'Carbon neutrality' - giving the term meaning
Last week saw the Scottish city of Stirling become the latest entity to jump on the ‘carbon neutral’ bandwagon. In so doing, they joined the veritable mishmash of companies, localities and universities – some of which stand out as obvious climate leaders; some of which have more ambiguous reputations – that have made such claims.
Within the Forum Business Programme, we’ve been struggling with the concept for some time now. Is it something we should be pushing our partners towards, or is it something we should advise them to avoid? The aspiration to have no net impact on climate is surely one to be supported but, in practice, corporate claims of neutrality have rarely been backed up by the sort of understanding and action that takes them anywhere close to this goal.
That’s why we partnered with Clean Air-Cool Planet, a US climate-focused non-profit organisation to take a more detailed look at the corporate claims of neutrality that have been made so far. We’ve concluded that the concept does have value, although only if it is viewed as a dynamic challenge that drives continuous improvement (rather than a simple technical exercise to balance tonnes of carbon).
Unfortunately, many of the companies that have made claims of neutrality have not embraced this challenge. We’ve therefore developed a set of recommendations for companies that are considering making a claim – and which stakeholders can use to evaluate any claim. You can find these in Getting to Zero: Defining Corporate Carbon Neutrality.
We’ve not resolved all the issues surrounding the concept – companies will still have to make judgement calls as to whether an aspiration to neutrality makes sense for them – but we hope that this report will lead to greater consensus about what should lie behind any claim of neutrality.