Going beyond carbon neutral

Understand more about carbon neutral, and why we're going beyond it

There is no escaping the climate crisis. You see it in the headlines, the policies of governments and, more and more, the actions of corporations. One such action is for a company to become carbon neutral. But what does this mean, why is it a good thing and why is it not enough?


Let's start with defining what it means to be carbon neutral. Simply put, becoming carbon neutral means that a business has measured the amount of carbon it emits and balances out that amount of carbon by purchasing carbon offsets. Booking.com became carbon neutral in its operations in 2020 through a mixture of emission reductions and the purchase of credible carbon offsets, supporting projects around the world (read on to find out more about the projects we support).


Carbon neutral is not the same as net zero. To achieve net zero emissions, a business must abate the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it emits (all emissions, not just carbon), not just balance it out with offsets. Basically, that company must reduce its emissions to basically zero. More on this later.


What is a carbon offset?


Carbon offsetting refers to the reduction of an organisation’s emission-causing activities or the enablement of emission reductions elsewhere in the world. Greenhouse gases mix in the atmosphere, so the specific location of emission reductions doesn’t matter. Carbon offsetting makes it easier and more cost-effective for organisations to fund emission reductions outside of their owned ecosystems to deliver a net climate benefit.


However the approach has also come under scrutiny, with questions asked about the feasibility and authenticity of some carbon offset projects, most notably those projects that are focused on carbon avoidance rather than removal.


Carbon offsetting is a good way for businesses to start to balance out some of the environmental impact they are responsible for by paying for beneficial climate activities elsewhere, but they are not a long-term solution.


Through our carbon offsetting, we help fund initiatives like the Southern Cardamom Redd+ Project, which conserves 497,000 hectares of richly biodiverse tropical rainforest in South-West Cambodia. Or the Genneia Wind Project, which is installing 71 state-of-the-art wind turbines in Argentina, increasing energy security and creating long-term job opportunities.


Moving beyond carbon offsets


Carbon offsetting is one tool of many that need to be deployed effectively and collaboratively to limit global warming to 1.5°C before 2050. But offsetting alone is not enough to avert the climate emergency.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has clearly stated that achieving the Paris Agreements ambition of maintaining 1.5°C of global warming is still possible. But we must act now and take significant steps to reduce emissions. That's why carbon neutrality is not enough.


For the world to reach net zero in time to limit climate change to manageable levels, we need to do more than focus on our own operation. We need to work harder.


Going further for all


That’s why we’ve set ourselves a goal of more than halving our emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2040, using the definitions set out by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and in alignment with the Paris Agreement. Our enterprise-wide climate strategy holds us accountable to three commitments:


  1. We commit to operating our business sustainably and building a culture of sustainability. We will lead by example by setting carbon reduction targets in line with climate science guidance and by empowering our people to make sustainable choices in their day-to-day work.

  2. We commit to making it easier for travellers to book sustainable trips. We will use our scale, working together with our travel provider partners, to increase the number of sustainable travel experiences on our products and make millions of customers more aware of the sustainable choices available to them.

  3. We commit to collaborating to decarbonise the travel industry. We will work to develop solutions to remove the barriers currently preventing the industry from decarbonising, and analyse potential long-term solutions for future decarbonisation.


We have already reduced our emissions from natural gas used in offices and fuel for leased company vehicles by 92%. We’re aiming for a 95% reduction in these areas by 2030, as well as a 50% reduction in the emissions from purchased goods and services, business travel and employee commuting. 


We’ve also signed the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism, an industry-wide agreement for the increased urgency to accelerate climate action and for the implementation of robust commitments to reach net zero.


We are a founding member of Travalyst, a not-for-profit collaboration of leading travel companies working to make travel a catalyst for good, and we work in partnership with the Global Sustainable Tourism Council to find a collective solution to make travel more sustainable. We’re also a signatory of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, which aims to end global plastic pollution in tourism.


We envision a travel industry that is committed to contributing to being sustainably operated and offering sustainable travel choices everywhere. When done with respect for the world’s local communities, environments and biodiversity, travel can broaden horizons, increase acceptance and bring people closer together. It has the power to help our planet, people and ecosystems thrive now and long into the future.