Carbon jargon

A broad range of terminology is used to describe corporate goals and commitments when it comes to climate change. Some of these terms are used interchangeably such as ‘carbon neutral’, ‘net zero’ and ‘climate neutral’.

We created this page to shed light on the net zero terminology to assist organisations in setting meaningful climate targets. If there is anything missing, can you please let us know, and we’ll add it.

Your energy and carbon footprint

Energy footprint

Your energy footprint relates to your business’ energy consumption. For most organisations, ‘energy’ encompasses not only electricity but also stationary energy and transport fuels. Examples of stationary fuels are natural gas, diesel for generators, and LPG for forklifts. Examples of transport fuels include diesel, petrol, and LPG that power your fleet.

Carbon footprint

A carbon footprint is the sum of emissions that are relevant for your organisation, a big part of which is your energy consumption. You can develop a narrow carbon footprint of emissions that happen at your place of business (scope 1) and the emissions associated with electricity consumption (scope 2). Alternatively, you can develop a wide carbon footprint that also includes emissions in your value chain (scope 3).

A carbon footprint is usually broader than your energy footprint. You can see in Figure 1 that an energy footprint is a subset of a carbon footprint. From a carbon accounting perspective, your energy footprint relates to your scope 2 emissions and to some of your Scope 1 emissions.

Figure 1: The difference between your energy footprint and carbon footprint and claims for 100% renewable energy and carbon neutrality

For more details, please go to our blog post –


Emission sources

Scope 1

Scope 1 emissions are emissions directly generated at your operations, such as burning natural gas or driving company cars, or refrigerant gases in your air conditioning equipment.

Scope 2

Scope 2 emissions are caused indirectly by consuming electricity. These emissions are generated outside your organisation (think coal-fired power station), but you are indirectly responsible for them.

Scope 3

Scope 3 emissions are also indirect emissions and happen upstream and downstream of your business. Examples are waste, air travel, the consumption of goods and services, contractor emissions, or leased assets.

Figure 2: Emission sources – Corporate Value Chain Accounting and Reporting Standard

Supply chain emissions

This is another term for scope 3 emissions. They are also called value chain emissions.

Categories of scope 3 emissions

According to the GHG Protocol, specifically the Corporate Value Chain Accounting and Reporting Standard, there are 15 categories of value chain, or scope 3 emissions.

Figure 3: Categories of scope 3/supply chain emissions

Upstream value chain emissions

  1. Purchased goods and services
  2. Capital goods
  3. Fuel- and energy-related activities (not included in scope 1 or scope 2)
  4. Upstream transportation and distribution
  5. Waste generated in your operations
  6. Business travel
  7. Employee commuting
  8. Upstream leased assets

Downstream value chain emissions

  1. Downstream transportation and distribution
  2. Processing of sold products
  3. Use of sold products
  4. End-of-life treatment of sold products
  5. Downstream leased assets
  6. Franchises
  7. Investments

For more details, please go to our blog post –

Operational emissions

Operational emissions are released when you are using a product or a service. If you use a natural gas boiler to heat water, burning the gas causes the release of greenhouse gas emissions. If you drive a car with an internal combustion engine, greenhouse gases are similarly released. If you operate a building, you consume electricity, which in most cases causes the release of emissions at the power plants that produce the electricity.

Embodied emissions

Embodied emissions are all greenhouse gas emissions that are released as part of making a product or service ready for your consumption or use.

Imagine buying a car. Let’s take two key components of a vehicle, metals and plastics. The raw minerals have to be mined and processed to form the metal and transported to the factory where the car is produced. Similarly, plastic is made from oil, which has to be extracted, refined, processed into plastic and transported to the factory for assembly.

The car is made from these and other components and shipped to distribution centres, from where it is transported to the point of sale. All along the way, greenhouse gas emissions are being produced, from extracting materials, manufacturing, assembly, transport and retail. This means that products and services you buy come with an associated carbon footprint. The more greenhouse gases that are released to produce the good or service, and get it to you, the more embodied emissions it contains.

For more details, please go to our blog post –

Climate terminology and targets

Carbon budgets

The main driver of long-term warming is the total cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases over time, with a direct link between total emissions to date and observed warming. A carbon budget refers to the maximum amount of carbon that we can release in future to remain within an agreed temperature rise.

Figure 4: Remaining carbon budget. Figure adapted from FAQs from latest IPCC report

The IPCC’s recently-released report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis has issued the strongest call yet for urgent and deep cuts to be made to global greenhouse gas emissions.

According to this report we have a 50/50 chance of keeping warming to no more than 1.5C if we stay within a global carbon budget of 500 billion tonnes. At pre-pandemic global emission rates, this gives us under 11 years before we exceed 1.5C; or alternatively, we have already emitted 84% of all the emissions we can emit and stay within 1.5C.

For more details, please go to our blog post –

Net zero emissions

Net zero emissions are achieved when your organisation’s emissions of all greenhouse gases (CO2 -e) are balanced by greenhouse gas removals, typically over one year.

Zero emissions

Zero emissions, or ‘absolute’ or ‘true’ zero, refers to zero greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast with net zero emissions, absolute zero is achieved without the use of offsetting to balance emissions.

Carbon neutrality

Carbon neutrality, or net zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, is achieved when your organisation’s CO2 emissions are balanced globally by CO2 removal, typically over one year. However, this term is often used synonymously with net zero.

Climate neutrality

Climate neutrality is achieved when organisational activities result in no net effect on the climate system. In climate-neutral claims, regional or local bio-geophysical effects have to be accounted for as well, such as radiative forcing (e.g. from aircraft condensation trails).

Carbon negative/positive

Carbon negative emissions are achieved when you remove more anthropogenic CO2 emissions from the atmosphere than you emit. Carbon negative is often used interchangeably with the terms carbon positive or climate positive.

For more details, please go to our blog post 

100% renewable energy

You are 100% renewable when the amount of renewable energy produced is equal to or more than what is consumed. In most cases, people associate only electricity with ‘100% renewable’. However, ‘energy’ can encompass stationary and transport fuels as well. So, to be truly 100% renewable, you would have to include these fuels. While it is relatively straightforward to reach 100% renewable electricity, it is more difficult to achieve 100% renewable energy for stationary and transport fuels.

100% renewable electricity

100% renewable electricity refers to electricity that is produced entirely from renewable sources, such as solar and wind.

Grid decarbonisation

Grid decarbonisation is also referred to as ‘greening of the grid’ and means that fossil fuel powered plants are replaced with renewable power plants, which reduces emissions from electricity. However, grid decarbonisation is only one of the levers you have available to reduce your emissions. You should also focus on deep decarbonisation of your own operations.

For more details, please go to our blog post 

Emissions reduction roadmap or pathway

An emissions reduction roadmap or pathway defines the magnitude and timing of emissions reductions, typically to reach a target, such as zero emissions by a certain year.

Figure 5: Example of net-zero emissions scenario

For more details, please go to our blog posts:

Carbon offsets

Offsets are a useful way to reach a carbon-neutral target right away. One offset equals one tonne of greenhouse gas emissions that is avoided or reduced elsewhere. However, you should make sure that you purchase highly credible carbon offsets that meet rigorous selection criteria.

Carbon offsets can be generated from projects that remove carbon from the atmosphere, such as planting trees, which need CO2 to grow.

Offsets can also be generated from activities that avoid emissions (compared to a hypothetical business-as-usual scenario), such as wind farm projects or energy efficiency projects.

Figure 6: Examples of carbon offset projects

Becoming carbon neutral under the Climate Active program

Climate Active is a highly trusted certification program, which is administered by the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. It was first launched in 2010 and was originally known as the National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS).

Initially, it was only possible to achieve carbon-neutral certification for organisations, products and services, but in 2017 the certification options were expanded to events, buildings and precincts.

Organisations that achieve certification under this program are allowed to display the Climate Active trademark and logo, which showcases this achievement.

Figure 7: Steps to become carbon neutral under Climate Active

For more details, please go to our blog post –  

Science based targets

Science-based targets (SBT) are greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets that are consistent with the level of decarbonisation that is required to keep global temperature increase within 1.5 to 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperature levels.

SBTs are consistent with the long-term goal of reaching net zero emissions in the second half of this century as per the Paris Agreement. SBTs provide a trajectory for companies to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

For more details, please go to our blog post –

Is there something missing?

Please tell us your carbon jargon that we’ve missed, so we can add it to this list.

Where can you get help?

100% Renewables are experts in helping organisations develop their carbon footprint net-zero strategies. If you need help, please contact  Barbara or Patrick.

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