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Live Long and Neutral – Offsetting CO2 Emissions Retroactively
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Live Long and Neutral – Offsetting CO2 Emissions Retroactively

By Apurva Gosalia - May 05, 2022

Becoming a society with significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions cannot be achieved at the political level alone. There must be a massive restructuring of the economy. I believe part of this must include offsetting CO2 emissions retroactively.

Don’t get me wrong, international climate treaties and initiatives are essential. More than 70 countries, including the biggest polluters – China, the United States and Europe – have set a net-zero target. This overall target covers more than 75% of global emissions. Also, more than 1,000 cities and 1,000 educational institutions have joined the UN’s Race-to-Zero, pledging to take rigorous, immediate action to halve emissions by 2030.

Another 1,200 companies and 400 financial institutions have put in place science-based targets in line with net-zero. Several of them have already announced they are becoming climate neutral.

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But some companies, such as Google and Microsoft, are going one step further than others. They are starting to address their historic greenhouse gas emissions and talk about lifelong climate neutrality. What is behind this and can it also apply to lubricant companies?

When a company talks about becoming climate neutral, it usually means its production processes and services do not increase the amount of climate-damaging gases in the atmosphere. To achieve this, the company first calculates its current CO2 emissions. Then it increases energy efficiency, for example, or switches to renewables. 

Finally, organizations must compensate for CO2 emissions that they cannot completely reduce despite all efforts. They can do this through investment in climate projects, such as reforestation or forest protection around the world.

>Read more about offsetting emissions here.

When a company announces it is or will become climate-neutral, it either no longer produces any CO2 emissions or it compensates for what it does produce. This always refers to the current or future status. But what we often ignore is that companies do not only exist from now but have been in the market for years. The emissions that have arisen since a company entered the market thus usually go unnoticed.

The concept of lifelong climate neutrality goes one step further. There are only a few companies in the world – including the two aforementioned tech giants – that take into account the total emissions of climate-damaging gases since they were founded. For Google, that year is 1998 and for Microsoft, it was 1975. 

Obviously, calculating a historical carbon footprint is infinitely more complicated than determining today’s CO2 emissions, which is already difficult. It considerably increases the amount of CO2 emissions to be accounted for. Companies that want to become climate neutral for life must work far harder to reduce or compensate for this amount of CO2.

Google claims to have been climate neutral since 2007 through offsetting and purchasing renewable electricity. By 2030, the company says it wants to use only CO2-free energy for its data centers, cloud regions and campuses worldwide by 2030. 

For the period before that, i. e. from 1998 to 2006, Google has financially compensated for the CO2 emissions emitted up to that point through offsets. By offsetting in reforestation projects, for example, Google can “mathematically” achieve lifelong climate neutrality.

Microsoft wants to follow suit and offset its COfootprint since 1975, when Bill Gates and Paul Allen worked in their Albuquerque garage. The company wants to achieve this goal by 2050, having become climate neutral in general by 2030. 

As most companies focus on cutting their current and future emissions to help tackle the climate crisis, becoming lifelong carbon neutral is a relatively new concept. This requires taking responsibility for past polluting actions by taking all the CO2 emitted back out of the atmosphere.

Offsetting CO2 emissions retroactively remains “at the forefront of leadership on climate-change strategies,” said Aoife Brophy, business and sustainability researcher at Oxford Saïd Business School. This raises important questions concerning historic responsibilities for climate change.

I agree. You must take responsibility for “3 P’s,” not only for what you do at present or in prospect but also for what you’ve done in the past.

Although backdating emissions is a novel concept, with only few companies involved so far, I think it has the potential to encourage companies – also lubricant players – to consider their wider responsibility for the climate emergency. The efforts of companies such as Microsoft, Google and others show that it is possible to become lifelong carbon neutral. Wider uptake of this more holistic climate action approach may be necessary if we want to reach our most ambitious net-zero goals.

Live Long and Neutral and STAY SuSTAYnable!

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