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Carbon Neutral vs. Net Zero: A Guide for Architects and the Construction Industry

Within the construction industry and beyond, “carbon neutral” and “net zero” have become key buzzwords in the global climate conversation – but what do they actually mean?

This post aims to explain these concepts, provide more clarity on their implications and practical applications within projects, so we can work towards a greener and more sustainable future within the building sector.

A blue sky with CO2 spelled out in white clouds.
What is the difference between carbon neutral and net zero?

Carbon neutral vs net zero – what’s the difference?

Carbon neutral vs net zero – are they the same thing? The ultimate goal of both terms is the same, but what’s different is the kinds of emissions they refer to and the scale at which they operate.

Net zero means there is an equal balance between the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) (such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) emitted by human activity and the amount removed from the atmosphere.

  • Refers to all greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Ways to measure net zero are usually aligned with scientifically set targets on a global scale.

  • Achieving net zero places more emphasis on cutting down GHG emissions rather than offsetting them.

Carbon neutral means there is an equal balance between the amount of carbon dioxide we emit and the amount we remove.

  • Refers specifically to carbon dioxide emissions.

  • Companies which have achieved carbon neutrality have taken steps to remove an equal amount of carbon dioxide to the amount emitted by their operations, in effect ‘offsetting’ their emissions. This is usually achieved through investment in ‘carbon sinks’ that absorb carbon dioxide to remove it from the atmosphere.

A woman holds a cardboard sign which says "Earth is more valuable than money"
Businesses are under increasing pressure from the public to reduce their environmental impact.

Why is it important to reduce carbon emissions?

Higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are widely recognised as the root of global warming. As carbon dioxide is the most abundant greenhouse gas, it makes sense for a reduction in carbon emissions to help reduce global warming and its negative effects on our planet.

What is the impact of the construction industry on global carbon emissions?

According to data from the Carbon Leadership Forum, approximately 30% of all global carbon emissions are attributable to the building sector, with at least 8% from the manufacturing of construction materials.

Construction underway in the City of London, with tall skyscrapers in the background.
Demand for new buildings for residential and commercial use is on the rise.
In 2022 alone the City of London Corporation granted planning consent for 369,449 square metres of office space, 13,690 square metres of retail space, 49,726 square metres of community, education and cultural spaces, and five new pedestrian routes.

With global demand for new buildings for residential and commercial use on the rise, increased demand for construction materials is evident. The main carbon emission hotspots in the construction industry are cement production and iron and steel production, which both involve energy-intensive processes.

What can we do to reduce carbon emissions in the construction industry?

There are many areas within the construction and building industry that have a negative effect on the environment. If action is not taken to reduce carbon emissions from manufacturing processes, construction, transport of materials, raw material supply, and more, their impact on global warming will continue to rise in line with the rising demand for construction of new buildings.

It may take time, but by looking at the various alternatives open to us we can implement new strategies to reduce carbon emissions.

Poole Waite’s Eco-friendly Sustainable Ironmongery Ranges can help your business reduce its carbon footprint.

Our most recent project, which we are very excited about, has been the introduction of our Eco Friendly Sustainable Ironmongery range.

This is a range of new ironmongery, powder-coated (in Matt Black and Matt White) using the latest low energy power from AkzoNobel (Interpon 610E) that reduces the carbon footprint during use. It offers estimated 29% embodied carbon savings when assessed against similar products on the market, tested to ISO 14025.

All finishes (including Satin Stainless Steel) incorporate our own unique antimicrobial additive which gives permanent protection and is proven to reduce harmful microbes, including MRSA and E. coli, by as much as 99.99%. Also proven effective against the COVID-19 virus, tested to ISO 21702.

A hand reaching out to touch a matt black door handle with microbes present on its surface.
Poole Waite & Co Ltd's ECO 3 range of sustainable ironmongery

We are actively promoting the benefits of using this range to both customers and their clients as it will enable them to make a significant reduction to their own carbon footprint and improve their ESG performance.


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