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What Does it Mean to Be Carbon Neutral?

Trying to figure out carbon neutrality these days is insane. Googling it will leave you drowning in buzzwords and chaotic sales pitches. Worse yet, people like to throw carbon-neutral examples around and try to make carbon neutrality something it isn’t.

That’s why we’re here to help. Carbon neutrality is a part of creating a healthier, greener future for our world. In this article, you can learn more about carbon neutrality, your carbon footprint, and how you can apply them to your business. We’ll also talk about what carbon neutrality can mean for your brand and customers as well as provide some carbon neutral examples.

Let’s get started!

What Does Carbon Neutral Mean?

Okay, you’re here to understand carbon neutrality. To get a clear understanding, let’s start by taking a step back. When talking about carbon neutrality and emissions, it’s easy to focus on carbon dioxide. It’s a common name in the game (and, technically, the name of the game), but there’s more to it than that. It’s only one of several common greenhouse gasses. Others to keep in mind are methane, nitrous oxide, and other hydrofluorocarbons. 

When we say “carbon neutral,” we actually mean a bunch of gasses. So, why do we call it “carbon neutral?” Because carbon dioxide is the biggest offender, making up over 75% of greenhouse gas emissions. Yikes!

Now that you know what the “carbon” in “carbon neutral” means, let’s jump in!

Carbon neutrality means that, when all is said and done, you’re responsible for 0 carbon emissions. That might sound like a lot, but don’t freak out! It’s not as extreme as it sounds. We’re not talking about not emitting anything. (Humans are still working on the technology to do this!) But we’ll get into more of that later.

The important thing is to reduce your carbon emissions as much as you can organically. Identify excessive areas and develop solutions to fix them. 

Before you can reach carbon neutrality, you have to start reducing your emissions. Some carbon-neutral examples are using solar-powered vehicles in shipping, buying sustainable packing materials, and using right-size packaging.

Once you’ve started reducing your emissions, there are further steps you can take. 

Carbon Neutral Is Not The Same As Carbon Free

What does it mean to be carbon neutral? Well, it doesn’t mean carbon-free. (Carbon zero would be carbon-free.) As we mentioned before, it doesn’t just mean carbon emissions. So, what does it mean?

Being carbon neutral means reducing all greenhouse gas emissions where you can and offsetting your emissions where you cannot reduce them until you reach neutrality. Basically, it’s not that you aren’t emitting any greenhouse gasses, but that you’re offsetting the gasses you don’t have the means to emit.

At Ecocart, we recommend reducing your emissions before you start offsetting. That way, you can take responsibility for (and control of) your company’s carbon footprint from the start!

Since everyone has a unique carbon footprint, there isn’t a single, cut-and-dry way to do it. But, generally, you want to work with an accredited carbon offset service to offset what you can’t reduce on your own.

Why Carbon Neutrality Is Important

Carbon neutrality has a lot of great benefits. The most obvious is that it slows down damage to the environment. Offsetting projects can even be a part of rebuilding damaged ecosystems, or aiding underserved communities socioeconomically!

If you have conversations about carbon neutrality and the environment, it’s easy to get disheartened. A lot of people see carbon offsetting as justification for ongoing carbon emissions. But, the best way to use carbon offsetting is as one part of a larger sustainability plan. (And carbon offsetting projects have come a long way, with global accreditation programs on the horizon!)

So, why is carbon neutrality important? Before we get into that, let’s take a minute to see what we can do when we set our minds to it.

A Carbon-Neutral Success Story

Let’s take a step into the all-too-recent past. In 1994, the hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica was at its deepest, only 9 years after it was found. Because the ozone layer protects us from the worst of the sun, the concerns were a bit more than sunburn. Doctors and scientists predicted increased skin disease and skin cancer. Yikes!

But, in response, 197 countries agreed to the Montreal Protocol. All of them stopped using chemicals that deplete the ozone layer. Yeah, that was in 1987, and things got worse for years after. But guess what? The ozone layer has healed itself because of our effort in becoming a more sustainable species!

Yeah, it tends to reopen every year. But, each year it opens a little smaller. And, each year, it closes a little faster. That’s progress and a positive carbon neutrality example! 

The Stakes

So, why is carbon neutrality important? Because if 197 countries could fix the ozone layer, imagine what we can do next. Because we’re not done. 

Yeah, there are some positive climate stories out there. But, oceans and temperatures are rising. Droughts are sweeping entire states and regions. 

And people care. Millennials are more likely than earlier generations to report changing their habits to be more sustainable. Part of that is shopping with their heart, investing in a greener future with each purchase. Today, modern consumers are more connected. Meaning companies that keep their unsustainable habits are being voted off the island.

Why is carbon neutrality important?

Because fast fashion and single-use plastic are so early 2000s (and not in a good way). Today’s consumer market knows that change starts with big corporations and are willing to put their money where the trees are protected.

Younger generations have grown up with a greater awareness of environmental issues. The result: they have huge respect and love for Earth! 

And they understand their impact. They know that this beautiful planet is capable of strength and healing. We just have to give it a little help! 

We have the technology and innovation we need to transform how we live our lives. With one project at a time, we can change how we affect the world around us. Protecting and seeding forests doesn’t just benefit us. It gives our children and their children a fresh start.

How Do You Know If You Are Carbon Neutral?

Let’s be real for a second. You don’t reach becoming carbon neutral accidentally. It takes a lot of work to get there. Everything we do every day causes some kind of emissions. So, your first step is to understand your emissions. That means it’s time to stop and calculate your carbon footprint.

There are a lot of calculators out there. Some are super simple and just ask how much electricity you use a month. Others will go into your pets, car mileage, and diet. Some are just for businesses. The thing to remember is that carbon emissions come from every area of life. If you have a blindspot, you’re underestimating your carbon footprint.

If you have a dog or a cat, their food causes emissions at every step until it reaches you. The cows produce methane (and land destruction), trucks burned gas transporting materials, and factories released carbon as they processed materials. All of the steps a product takes gathers an expensive history of emissions.

With corporations, organizations, and online retailers, that just magnifies. How many flights do your staff take for work? Do your buildings have good insulation or are you leaking climate control? How many tons of greenhouse gasses are emitted creating your merch? Are you investing in green initiatives, or greenwashing corporations instead?

Yeah, it’s a lot. It’s overwhelming. But, understanding it is important if you want to reach carbon neutrality. Because you don’t just become carbon neutral. It’s a long, intentional process, but it’s all worthwhile. 

How To Become Carbon Neutral

Let’s be real: carbon neutrality can be daunting. It doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to fix everything, everywhere, all at the same time.

Once you’ve calculated your carbon footprint, you can identify your pain points. Do you shop online multiple times a week? Then a good start would be switching to shopping locally. Does your company run a dozen servers? Maybe it’s time to go solar!

1. Understand Your Carbon Footprint

It’s hard to fix things if you don’t know what’s broken. So, where are you causing emissions? (Common offenders are travel and shopping.) Spend a little time with a carbon footprint calculator to get a better understanding of your impact.

2. Green Your Travel Plans

Do you travel for fun? Maybe you start by flying a few fewer times a year and traveling more locally. 

Do your employees travel to close deals or attend conferences? Maybe it’s time for your employees to travel coach instead of business class (yep, even the executives!).

3. Shopping Green

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Start by browsing your grocery store for local produce. What if you skipped that Amazon order and got your dish soap on your way home from work? Next time you buy flowers, pick them up from a sustainability-focused grocer. 

When you’re shopping for your company, your emissions are multiplied. Maybe it’s time to switch to a local water supply company that uses reusable jugs!

4. Take It One Step at a Time

Remember, Winston Churchill said, “perfection is the enemy of progress.” The important thing is that you start by trying to reduce your emissions. Instead of trying to fix everything at once, chip away at it. Then, once you’ve done all you can, you can start offsetting.

And, again, it doesn’t have to be perfect! If all you can do this year is invest in recycled paper for your printers, you’re still doing better than you did last year. That’s one step closer to carbon neutrality! 

But once you’ve done what you can, investing in carbon offsetting can do incredible things! 

After Carbon Neutral: Net Zero and Climate Positive

Before we jump into this, let’s make one thing clear: it’s not a contest. You don’t have to win at environmentalism. Everything you can do to make the world a greener place is good! But, if you reach carbon neutrality, there’s still more that you can do. 

Net Zero

The next step after carbon neutrality is net zero. Once you’ve reached carbon neutrality, you can keep making your systems greener. Then, eventually, you’ll reach a point where your company has 0 emissions without offsetting. That’s net zero. Also, a lot of countries are working towards net zero emissions. That’s part of why we have the carbon credit programs we have!

But, once you reach net zero, your company isn’t releasing any emissions at all. None. Crazy, right? But it gets crazier! Because you don’t have to stop there. If you can reach net zero emissions, your next step is climate positive. 

Climate Positive

Not to be frustrating, but we need to pump the breaks for a sec. Climate positivity has a few popular uses. One of them we’re using, the other we’re not. Trouble is, this makes the waters a little muddy. But, we’ll do our best to clear things up.

“Climate positive” has turned into a marketing term with… fuzzy meaning. Some companies use it to mean that they’re trying to reach net zero. (Yeah, that doesn’t make sense to us either.) Others use it to just generally mean that they’re “pro-environment.” 

At the end of the day, both of those are wrong. Officially, climate-positive means that a company (or person!) has gone past net zero. Not only are they not emitting, but they’re also actively removing carbon from the atmosphere.

The average American is responsible for 16 tons of carbon emissions per year, FYI. That’s the equivalent of a roundtrip road trip from California to Maine. 6 times… 

Imagine if you reached the point where you, as a person, stopped causing any emissions…

Then, you started planting trees or saving existing ones. Congratulations! You’d be climate positive.

And climate positivity is becoming a more mainstream idea. Two companies setting carbon neutral examples are Intuit and Ikea. They’ve both pledged to be carbon positive by 2030. For a lot of other companies, that’s when they’re hoping to reach carbon neutrality!

The big thing is that, if we can stay on track, we may be able to keep temperatures from climbing higher. The goals that governments, nonprofits, and other organizations have come up with aren’t arbitrary. If we can meet these goals, we have the chance to avoid catastrophic consequences. 

Conclusion

Trying to understand the neverending buzzwords around environmental work can be exhausting. But, carbon neutrality is simple. It means reaching the point where you are responsible for 0 emissions. Usually, you achieve this by using a mix of prevention and offsetting. If you reach the point where you don’t need to offset anymore to stay at zero, you’ll be at net zero. 

So, what does it mean to be carbon neutral? It means making the right choice. It means voting with your dollar. It means being a part of the solution. Because you can’t put a price on the future. 

If you’re an online brand looking for a carbon-neutral checkout option, EcoCart can help. Learn more about becoming carbon neutral or request a demo today.

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