How To Create A Net Zero Action Plan & Become Carbon Neutral: A Guide For Non Profits

How To Create A Net Zero Action Plan & Become Carbon Neutral

The science tells us that we need to rapidly shift to net zero and together reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. An increasing number of businesses, organisations, and countries alike, are making commitments and taking tangible actions in order to become carbon neutral. 

No matter your size, whether big or small, making your non profit carbon neutral is vital to tackling the climate emergency. To help you understand the requirements and navigate the process, we’ve put together this guide for non profit organisations on becoming carbon neutral.

What Does Being Carbon Neutral Really Mean?

A carbon neutral or net zero organisation balances the volume of carbon emissions (commonly known as greenhouse gases) that it sends into the atmosphere with those it takes away. There are subtle differences between these and other terms but for most non-profits the main thing is that they convey our ultimate aim to quickly reduce carbon emissions.

Carbon emissions cover carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases that are released by burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil. This burning arises from many sources: production of electricity, construction, manufacturing, aviation, haulage, and more.  

In Australia, carbon emissions for organisations are calculated using processes set under the National Greenhouse Emissions Reporting Scheme (NGERS). All organisations emitting 25,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent or more must report their carbon emissions under this scheme. Most non-profits (unless very large) are unlikely to trigger this threshold but the same carbon accounting methods can be used voluntarily for your own internal reporting purposes and working towards carbon neutrality.

How To Work Towards Net Zero

Making your organisation carbon neutral involves three key steps.

1. Prepare A Carbon Inventory or Carbon Footprint 

Conduct an audit to find the sources of emissions in your organisation. Once these emissions are identified, they must be quantified (calculate the quantity of them) using methods that are internationally recognised. After this is done, you will have a summary of emissions production over a given period.

CORENA can help provide technical assistance and resources to help you review your carbon emissions.  

If your organisation is large, then the task may be done better by external consultants. But if you are a fairly small non-profit then you should be able to prepare this in-house.

Learn more in How To Calculate Your Organisation’s Carbon Footprint

Create a Net Zero Action Plan & Become Carbon Neutral
Create a Net Zero Action Plan & Become Carbon Neutral

2. Create A Net Zero Action Plan 

Now you understand your key sources of carbon emissions, you can start reducing emissions by creating an action plan, so that you can work towards Net Zero.

Carbon reduction action plans should be clear, realistic, and achievable. As an added benefit, you may find some actions will reduce your operating costs, providing a better budget to implement other works. CORENA can provide advice on funding opportunities to support your action plan.

Below is an example of a typical action plan structure including some key actions most non profits could undertake.

CategoryActionBudget & Source Savings
($ and CO2)
MonitoringInstall real time energy monitoring at <list sites and breakdown for monitoring>. eg School buildings – Main office, classrooms, irrigation pumps, canteen and air conditioning.  $5,000 CORENA loanSavings depend on anomalies detected by monitoring. June 2023
Energy AuditConduct an energy audit at <insert sites here>.   $2,000 (CORENA loan or internally funded)The audit will identify energy efficiency measures and provide estimated capital costs for implementing them. June 2023
Solar Panels & StorageTo install XkW solar panels at; <list sites and system sizes eg North city retirement village community centre – 10kW Food box delivery depot – 15 kW etc >$50,000 Grant plus CORENA loan$15,000 and 60 tonnes of CO2/yearDecember 2023 
Electric VehiclesReplace 3 fleet vehicles with electric vehicles <eg food delivery vans, home or site visit vehicles$30,000 (cost over an above cost of typical vehicle purchase) CORENA loan$10,000 and 14 tonnes of CO2 /yearTotal/partial replacement of current fleet within 5 years
Heat PumpsReplace hot water system at <insert site/s here> (eg Senior Citizens Centre – hairdressing salon) $3000 (above typical replacement cost) Grant$1200 and 2 tonnes of CO2 /yearTotal/partial replacement of current heating/cooling within 3 years
Induction StovetopsSource quotes and investigate feasibility of replacing stovetops in commercial kitchen $0 Internal research with assistance from CORENA To be determined in feasibility studyMarch 2023
Example Net Zero Action Plan Format 

Remember you’re creating a unique working plan specific for your YOUR organisation, so the more specific for your context, the better.

It’s not worth creating an action plan if you don’t use it! To give it the greatest chance of success this document should be adopted by your governing body. Stick to 10-15 achievable key actions with the biggest impact rather than trying to list every single thing you could do. It should have a reasonably short term of 1-3 years and be reviewed by a key group of internal stakeholders (often called a green team) to assess your progress every year.

At this meeting you can go through your plan, report on progress, change any actions that may no longer be relevant and add in new actions. This is an excellent opportunity to present your progress to your committee/board to gain further support for action. It is a good idea to put systems in place that allow you to easily re-do a carbon inventory every year, that way you can show the actual impact your actions are having. 

Learn more in 5 Ways CORENA Helps Non Profits Reduce Carbon Emissions & Energy Costs

3. Implement Your Plan and Purchase Carbon Offsets for Unavoidable Emissions

As you work through your overall plan, you may find that some of your activities are unavoidable and/or cannot be reduced. In such cases, carbon offsets may be an option in order to achieve net zero neutral emissions. Carbon offsets are certificates that are associated with actions that reduce atmospheric carbon emissions. With the purchase of these certificates, organisations are able to provide funds for projects fighting climate change, rather than lowering their own emissions. These certificates offset the purchaser’s emissions with an equal amount of greenhouse gas reductions elsewhere. Remember, offsets should be part of a package of measures to become carbon neutral, with the focus on unavoidable emissions. You should be able to reduce your emissions significantly with energy efficiency, getting off gas and renewable energy.

Carbon Neutral Certification

You can be certified as carbon neutral if your organisation can meet the Australian Government’s Climate Active Carbon Neutral Standard. This is a great way to show that your organisation is serious about reducing emissions and has completed a rigorous and transparent process to get to carbon neutral status. However, if your organisation doesn’t have the resources to do this, what is most important is that you have an ongoing and systematic focus on reducing carbon emissions.  

Carbon Neutral Project Funding for Non Profits

CORENA, can provide free technical advice and zero interest funding to not for profits, charities, community organisations and social enterprises looking to reduce their emissions and green their energy consumption. We are funded by donations from local community members across Australia. Donations help fund:

Interest Free Climate Project Loans For Non Profits, Community Organisations, Charities, & Social Enterprises

You don’t pay any interest on your CORENA loan, and the quarterly loan repayments are set to be a little less than the savings on your operating costs averaged over a year. This means you are never out of pocket. After your loan is fully repaid, you will reap the full financial benefit of having lower operating costs.

To learn more, check out how to apply for a loan, or register for one of our upcoming Online Q&A Information Sessions.

Online Q&A Information Sessions