We hear the promise of businesses being “carbon neutral” a lot. But what does it actually equate to – and how is it achieved?

Carbon neutrality means the amount of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) you emit into the atmosphere equals the amount you take out and store, or “sequester”. Businesses can work towards achieving carbon neutrality in a number of ways. They can reduce their actual carbon emissions and/or they can offset their emissions by investing in a project that helps sequester carbon from the atmosphere and/or avoids the release of carbon into the atmosphere.

The Australian Government runs a voluntary offset scheme through the Clean Energy Regulator, known as the Emission Reduction Fund (ERF). Businesses or landholders can register and certify projects under the ERF so that they can be issued an Australian Carbon Credit Unit, called an ACCU, for each tonne of carbon dioxide emission that is sequestered or avoided as a result of the project. One of the companies that helps businesses navigate that is Greening Australia.

Greening Australia is an environmental enterprise that partners with businesses like Nespresso to help them restore landscapes and offset their carbon emissions via large-scale, biodiverse tree plantings that can generate carbon credits, as well as co-benefits for local economies and communities.

Program director Paul Della Libera says the focus is on restoration at scale that also improves biodiversity outcomes and supports threatened species.

“We work with partner organisations to build large-scale forest ecosystems that sequester carbon over a period of time and based on how much carbon is sequestered, the carbon credits generated and issued under the ERF can then be used to offset the company’s emissions,” he says.

That segues into Greening Australia’s aim of restoring landscapes at scale through collaborative, science-based and innovative programs. In the last year, Greening Australia planted over five million trees across 5,000 hectares in Australia.

Della Libera says the amount of carbon sequestered depends on the patch of land you’re working on. “It’s not quite as simple as ‘plant trees, claim carbon credits’, because there are key eligibility requirements that a project must satisfy, and one piece of land might provide a far better yield of carbon sequestration than another. You have to tie the land to a model to understand its financial viability.”

Greening Australia uses a government model called FullCAM (Full Carbon Accounting Model) to measure how much carbon has been sequestered from carbon offsetting projects. That gives data to businesses to forecast the viability of their projects and track their offsets.

The benefits go beyond carbon capture, though. A new partnership with Nespresso will see Greening Australia work to restore degraded landscapes in Victoria, with a focus not just on tackling climate change, but improving habitat connectivity for animals such as koalas and greater gliders. As part of this partnership, some 36,000 native trees and shrubs will be planted in the first year, which will also sequester carbon (but not as a registered carbon project). The project is part of Nespresso’s commitment to make a positive impact in every country in which it operates. Outside of this partnership, the company has also pledged to become carbon-neutral by the end of 2022.

Della Libera says the project is an example of how Greening Australia works with landholders to reactivate their degraded agricultural landscapes – a process with multiple benefits. “What’s exciting is not only are we fixing cleared land, we’re increasing the conservation and biodiversity estate and the land’s productivity,” he says. “By having vegetation you create windbreaks and shade for stock, and help retain moisture under trees.”

No single action from a business will achieve carbon neutrality. Reducing actual emissions remains paramount, but by working to restore vegetation and soak up some of the carbon dioxide they create, businesses can minimise their impact on the environment.

“We all know that this is something that’s needed,” says Della Libera. “But we can only do this through partnerships with people who have shared values, shared vision and a shared willingness to make a difference.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Nespresso.