By: Carin Tunney

If you follow the news, you’ve likely heard what might seem like a new buzzword – net zero.

Until recently, the term was mostly used by climate experts and environmentalists. But the term is increasing in mainstream, business and financial news. Major U.S. companies, including our own, have made bold pledges about the race to reach this milestone with the enthusiasm of an Olympic coach shouting, “Go for the gold!”

But unlike the name of the Olympian who finished dead-last in Men’s 50-kilometer race-walk this year, the term net zero won’t soon be forgotten (I have nothing against speed walking. It’s apparently America’s least favorite Olympic sport according to Slate).

What is “net zero?”

Carbon dioxide emissions contribute to greenhouse gasses. Net zero refers to a balance between the greenhouse gases entering and being removed from the atmosphere. According to NOAA, greenhouse gases are responsible for a threefold increase in weather-related disasters since the 1960’s. Net zero is achieved when the amount of greenhouse gas produced by human activity is negated by practices that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere such planting forests, increasing the carbon in soils and using carbon-capture technology.

How is net zero linked to climate change?

The reality is that global success in reaching net zero could be the greatest humanitarian achievement of all time. It’s a key to reduce catastrophic climate change effects like extreme temperatures, devastating drought, wildfires, rising sea levels and severe storms. These effects are not only costly, but deadly.

Extreme heat is linked to cardiovascular and respiratory deaths and may require more infrastructure to support air conditioning demands. These costs are inevitably passed on to all of us.

Rising sea levels and drought have already caused migration in some parts of the world. The western U.S. is experiencing some of the worst drought conditions on record, which have reduced the water supply and made farming and ranching difficult. Climate experts say droughts have happened throughout history, but the widespread drought we are seeing in the West is made worse by climate change.

Severe storms are probably the most visible climate change effect seen in Michigan. This summer we saw how catastrophic severe weather can be when one of the most damaging storms in our company’s history swept across our state. Hundreds of thousands of Michiganders lost power, and our crews worked tirelessly to get everyone back online. 

Why is Consumers Energy concerned about net zero carbon emissions?

Our commitment to net zero supports our sustainability pledge and demonstrates our commitment to our communities and our planet. Our goal means we’re serious about caring for generations to come.

Our new Clean Energy Plan, which we announced this summer, is a roadmap to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2040 for our electric business. If approved, it positions our company as an industry leader in reducing carbon emissions. We’ve committed to retiring the last of our coal-fired plants and increasing our use of wind and solar. We’re also supporting Michigan’s electric vehicle infrastructure by making it easy for residential and business customers to transition their fleets to electric, which will greatly reduce carbon emissions.

We know we can’t reach net zero through our efforts alone, but we are encouraged as more and more companies adopt a net zero strategy, proving net zero is more than a buzzword. The term is here to stay.

Will Consumers Energy’s net zero plan increase customer costs?

Our plan to use more renewable energy and implement energy-savings programs is estimated to save customers $650 million over the next 20 years, if approved. Additionally, as the availability of green energy options increase, wind and solar are becoming more affordable. We also encourage customers to join our energy-efficiency programs. These help us reduce the strain that high-energy use puts on our grid, especially on summer’s hottest days.

How can I do my part?

We all can take steps to reduce carbon emissions. Here are some ideas:

  • Switch to an electric or hybrid vehicle to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle. Our own company is reaching its goal for reducing waste sent to landfills by increasing collection bins and monitoring waste.
  • Get a smart thermostat to reduce energy use and electric infrastructure demands.
  • Support companies with net zero goals.

Our president and CEO, Garrick Rochow, calls our net zero goal our “moonshot moment.” As companies and governments rush to achieve net zero emissions, we are excited to be at the forefront of the race for our planet’s future.