Carbon Neutral, Carbon Footprint, Carbon Negative…What do they all Mean? And How can they Help Your Business?

There are so many different terms flying around when it comes to saving the environment, which is a cause that has really come to the forefront in popular culture over the last few years. But you wouldn’t be alone in feeling confused about what these labels mean, and how they are relevant to you. In the business world, in particular, there is growing pressure to become accustomed to not only this new terminology but also to incorporate environmental objectives into your business strategy.

We’re here to help define some of the more well-known terms when it comes to environmental action, explain their relevance in the business world and advise on how you could establish some of these commendable methodologies to make your own contribution to saving the environment.

Carbon Neutral

The term ‘carbon neutral’ is one of the most prevalent at the moment, particularly in the business world, as so many companies are laying out strategies that will help them to become it. Essentially, reaching a carbon-neutral status means that you completely counteract any of the environmental harm your business is causing. Alternatively, it could mean that you are having no impact to start with. For example, some companies are reversing the damaging impact of their production processes by planting trees, which intake carbon dioxide and boost oxygen levels, therefore minimising their potential contribution to global warming.

As a business, you could begin by calculating your carbon footprint in order to ascertain the level of action you need to take to neutralise it. There are plenty of online carbon footprint calculators that can help you to do this. Then, you can start to put the simple day to day strategies in place, for example ensuring that your employees reuse and recycle, or that you choose renewable energy suppliers for your business premises. Alternatively, you could take bigger strides such as supporting environmental charities or going completely paperless by offering phone lines and live chat services rather than postal communications.

Carbon Negative

While carbon neutrality means counteracting the negative impact you have on the environment, becoming carbon negative is taking it a step further by taking enough action that your overall impact contributes to saving the planet rather than simply neutralising your damage. For example, you might own a business that already contributes very little to global warming, yet you’re passionate about using it as a vehicle to wage war against it and therefore incorporate environmental strategies into your approach. This would result in your carbon footprint being negative rather than simply neutral. Perhaps you could invest a percentage of your profits in environmental projects? This can be a great way to raise the profile and likability of your firm.

Carbon Footprint

We’ve already used this term a few times in this article alone, and it's hard to avoid considering its importance. A carbon footprint is a useful term to describe the impact someone or something has on the environment. The footprint aspect connotes the imprint that you’re leaving. Specifically, this is measured by total greenhouse gas emissions. It can be calculated by combining the emissions resulting from every stage of a product or service’s lifetime e.g. production and usage. Examples of greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide and their overall term comes from their ability to trap heat in the atmosphere which, in turn, contributes to global warming. The resultant carbon footprint is measured in units of mass of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e). 

Sustainability

Sustainability is an approach that has only recently become popular. Sustainability considers ecological, social and economic dimensions, recognising that all must be considered together to find lasting prosperity. In other words, when it comes to saving the planet we must consider the impact that our actions have on the ability of other entities to be environmentally friendly. Even if you make choices that reduce your individual impact, such as recycling your litter, by investing your money in companies who take an irresponsible approach, you enable them to cause damage to the environment.

For example, by supporting fast fashion by shopping in cheap, high street stores for items that don’t last and need to be replaced regularly, you are contributing to the mounting landfill sites that threaten the health of the planet. In turn, you are not considering the wider, combined impact of every potential contributor. To live in a truly sustainable way, meaning to live in a way that doesn’t threaten the future, you must consider the wider impact of your actions.

In terms of business strategy, a good approach to sustainability would be to ensure that any suppliers you choose have their own, responsible environmental agenda. For example, you use a renewable energy provider that prioritises solar power, wind power or hydropower, or you choose food suppliers who use recycled packaging. Alternatively, investing in environmentally friendly business practices such as outsourcing to support a live chat website feature, ensures that you keep your impact minimal. This way, you create a business model that can stand the test of time, as opposed to one restricted by the potential demise of environmental health.

Renewable

As we’ve touched upon throughout this article, renewability is key when it comes to keeping our environment safe. Our main threat is the eventual cessation of the natural resources which power our lifestyles. However, we have so far chosen to use those that are cheaper and easier to produce, but which are also non-renewable. It is important that we learn to rely on those that are renewable even if it means spending a little more while we wait for the introduction of new technology.

For example, harnessing the power of the sun, wind and naturally flowing water on our planet, and transforming it into energy is a far safer and more sustainable method. Therefore, using renewable energy providers for your business will help to support the development of these companies. Alternatively, cutting down on the amount of energy you use can help to reduce your carbon footprint.

Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels are an example of a non-renewable energy source. Coal, oil and natural gas are the most widely used fossil fuels, and they are given this term as they consist of the decomposed remains of dead animals and plants from prehistoric times, compressed over many years. As well as being non-renewable, as there is a limit to how many of them there are, they are also very harmful to the environment as a result of what is produced when they are used to create energy.

These by-products, such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide cause global warming as they not only trap heat but are also part of the many toxic chemicals we produce that go on to damage the ozone layer around the earth which protects us from harmful UV rays from the sun. 

Re-use vs Recycle

These terms are often used synonymously but actually have two different meanings. They both describe the process of elongating a product’s lifestyle in order to minimise its impact on the environment, however, re-using is simply using the product more than once whereas re-cycling is transforming the product into something else.

For example, you could re-use the same water bottle rather than simply throwing it away and buying a new one. Or you could recycle the bottle by using it to store something else. For businesses, reusing and recycling are some of the simplest and easiest strategies to implement, whether that’s through providing every office with recycling bins or encouraging the use of reusable containers over single-use plastics. Going completely paperless is another option that can be made possible by outsourcing your inevitably busier phone lines.

Global Warming

This term is quite self-explanatory and is well known to be the key form of environmental decline, however, the connection between the two is not as clear. Most crucially, global warming destroys important ecosystems. For example, it will cause droughts, fire threats, floods, insect outbreaks and melted ice caps. As well as spelling disaster for so many animal species, these effects also threaten the future of mankind as they restrict our ability to produce food and water.

Now that you have more of an understanding of what these terms mean, and the impact that our actions can have on the environment, it’s time to start thinking about the contribution your business could be making, and how to counteract it with more sustainable choices.

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