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Net Zero Carbon vs carbon neutral: what’s the difference?

One of the ambitions within the Group’s Engage 2025 strategic plan is to achieve Net Zero Carbon emissions by 2040, 10 years ahead of the commitment made by the rest of the sector (via the GSMA), which is aiming for Net Zero Carbon by 2050.
But what’s the difference exactly between Net Zero Carbon and carbon neutral? Philippe Tuzzolino, Orange Group Environment Director, explains more.


What is the difference between Net Zero Carbon and carbon neutral?

Philippe Tuzzolino - I think the bottom line is that true carbon neutrality can only be considered on a global scale. Net Zero Carbon is a form of carbon neutrality for a company, which meets the climate requirements determined by the IPCC and the Paris Agreement.
In reality, a company can only contribute to global carbon neutrality and cannot be neutral in itself because it continues to operate as a business and therefore emit CO2. Declaring oneself neutral by buying carbon credits to offset one’s emissions without making any real efforts to reduce them will not help fight against global warming. This is why we speak of Net Zero accounting, to balance the emissions that a company continues to produce with the fact that it will be Net Zero with sequestration (i.e. physical and real absorption of atmospheric CO2 to avoid global warming, for example via carbon sinks), after having done everything possible to really reduce its emissions.

These concepts need further clarification, which is why the Net Zero Initiative collective, which brings together companies and scientists through Carbone 4, has worked to establish rigorous and credible international criteria and benchmarks. Companies following the principles and meeting the criteria can call themselves Net Zero Carbon.

  • Orange is a founding member of this collective of companies who are playing their part to achieve global net zero emissions to comply with the Paris Agreement and recommendations set out by the IPCC. The aim is to limit average global warming to 1.5°C by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels.


With the ambition to be Net Zero Carbon by 2040, what exactly is Orange committing to?

Philippe Tuzzolino - The Net Zero Initiative requires us to be Net Zero Carbon through three commitments:

  • As a priority, reduce our emissions for scopes 1, 2 and 3 through concrete actions (see the definitions of these scopes below). 
  • Increase the avoidance of emissions in our own business and other sectors.
  • And, even once we’ve made the maximum effort to reduce our emissions, there will still be residual emissions, so we are investing in CO2 sequestration via carbon sinks that remove atmospheric carbon to reduce global warming and contribute to Net Zero accounting.

Concretely, the Group is committed to reducing these 3 scopes of emissions:

  • Scope 1 “direct emissions” from energy consumption: building / transport fuel etc. 
  • Scope 2 “indirect emissions” from energy purchase such as the electricity consumed by networks and buildings. The Group has launched action plans per business line to reduce its emissions whether buildings, networks or fleets. 

    Many companies only commit to these two scopes because they are the easiest to control and measure.
  • Scope 3 is however just as important, even if we don’t have direct control over all activities and the methodology is not yet fully decided. It concerns “all emissions generated upstream by our suppliers and downstream by our customers”: from buying raw materials to other products and services, employee travel, transport of goods, waste management, and the use and end-of-life of the products and services we sell.
  • The Group is deploying action plans to reduce its scope 3 emissions, from use of its products and services, to equipment manufacturing and transport by discussing its objectives with suppliers.
    Scope 3 emissions are, in the case of the Group, six times greater than scope 1 and 2 emissions. We have set an objective for scope 3 because our 2040 Net Zero Carbon ambition includes all three scopes. The intermediate objective for scope three, validated by SBTi (Science Based Targets initiative), is a -14% reduction in absolute terms by 2025 compared to 2018.

At the same time as making the maximum effort to reduce our three scopes, we are also investing in carbon sinks to sequester the equivalent CO2 to our residual emissions for Net Zero accounting.