Net Zero

The difference between net zero and carbon neutral

Ahead of COP26 we aim to demystify some key sustainability terms starting with the difference between net zero carbon and carbon neutral.

Claire Walmsley-Moss
Wind power net zero carbon neutral
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Along our journey on the Zero Carbon Tour we are noticing some confusions between carbon neutral and net zero carbon. Often one term is being used when in fact the other is meant, so, we thought it would be helpful to provide a top line overview to highlight the differences.

Carbon neutral

Carbon neutrality relates to the balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere in carbon sinks.

Carbon neutrality means not adding new greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the atmosphere. Where emissions continue, they must be offset by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere, for example through carbon capture and reforestation that is supported by carbon credit schemes.

To achieve carbon neutral status an organisation must work to a carbon reduction plan, measuring and reducing operational carbon (a minimum of Scope 1 and 2) and purchase gold standard offsets equivalent to their total carbon footprint. PAS 2060 is the specification by the British Standards Institution that details how to demonstrate carbon neutrality.

Net zero carbon

Means measuring Scopes 1, 2 and 3 emissions and reducing Scope 1 and 2 emissions to zero. In addition, it requires reducing Scope 3 emissions by a minimum of 50% and balancing any residual Scope 3 emissions using accredited carbon removal schemes. To be net zero carbon a business can also be carbon neutral.

See our recent blog explaining more on what net zero means here.

Our friends at Ecologi also have a great blog explaining the differences between carbon neutral and net zero, which you can read here.

carbon neutral net zero

UK Government’s Net Zero Target and Strategy

The Government’s Net Zero Strategy, announced on 19 October, provides valuable insight into how the UK will be put on the essential track to reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, achieving this target will only be possible if all businesses, no matter their size, commit to joining the national effort to tackle the climate crisis by reducing their emissions. This is what our Zero Carbon Tour has been all about – engaging thousands of businesses across the whole of the UK on why they must commit to going net zero to support a society and economy that will remain healthy for the long term.

The Government’s Net Zero Strategy aims to keep the UK on track to meet its UK carbon budgets, the 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution and net zero by 2040. It includes:

  • Decarbonisation pathways to net zero by 2050, including illustrative scenarios
  • Policies and proposals to reduce emissions for each sector
  • Cross-cutting action to support the transition

In addition to launching this strategy, alongside its Heat and Buildings Strategy, the government has also published a new policy paper, Greening Finance: A Roadmap to Sustainable Investing, setting out its long-term ambition to green the financial system and align it with the UK’s net-zero commitment. This will happen in three phases:

  1. Informing – ensuring decision-useful information on sustainability is available to financial market decision-makers
  2. Acting – mainstreaming this information into business and financial decisions
  3. Shifting – financial flows across the economy shifting to align with a net-zero and nature-positive economy

The policy paper includes requirements that will mean businesses must start disclosing their environmental impact so that businesses and consumers will have a better understanding of whether their investments are aligned with net zero.

How can Planet Mark help?

Let’s start with a quick reminder that you can’t manage what you don’t measure! For your business you can measure Scopes 1 and 2 with our Business Certification, and then go beyond to measure Scope 3. This diagram illustrates what is included in each Scope.


Zero Carbon Solutions 

Our Zero Carbon Solutions will demystify the subject of net zero carbon emissions and will support your business in reaching it. No matter what stage in your net zero journey you are on, from committing to a target to creating the action plan needed to get there, we’re here to support you.

Net Zero Carbon Essentials Workshop

This workshop is designed to help any businesses feel confident in their first steps towards a net zero commitment. As well as introducing the concept of net zero, the workshop will showcase why it is an urgent business priority.

You can sign up to a workshop here. 

Net Zero Action Plan

Available to Planet Mark members, this programme gives business leaders the tools and knowledge to create a credible and robust net zero carbon action plan that is reviewed by our certification team. This is followed up with annual workshops to discuss progress against the action plan encouraging continuous improvements.

Net Zero Programme

Available to Planet Mark members, this programme gives business leaders the tools and knowledge to create a credible net zero carbon action plan that is reviewed by our certification team. This is followed up with annual workshops to discuss progress against the action plan encouraging continuous improvements.


The ZeroBy30 programme goes beyond Planet Mark certification targets. It sets absolute reduction goals to reach net zero carbon by 2030 through a transformational action plan. You will be able to reduce your Scope 1 and 2 direct emissions to zero carbon, and Scope 3 indirect emissions by a minimum of 50% and then balance the remaining carbon through exceptional carbon removal schemes.

Take your steps to a brighter future

If you have not already, do join us on the Zero Carbon Tour, either online or in person. There is still time before we arrive in Glasgow for COP26 and then our Tour Grand Finale in London on 19 November.

And, make your Zero Carbon Commitment with Planet Mark.

Our Pledge Wall shows a growing list of businesses from around the world who have made the Planet Mark Zero Carbon Commitment.

As official partners of the UN-backed Race to Zero campaign, organisations who make the Planet Mark Zero Carbon Commitment will automatically become members of the Race to Zero Campaign and join a wide range of governments, businesses, cities, regions, and universities around the world that are committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions.

Go net zero to COP26! Together we’re empowering change for a brighter future.

What is the business case for sustainability?

Thursday 21 February 2024, 1:00-2:00 PM

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