Glossary of climate terms
Whilst embarking on your sustainability journey, it can be easy to be overwhelmed by the terms that are often thrown around – and regularly misused – by companies and organisations in their sustainability commitments.
We’ve prepared this handy glossary to help you use these terms correctly. This is vitally important, as using the below terms incorrectly can (understandably) cause you to be accused of greenwashing. To be safe, always be clear and concise about the sustainability commitments you have (and have not) made.
Climate Positive is a term for organisations who are just starting out on their sustainability journey. Your organisation can become a Climate Positive Workforce with Ecologi, and through your Ecologi profile you can offset the emissions from your team’s personal lives and business travel each month.
Carbon neutrality refers to the state where the sum total of an organisation’s (or country’s, or individual’s) carbon emissions are matched by the sum total of its emissions offset through carbon credits. If your company currently produces 100 tonnes of carbon emissions per year, you can become carbon neutral by purchasing 100 verified tCO2 per year from projects through Ecologi. There is a formal definition of carbon neutrality provided by PAS 2060, and organisations like the Carbon Trust will certify carbon neutrality (at cost). Generally compliance with PAS 2060 and carbon neutrality certification will require some commitment to emissions reductions as well.
Carbon negativity is the next step along from carbon neutrality. Instead of offsetting carbon to match the amount of emissions produced by your company, a carbon negative organisation would offset more than the emissions it produces. If your company currently produces 100 tonnes of carbon emissions per year, you can become carbon negative by purchasing >100 verified tCO2 per year from projects through Ecologi.
Negativity comes in degrees – sometimes companies will offset their emissions +1 (so in this case offsetting 101 verified tCO2 per year would be enough for them to consider themselves carbon negative), but other times organisations might opt to ‘double offset’ the emissions (in this case, 200 verified tCO2 per year).
Net zero is the most ambitious sustainability strategy, and it is something that all of us should be striving for in the long term, if we are to keep the planet within 1.5ºC of warming as required by the Paris Agreement. Whilst there is no recognised international standard for ‘net zero’, the generally accepted definition which you should stick to is that a net zero organisation commits to science-based targets of emissions reductions, and then, after reducing emissions using all means possible, offsets everything that remains using verified carbon removal projects.
The best way to think about net zero is in terms of the organisation’s contribution to the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. Whilst it’s feasible to be carbon neutral whilst still producing lots of emissions, net zero requires a commitment – across all scopes of emissions – to reducing emissions in line with a 1.5ºC warming target, and then – and only then – offsetting any residual emissions using carbon removal offsets (not carbon avoidance offsets).
Currently, it’s very difficult to become fully net zero, because of the limited availability of the two main methods of carbon removal: carbon capture and storage (such as BECCS or DACCS) and verified carbon reductions from mature woodland. In addition, any organisation claiming to be net zero must justify the basis on which any residual emissions are impossible to reduce, and must ensure that any carbon removal it commits to in its plan is not already accounted for by somebody else in theirs.
Why is carbon removal from trees difficult?
Carbon credits from mature woodland are hard to come by, and this ties-in to why Ecologi does not count its tree planting projects towards its calculations of carbon reductions: because our trees are new, they have not reached enough carbon capture potential to be counted as verified tonnes of carbon reductions. Some trees don’t reach overall carbon capture until their 10th year of life.
For the same reason, all of the credits created by the Woodland Carbon Code (which was launched in 2011 and verifies projects in the UK) are currently Pending Issuance Units (PIUs) until they are mature enough to become retirable Woodland Carbon Units (WCUs) – which are then equivalent to one tonne of carbon removed. Until the trees are this age, they cannot be considered carbon credits of any kind. Once mature however, they will be an example of a nature-based carbon removal credit.
What are BECCS and DACCS, and what are their limitations?
BECCS: Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage. Producing energy from biomass and capturing and storing the carbon produced.
DACCS: Direct Air Carbon Capture and Storage. Capturing carbon dioxide directly from ambient air using carbon scrubber technology.
BECCS and DACCS are two examples of relatively new carbon removal technologies which are yet to be implemented on a global scale. Per tonne of carbon removed, they are currently extremely expensive, and there are ongoing debates about how useful they will ever be to solve climate change. You should never rely on emerging technologies or a ‘techno fix’ in your sustainability policy, and all efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere within a net zero plan should take place after reducing as much of your emissions as possible. When it comes to tackling the climate emergency, there simply is no replacement for dramatically reducing your emissions. Take a look at our guide for businesses on how to reduce carbon emissions.
Company A wants to do something extra for its employees and customers through Ecologi. They opt to become a Climate Positive Workforce, offsetting the emissions of their staff team, and they also decide to plant a new tree for every hire. They also set up automated integrations through Zapier and Shopify so that their customers automatically plant trees and buy carbon offsets when they interact with the company. They use the Company Goals section of their Ecologi profile to set targets to reduce emissions and train staff on being sustainable and putting the planet before profit. Company A is Climate Positive.
Company B is writing their sustainability strategy. They aim to reduce their emissions, so they measure them, make some reductions and decide to offset their company emissions by purchasing carbon credits from a solar project through Ecologi, and decide to certify their neutrality through the Carbon Trust. Company B is carbon neutral.
Company C has decided to go a little further. They take all the steps to become carbon neutral, certify with a recognised body, but decide to offset 1x additional tonne of carbon per product sold. They offset their carbon emissions using a mixture of renewables and cookstoves projects through Ecologi. Company C is carbon negative.
Company D has opted for an ambitious yet challenging sustainability strategy. After measuring emissions, they commit to science-based emissions reductions which align with a 1.5ºC future. Once they have reduced all possible emissions, they then offset their residual hard-to-reduce emissions using carbon removal, through projects certified by the Woodland Carbon Code. Company D is net zero carbon.