Net zero, zero carbon or carbon neutral? Confused? Let us explain…
10th September 2021
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Two terms, in particular – ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net-zero’ – are often used interchangeably but represent very different approaches to combatting climate change.

We are seeing far broader and stronger commitments from governments and business to strengthen the global response to this crisis. But it can be difficult to understand exactly what the commitments mean.                                                                                         

Here at GEL, we have committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions to align with the United Nations Paris Agreement.  

But what does this mean?


Carbon neutral 

Carbon neutrality is based on a company continuing its business-as-usual activities, and then balancing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by ‘offsetting’ the equivalent amount of carbon by  buying ‘carbon credits’ and/or by supporting GHG-reduction initiatives such as reforestation projects. 

Therein lies the challenge. 

A commitment to carbon neutrality does not require a commitment to avoid, reduce or replace the overall GHG emissions of that business. A carbon-neutral business needs only to offset the GHG emissions it produces – even if those emissions are increasing. 


net-zero business should only offset emissions once it has made all efforts to avoid, reduce or find an alternative way to replace any greenhouse gas emissions produced by its activities  Any ‘remaining’ emissions that can then be balanced using removal offsetting.  

Take, as a simplified example, the case of air travel if, in total, people within a given business take 10 flights per year, the organisation could achieve carbon neutrality for those 10 flights simply by buying enough carbon credits or by support projects to offset the emissions (or a combination of the two). 

However, to achieve net-zero carbon, the company would need to reduce the number of flights per year as much as possible (to five, for instance) and also invest in projects that remove from the atmosphere the carbon dioxide produced by emissions from the other five flights. 

If you apply this pattern across all the ways a business might produce emissions – such as heating its buildings – and the company achieves net-zero by: 

  • reducing its GHG emissions across all activities as much as possible 

  • supporting the removal of carbon dioxide produced by any emissions the business does produce. 

Why the words matter; 

These two terms mean entirely different approaches and cannot be used interchangeably. It’s important, then, that we are clear about what we seek to accomplish.

A truly sustainable future can only be achieved through action and behaviour changeCarbon neutrality is an important first step, which should not be underestimated. However, to truly decarbonise globallyits not enough.  

We understand our role and are proud to do our part. 

Guernsey Electricity are committed to exploring all opportunities across all business activities and resources to encourage and drive environmental sustainability performance improvements and initiatives that benefit our community, the island and our climate. Including targets to: 

  1. Achieve ISO14001 EMS Certification 

  1. Develop a Guernsey Electricity action plan and glidepath to achieve net zero  

  1. Phase out carbon emissions from on-island generation, where practicable. 

Read more about GEL's plans to tackle climate change.
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