DECC to clarify carbon neutrality

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is aiming to give companies and customers a clear definition of the term ‘carbon neutral’ and guidance about how to achieve it, according to a consultation published on Thursday

The term has become increasingly familiar in recent years. Companies such as Sky claim to be carbon neutral, Eurostar claims its train journeys are carbon neutral and there is even a carbon-neutral beer brewed by Adnams. The government has set a target for its own estate to become carbon neutral by 2012. But DECC says that due to the lack of an agreed definition, companies and other organisations are free to interpret it in a variety of ways that could confuse or even mislead.

DECC says: “Carbon neutral means that – through a transparent process of measuring emissions, reducing those emissions and offsetting any unavoidable emissions – net calculated carbon emissions equal zero.”

When measuring emissions from an organisation, the guidance recommends the use of the World Resources Institute’s greenhouse gas protocol to account for different emission sources. For products, companies should adopt a lifecycle approach using the UK carbon footprinting standard PAS2050 or international standard ISO14044.

Companies claiming carbon neutrality must reduce their emissions “to the greatest extent possible”, the guidance says. This should be an ongoing process, not a one-off cut. Reductions should be clearly measured and reported. Residual emissions should only be offset by purchasing credits that “genuinely reduce carbon emissions elsewhere.” DECC says that, currently, only credits generated by one of the flexible mechanisms established by the Kyoto Protocol, or those approved by the government’s quality assurance scheme for carbon offsetting, should be used.

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