Beyond Greenwashing: What Does “Carbon Neutral” Really Mean?

by The ClimateHound Team | 5min read

ClimateHound is committed to transparency – and we believe that transparency means actively educating our clients, their customers, and the public about carbon neutrality. If you’ve read this far on our site, you’ve probably already grasped that we’re working to help the food and beverage industry reduce its emissions as much as possible and offset those that can’t be eliminated entirely. But what do we mean by “emissions”? 

When we talk about carbon accounting, we reference the industry standard unit of “MTCO2e,” which means “metric tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent.”  That phrase includes “equivalent” because calculating your environmental impact isn’t just about CO2 – it also includes methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). “Carbon-dioxide equivalent (CO2e)” measures the impact of one of these gases as compared to CO2. That’s the end of today’s chemistry lesson! When you work with ClimateHound, you can leave the science and the calculation to us!

ClimateHound estimates carbon footprints based on the international gold standard for assessments as defined by the nonprofit Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHG Protocol), a project of the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Our assessments cover all three scopes outlined by GHG Protocol:

Scope 1: When you think “emissions,” you’re probably thinking first of the impacts in this category. The CO2e that’s generated when you use gasoline in the company truck? Check. The CO2e released when you’re burning your wood-fired oven? Yup. Scope 1 is defined as the emissions generated by assets you directly own and processes you directly control.

Scope 2: Let’s be real, though. Much of our carbon footprint, as individuals or as businesses, usually comes from greenhouse gases that are generated further upstream, in the process of creating the energy we use every time we turn on the light switch, the thermostat, anything that uses electricity. In some cases, businesses also use steam, heating, or cooling from external suppliers, which are reflected here as well. Scope 2 emissions have already hit the atmosphere by the time that power gets to us, but we’re still responsible for their impact on the climate.

Scope 3: This is where evaluating emissions can feel overwhelming, and why many clients turn to ClimateHound. Scope 3 measures greenhouse gases that are generated both upstream AND downstream from our business facilities. Did you buy some hops, some flour, any natural ingredient that has to go through some processing before it gets to you? How did it get to you – on a truck, on a shipping container, on a plane? How did your employees get to work this morning, anyway? And when someone has enjoyed a bottle of your beverage, what happens to the bottle? 

Unless you take all three scopes, including purchased goods and services, into account, you’re not measuring the real impact of your company on the climate – and in the words of our launch partner William Goldberg, founder and head distiller at Asheville’s Oak & Grist, you can’t manage what you haven’t measured. ClimateHound packages together tools and expertise fine-tuned to help the food and beverage industry address its specific emissions categories. Take our footprint calculator out for a spin and take the first step toward becoming a true carbon neutral business.