What Does Net-Zero Really Mean?

Teresa Madaleno:

Thanks to working with a number of environmental companies, I have gained not only knowledge but more appreciation for what is at stake in terms of our future on this planet. I have also come to realize that, as is the case with many different business sectors, environmental terminology is often misinterpreted.

In a previous blog, I pointed out that the term “natural” on a product doesn’t necessarily mean it is truly sustainable or environment friendly. In fact, the word “natural” is often used by people who are greenwashing. Another term that can get misinterpreted is “net zero”.

Defining Net Zero

The world’s leading environmental scientists have said that in order to avoid climate chaos, global greenhouse gas or GHG emissions need to drop by half by 2030 and then reach net-zero around mid-century. This urgent call to action means that a great number of business and government leaders are scrambling to develop and push policies to reach net-zero targets.

Despite what some may think, net-zero doesn’t mean you don’t use any energy at all. To achieve net-zero emissions we have to balance out human-caused GHG by removing emissions from the atmosphere. This is called carbon removal. First, we have to get human-caused emissions closer to zero and then we have to balance with an equivalent amount of carbon removal. Restoring forests, as well as direct air capture and storage technology are examples. When people say, “climate neutrality”, they are talking about net-zero.

Twenty different countries and regions have already announced net-zero targets, others are discussing stricter environmental policies.

Sparta Group has been working towards the development of a green community in eastern Ontario. They are close to unveiling more details, but net-zero is the eventual goal within the environmental housing development. Zero-energy homes is often misunderstood. Some people believe it means that a building has zero energy consumption, but that’s not true. A zero-energy house or building refers to a structure producing the same amount of energy than what it consumes within a 12- month period. Net-zero homes can have south-facing solar panels, heat exchange systems, south-facing windows to capture passive solar heat and smart technologies that turn off appliances and lights when they aren’t in use. These houses are also airtight, well insulated and sealed.

Here’s the best part – net-zero or zero-energy homes is a concept that is not only driven by climate policies and a desire to deal with climate change, it is a way for home buyers to reduce energy bills.

You can have a very energy efficient home or building and call it a green or environment friendly, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is net-zero. Words and terms matter when referring to the environment so if someone tells you their office, factory, or home is net-zero, ask how it was achieved. This will tell you if it is truly zero-energy.