How to become a net zero business

Carbon literacy for your business


Businesses with net zero ambitions need to learn and understand climate language and terminology to become carbon literate.

Carbon (or climate) literacy is awareness of the impact of everyday business activities and greenhouse gas emissions. It helps you to build knowledge and confidence to speak with authority on actions needed within your business to reduce emissions and tackle climate change.

Ten net zero terms your business should know

There are terms and concepts around climate change, carbon emissions and net zero action which you, your staff and your business supply partners should be familiar with.

1.5 degrees Celsius

The Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015, setting the world on a path to limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and trying to limit the rise to only 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial global temperatures.

Carbon footprint

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases which a business (or individual) generates through its action. The first step to setting a net zero target for your business is to measure your carbon footprint fully and accurately.

Carbon offsetting

This is investing in carbon removal projects outside of your business to balance against the carbon you emit, capturing and storing carbon through natural projects (such as forests, bogs, coastal ecosystems) or innovative new technological projects.

Climate change adaptation

Effects of climate change are already being recorded through variable weather, and new effects will arrive as global temperatures rise over the coming decades. Adaptation actions are about recognising unavoidable disruptions and altering how you do business to cope with change.

Climate change mitigation

Mitigation is about the actions your business and society can take now to lessen greenhouse gas emissions to help prevent the worst-case scenarios of extreme global temperature rises from happening.


This is the long-term aim to create a society with minimal greenhouse gas emissions and is sometimes used to describe sector-specific action plans to reduce carbon emissions.


This refers to the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere due to your business activities. There are three types of emissions which businesses need to understand for their net zero plans:

  • Scope 1 – direct emissions from your activities like fuel combustion and other emissions from your operations.
  • Scope 2 – emissions from the production of purchased energy like electricity, heat, steam, or cooling.
  • Scope 3 – indirect emissions generated from all activities upstream and downstream of your business (value chain) such as purchased goods and services, business travel and staff commuting, primary waste and end of life product disposal, transport and distribution, and more.

The greatest impact by your business is likely to be from Scope 3 emissions, which are also the hardest to accurately quantify.

Greenhouse gases

These are natural gases and human-produced gases causing the greenhouse effect where heat is trapped, leading to average global temperature rises. These have increased in the atmosphere over the last 150 years. Under climate change legislation, six greenhouse gases are defined:

  • carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • methane (CH4)
  • nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)
  • perfluorocarbons (PFCs)
  • sulphur hexafluoride (SF6)

Just transition

This means tackling climate change in a way that distributes the benefits and costs in a fair way so that a net zero economy does not leave behind sections of society.

Science-based targets

These are business targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions that align with the latest scientific advice on meeting the goals set out in the Paris Agreement to limit global warming.

Carbon literacy training for businesses

Business in the Community’s Carbon Literacy Training has been designed to raise awareness and explore the opportunities, risks and challenges that climate change will present.

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful offers Carbon Literacy training to a wide range of groups to raise awareness of the climate change emergency and how to get involved in finding solutions.

If you want to deliver training in-house, you can build a Carbon Literacy course for your audience that complies with the Carbon Literacy Standard and have it certified by The Carbon Literacy Project.