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Carbon neutral: What does it mean, and why should businesses care?

Submitted by Luke Iyer, SigniFlow Solutions Engineer

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Carbon Neutral companies

Last year, the worldwide search on Google for “sustainability” reached record highs.

Eco-friendly sentiment has been on the rise for some time now, but in today’s post-pandemic world, people are far more conscious of the impact their actions have on the environment. In fact, in PwC’s June 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey, half of all global consumers surveyed say they had become even more eco-friendly since Covid-19.

And in recent research by Google, over 80% of people surveyed said sustainability was more top of mind now than before the pandemic.

So, it’s hardly surprising that ‘carbon neutral’ is the buzz term on everyone’s lips nowadays – but what does it mean to the average consumer, and why should businesses care?

What is ‘carbon neutral’?

Carbon neutral, net zero, carbon footprint, going green…what does it all mean?

Becoming ‘carbon neutral’ means offsetting carbon emissions produced as a by-product of products or services, reducing the impact on the environment in a move to being more climate conscious.

And, while the terms ‘net zero’ and ‘carbon neutral’ have similar meanings, there are differences between them when considered at scale, such as in the case of large corporations like Amazon, Microsoft and Apple.

‘Net zero’ means reducing carbon credits emissions as much as humanly possible, and offsetting only the essential emissions that remain.

If a company has a net zero label, it means they’ve done everything in their power, and used all available technologies, to cut their emissions as close to zero as possible, before offsetting the rest.

Why should businesses care?

Small and medium businesses may be thinking “Well, that all sounds great, but I’m not a giant corporate with the ability to make massive impact through eco initiatives – so why should I care?”

And the short answer would be, “Because your customers do.”

There is no shortage of evidence that today’s customer wants to know that the companies they support care about the environment.

A survey by research platform Visual GPS, found that 81% of people polled expected companies to be environmentally conscious.

Google’s 2021 Year in Search showed unequivocally that shoppers (consumers, customers, the lifeblood of any business) are looking for ways to go green.

PwC – which has committed to net zero by 2030 – says the eco-friendly consumer is here to stay: “All over the world, business leaders and analysts have been pondering which of the consumer behaviors accelerated by the pandemic will persist and deepen and which will recede. PwC’s survey, conducted more than a year after the first outbreak of COVID-19, suggests that eco-friendly consumerism is here to stay.”

In October 2021, Google Cloud announced the introduction of Carbon Footprint – a tool that helps Google Cloud Platform users measure, track and report on the gross carbon emissions associated with the electricity of their cloud usage. The search giant (which is itself committed to sustainability) positions this as a means to “Measure, report and disclose carbon emissions for ESG reporting.”

A Forbes article on the benefits of a paperless office sums up the business stance on eco-friendliness nicely: “For many companies, environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues have become a growing, board-level concern — not only for ethical and regulatory compliance reasons but because of increasing demands from customers and potential customers.”

Who’s the greenest of them all?

Companies big and small are rallying behind the cause – not just to satisfy their customers, but to be a part of the greater cause.

Some of the big names that have pledged to go carbon neutral in the next three decades are listed here by sustainability site, Brightly. These include Google (ahead of the race, having gone neutral in 2007 already), Netflix (2022), Facebook (2030), Apple (2030), Amazon (2040), Nestle (2050), and Coca Cola (2050).

But not everyone is an Amazon or a Google that can make waves by committing to becoming carbon neutral. As we all know, small changes can have immense power.

Indeed, the power of small and medium businesses is not to be underestimated. Smaller businesses have a unique vantage point and relationship with their customers, as well as the ability to make sound decisions around the tools and resources they employ.

Paperless power

At SigniFlow, we have seen first-hand how customers have contributed meaningfully to the carbon neutral cause. Last year, our customers saved 12 000 trees and 500 tons of paper.

Which may not seem like that much in bigger world picture, but consider this: It takes 24 trees to make 1 ton of office paper. In other words, one tree makes 16.67 reams of paper, or one ream equals 6% of a tree. To put this in perspective, an average office of 50 people, each using three reams of paper per month, use around 108 trees per year.

Oh, and incidentally – SigniFlow uses sustainable technologies, such as Microsoft Azure Cloud, for our SAAS model. Azure, as a part of Microsoft, has been 100% carbon neutral since 2012.

REFERENCES

  1. Think with Google – Year in Search 2021: Sustainable Living
  2. Green Earth – What’s the difference between carbon neutral and net zero?
  3. Wikipedia – Carbon neutrality
  4. Google Sustainability – Commitments
  5. Google Cloud – Announcing new tools to measure and reduce environmental impact
  6. Practice Green Health – The Path to Carbon Neutral
  7. PwC – June 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey
  8. PwC – June 2022 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey
  9. Getty Images – Climate crisis still top concern for consumers despite pandemic
  10. Strategy + Business (PwC) – The rise of the eco-friendly consumer
  11. PwC – PwC commits to net zero by 2030
  12. Forbes – The sustainable impact of a paperless office
  13. Brightly – When Big Companies Are Going Carbon Neutral, from Amazon to Netflix
  14. SigniFlow – How ditching paper and digitising processes promotes sustainability
  15. SigniFlow – How to go paperless: Your stress-free guide to digitisation
  16. Microsoft Azure – Azure Sustainability
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