What does carbon neutral mean?

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When discussing the environment and sustainability, carbon neutral is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but what does carbon neutral mean?

When discussing the environment and sustainability, carbon neutral is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but what does carbon neutral mean? We’ve taken a closer look at the term and its meaning.

What is carbon and why neutralise it?

The carbon in carbon neutral actually refers to carbon dioxide, also known as CO₂. It is a greenhouse gas and a major contributor to global warming. The problem is, CO₂ is released when organic materials or fossil fuels such as coal, oil, or natural gas, are burned. So any company that uses petrol or diesel to transport goods, or electricity produced by fossil fuels, has a lot of work to do in offsetting its carbon usage.

How is CO₂ removed from the atmosphere?

A certain amount of CO₂ is absorbed by plants and trees, which is why lots of companies choose to offset their carbon usage by planting trees. It can also be drawn into the sea, where it is converted into calcium carbonate, a safe material that eventually becomes rock. People all over the world are working on new and effective ways to neutralise CO₂.

How can companies be carbon neutral?

Lots of companies are now claiming to be carbon neutral, but can you believe them? A company can say it is carbon neutral if it absorbs as much CO₂ as it creates. To reach this state, the company first needs to measure its carbon footprint, assessing how much CO₂ it creates in its production and transportation. If a company uses items that need to be flown in from a different country, that’s going to have a big impact on its carbon footprint.

What does net carbon neutral mean?

An alternative phrase you may have heard is net-zero carbon neutral. This is different from being simply carbon neutral. To be net-zero, a company needs to have no carbon emissions in the first place. This means using 100% renewable energy, electric vehicles, sustainable materials, etc.

Ways to become carbon neutral

Companies need to look all the way down their supply chain when it comes to becoming carbon neutral. The processes in producing the materials they use, transporting both raw materials and finished items, electricity used in production, packaging, and so on. In some cases, green energy and sustainable products can be used, and in others, taking actions such as planting trees can offset the CO₂ produced.

Carbon positive or negative

Some companies go above and beyond, neutralising more CO₂ than they produce. This is confusingly phrased as either carbon positive or carbon negative, both meaning the same thing. Maybe they plant a whole forest, invest in a seaweed farm, or support new technologies that are emerging. Being carbon neutral or negative is becoming a powerful marketing tool, and businesses big and small are taking advantage of it, which can only be a good thing.

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