Introduction to Sustainability

Factory with carbon emissions

Published: 06th June 2023

Carbon reduction and sustainability are subjects that are closely related to our role as engineers, who have the technical skills and knowledge to look at construction projects and find ways of reducing carbon emissions. The by-product of this approach is that energy usage is reduced and therefore running costs are brought down, which then feeds through to better profit for any good business.

Over the past few years Nottingham Trent University have been running the Sustainability in Enterprise Course at Nottingham Trent University, which is a European-funded course with the aim of teaching companies how to start their journey to Net Zero, enabling them to understand their current carbon emissions and subsequently identify effective carbon reduction measures. Over 200 Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Nottingham have benefited from the training, thus reducing annual carbon emissions by many 1,000s of tonnes. Over the coming months we’ll be relaying the key points from this training in our newsletter.

The journey to Net Zero starts with a clear understanding of the terminology used in Carbon Management. Firstly Adaption, Adaption involves adjusting to actual or expected future climate. The goal is to reduce our vulnerability to the harmful effects of climate change (like sea-level encroachment, more intense extreme weather events or food insecurity). It also encompasses making the most of any potential beneficial opportunities associated with climate change (for example, longer growing seasons or increased yields in some regions).

Then there is Mitigation, Mitigation involves reducing the flow of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, either by reducing sources of these gases (for example, the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, heat or transport) or enhancing the ‘sinks’ that accumulate and store these gases (such as oceans, forests and soil).

Adaption is fine in the short term but in the long term, we must also apply Mitigation measures to reduce global warming.

But what about the phrases we hear every day such as ‘Carbon Neutral’, ‘Carbon Negative’, ‘Net Zero’, and ‘Zero Carbon? What do they really mean? Well, here’s some clarity:

Carbon neutrality is the measuring of the amount of carbon an entity releases in the form of carbon dioxide, which is then offset with a reduction in emissions or removal of carbon. This can include buying carbon credits to make up the difference, making it appealing to companies that produce a lot of emissions. They do not make any change in their production or how they do things, they simply ‘offset’ by paying a third party, usually to buy carbon credits in the form of planting trees (usually elsewhere in the world determined by the third party).

Carbon negative is the removal of more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than an entity emits, or it produces more renewable energy than the amount of carbon dioxide it emits. So they will look to change their operations and processes, and/ or infrastructure, to ensure that their carbon emission is reduced through these aspects.

Net Zero is all about ‘balancing’ or cancelling out any carbon produced. Net Zero is achieved when the amount of carbon produced by an entity is no more than the amount taken away.

Zero Carbon is when the emissions produced from a product or service is zero. It means no carbon is given off at all. In the context of energy generation, one example would be a wind turbine creating electricity.

From this, you can see that Net Zero, which is the most commonly used term, is similar to Carbon Neutral but not the same.

Credit: Al Dharmasasmita NTU