Now, more than ever, companies are taking action to fight climate change. From Amazon to Coca-Cola, some of the biggest names are pledging to go carbon neutral. But what does that mean, how are they doing it, and how close are they to reaching those goals?
We did a deep-dive into seven major companies to find out the answers to those questions. Before we go over their current efforts and what to expect in the years to come, let's first break down what it means to be carbon neutral in the first place.
Carbon Neutral and Zero Carbon, Explained
Terms like "carbon neutral" and "zero carbon" can be a bit confusing. We're going to clear that up. A company that is pledging to be carbon neutral is striving to remove the same amount of carbon it emits into the atmosphere. This can be done a few ways: through the purchase of carbon offsets or credits, by supporting renewable projects, or through deforestation prevention.
What about zero carbon? Zero carbon is commonly applied to modes of transportation that are carbon neutral, meaning it offsets carbon through renewable sources.
What Are Science-Based Targets?
When setting these targets, you'll notice most companies on this list are adhering to "science-based targets," which are targets aimed directly at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
They are considered "science-based" if they meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, an international climate change treaty that has a goal to limit global warming below two degrees Celsius. Science-based goals don't typically include purchasing carbon offsets or credits. That's because the Science Based Targets initiative, a council of climate experts that provide targeting expertise, says buying offsets should only be explored after other practical methods have been investigated.
When Big Companies Are Going Carbon Neutral
Google is the carbon neutral superstar of this group, first achieving carbon neutrality back in 2007. Now, the company is focused on another sustainability goal: Eliminating its entire carbon legacy through the purchase of high-quality carbon offsets. This means Google's lifetime net carbon footprint is now zero.
But the company isn't stopping there. Google has committed to operating on 24/7 carbon-free energy by 2030. It's also working on helping its partners and organizations reduce their own carbon usage and remove carbon from the atmosphere altogether.
Netflix has created a sustainability plan, dubbed "Net Zero + Nature," which is based on guidance from the Science Based Targets initiative. This plan to achieve net zero GHG emissions by the end of 2022 is three-fold: reduce emissions, retain existing carbon storage, and remove carbon from the atmosphere.
This includes conserving at-risk areas, like tropical forests, and investing in regenerative solutions for natural ecosystems (including restoring grasslands, healthy soil, and carbon capture). Netflix has also joined America Is All In, a coalition of leaders in support of climate action in the United States.
After eliminating the majority of its GHG footprint and investing in carbon removal projects, the social media giant documented in its latest sustainability report that it had achieved net zero operational emissions in 2020 from investment in carbon removal projects.
Now, Facebook is targeting a net zero value chain, projected by 2030. This includes eliminating emissions from commuting and business travel. The company is currently working on science-based targets to ensure it aligns with the Paris Agreement's requirements.
Apple is already carbon neutral when it comes to corporate emissions worldwide. Now, it wants to bring the entire business—including its manufacturing supply chain and product life cycle—up to speed by becoming completely carbon neutral by 2030. This means every device Apple sells will have net zero climate impact.
In its 2021 Environmental Progress Report, Apple states it aims to reduce emissions by 75 percent by 2030 while developing innovative carbon removal solutions for the remaining 25 percent of its comprehensive footprint.
In 2019, Amazon co-founded The Climate Pledge, a call to businesses to take collective action to solve the climate crisis. In April of 2021, there were over 100 signatures. This formal commitment states that Amazon pledges to be completely carbon neutral by 2040, as well as those who signed it.
How? A few of the commitments include regular reporting on GHG emissions, implementing carbon elimination strategies (in line with the Paris Agreement), and purchasing credible, quantifiable carbon offsets.
Despite past backlash for its sustainability efforts, or lack thereof, Nestlé is committing to change. The world's largest food and beverage company is pledging to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.
A few of the ways the company is achieving this includes supporting farmers and suppliers to advance regenerative agriculture, planting 20 million trees for the next 10 years, and transitioning to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2025.
Coca-Cola is pledging to reduce GHG emissions by 25 percent across its entire value chain by 2030, as well as to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. These science-based targets differ from the company's existing goal in its 2020 sustainability report, which aims to reduce 25 percent of the carbon footprint.
To guide future planning, Coca-Cola is using a framework developed by the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures in order to increase and improve the reporting of climate-related financial information.
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