about how to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement: to limit global warming to less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and ideally pursue a stricter 1.5°C target.

The spend-based method of calculating GHG emissions takes the financial value of a purchased good or service and multiplies it by an emission factor – the amount of emissions produced per financial unit – resulting in an estimate of the emissions produced. Since spend-based methods’ emission factors are built on the industry average greenhouse gas emissions levels, spend-based calculations can lack specificity.

A state in which the atmospheric concentrations of one GHG, or of the CO2-equivalent of a selection of GHGs (or a combination of GHGs and aerosols) remains constant over time.

The temporary exceedance of a specified level of global warming, such as 1.5°C. Overshoot implies a peak followed by a decline in global warming, achieved through anthropogenic removal of CO2 exceeding remaining CO2 emissions globally.

International environmental treaty signed by 154 states at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 that addresses climate change.

Can mean an organisations scope 3 emissions. However, sometimes the term value chain is used more broadly and includes both an organisation’s operational (scope 1 and 2) emissions as well as scope 3.

The sum total of all the associated GHG emissions and removals, for the embodied, operational and disposal of a product through its whole life cycle.

Not sure where to start?

Speak to a consultant on 01908 041543 to find out how we can help you through carbon offsetting

Net Zero and Carbon Reduction Consultancy

Behaviour Change Programmes for Sustainable Business

Power to make change

We believe that people power can change the world. We are here to help you have a positive impact on the planet. Together we can make a difference.

Take the next step

Becoming Net Zero

Leading by example, we became carbon neutral in 2023 and are committed to achieving net zero business emissions by 2030.

Read our strategy

Employee Ownership

As an Employee Ownership Trust we embrace the three pillars of good communication, governance and leadership, putting our people first.

Learn more about us

We will be by your side

Staying at the forefront of industry, we embrace and drive change, delivering solutions at pace and scale to meet the modern challenges of energy and sustainability.

Meet our people