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  • Kari Moosman

Know Your Terminology!

When talking about Sustainability, the words you use matter


If you’ve ever been in a conversation about being sustainable, you may have heard various words thrown around, such as low carbon footprint, carbon offset, net zero, carbon neutral and more. As Andrea Schokker, Ph.D., explains in her white paper, “Carbon Neutral Concrete: What Does it really mean?,” the word carbon is being used to represent slightly different meanings. To begin with, it can represent CO2, or in some cases CO2 equivalents (combined impact of all greenhouse gases). With the jumble of terminology, Schokker explains how two popular terms should be differentiated:

  • Carbon neutral. This is a neutral effect of CO2 on the atmosphere. To be carbon neutral, any CO2 emissions released must be balanced by an equal amount of CO2 being removed from the atmosphere through carbon sinks, carbon sequestration (CS), or offsets.

  • Net-zero. Here carbon emissions refers to an activity that releases a net of zero CO2 into the atmosphere.

These two terms are very similar, and the result for both is to balance carbon emissions. The difference is that in the net-zero case, no carbon was emitted from the activity in the first place.


There’s another level of differentiation needed when looking at sustainability in the concrete industry. It’s also important to understand that carbon neutral concrete and carbon neutral cement are different levels of scope. In the case of carbon neutral cement, carbon reductions would need to offset the emissions from the cement production. This can be done through an effort to reduce the use of fossil fuels and modernizing changes, among others.


This is just a glimpse of the article by Schokker, but it shows how important it is to understand what you are referring to when communicating about carbon emissions. Know your terminology and make sure your audience understands it as well.


Reach out to AOE today for help in crafting your low carbon or carbon neutral emissions message!

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