Greenhouse gases

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The word carbon is now in common use as an abbreviation for the gas carbon dioxide (CO2), used when referring to that gas and its position as a principal greenhouse gas, i.e. a gas contributing to global warming and therefore to climate change. Carbon dioxide, in turn, is commonly treated as the proxy for all greenhouse gases. Carbon terms are therefore almost always meant to encompass all greenhouse gases, as they are throughout this entry.

The hospitality industry is affected by carbon related issues on many dimensions. This section provides a list of carbon terms.

Carbon accounting

Procedures for recognizing activities of an enter prise that result in carbon emissions and reductions, and for keeping records, preparing reports, and informing management decisions. Hospitality firms increasingly need to report their current and projected net emissions to clients and prospective clients, to direct and to ultimate shareholders, to authorities and voluntary carbon disclosure bodies, and to the general public.

Carbon audit

Akin to a simplified energy audit, a carbon audit collects and presents not only information about activities that result in carbon emissions, especially fossil fuel based energy consumption, but also release of certain refrigerants that contribute to global warming and disposal of organic waste such as food and paper that will eventually decompose into methane, another greenhouse gas. The boundaries of activities to be counted are generally set externally, for example, by refer ring to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. See Carbon footprint.

Carbon constrained

A situation where the amount of carbon involved in any process or activity is taken into account and an effort made to minimize that amount. The hospitality industry’s dependence on the carbon intensive transport industry and on consumption of carbon intensive energy predicates a future where carbon constraint will significantly impact the owners and operators of hotels and related enterprises.

Carbon credit

An economic instrument designed to place a value on the reduction of carbon emissions, either permanently or for a prolonged period, such that this value can be traded or otherwise trans acted. Under the Kyoto Protocol, a reduction of 1 m ton of carbon dioxide that would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere is counted as one carbon credit. See Carbon offset.

Carbon footprint

A popular term to describe the global warming impact, whether of an individual, a firm, or a nation, calculated by totaling the products and services that are acquired or consumed over a particular period, typically 1 year. The technical definition of this term is still in flux, but for hospitality firms the Greenhouse Gas Protocol (, ISO 14064 1, and various regional and national methodologies provide somewhat standard bases for computing their carbon footprint.

Carbon neutral

A term to describe a situation where an individual, firm, or nation’s net carbon emissions equal zero. Where any fossil fuels have been used anywhere in the supply chain for providing goods or services, the usual means to reach carbon neutrality is through carbon offsets.

Carbon offset

The concept of offsetting or compensating a certain quantity of carbon dioxide emissions by acquiring or generating carbon credits. For example, a cement plant in China can introduce better technology that produces cement with lower carbon emissions, then sell those lower emissions on the open market as carbon credits. A hotel that is accountable for 50 kg of carbon dioxide for every room night sold could buy enough of these credits to offset each room night, thereby making the hotel carbon neutral. Or they could induce their guests to buy enough credits to offset their length of stay, thereby making the guest carbon neutral instead.

Carbon sequestration

Trapping carbon dioxide through such mecha nisms as planting trees (which absorb carbon dioxide throughout their growing life) and burying the gas in cavities below the earth’s surface. Planting trees, once the favorite carbon offset choice, is now less popular due to recogni tion that those trees would eventually decompose or be burned, and thereby release their trapped carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

Carbon tax

Often called an energy cum carbon tax, reflect ing the close relationship between energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, this financial incentive to reduce global warming can be seen as an alternative to cap and trade schemes. See Carbon trading.

Carbon trading

Closely related to carbon credits, carbon trading is the process of putting a value on each credit, based on the current market supply and demand. Under cap and trade regulations, certain indus tries are required to cap their allowed greenhouse gas emissions at a particular amount, often incor porating a reduction in this allowance over time. Where such industries are not able to reduce their direct emissions to comply with these regu lations, they typically go to the trading market to buy carbon credits to make up the difference. Electricity utilities are frequently among the earliest targets of cap and trade regulations and usually pass along any increased cost to their customers, including the energy intensive hospi tality industry.


To reduce the carbon dioxide emitting elements within an organizations business process. This might entail changing from buying electricity generated by burning coal to an alternative source generated by wind turbines, from heating water with solar panels instead of a gas boiler, or from running shuttle buses on bioethanol instead of gasoline.

Low carbon

A general description of a process or enterprise that generates less greenhouse gas than is typical.

Zero carbon

A process or enterprise that produces no green house gas. Given the interconnected nature of economic activity, it is difficult for any but the simplest activity to be truly zero carbon, but as an ultimate objective the concept of reaching zero carbon emissions can generate valuable insights.


Bruce, J. P., Lee, H. S., & Haites, E. F. (Eds.). (1996). Climate change 1995: economic and social dimensions of climate change. UK: Cambridge University Press.


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