What Does It Mean to Be Carbon Neutral?

General By Nelnet Renewable Energy January 21, 2022

The International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 Report1 set the goal of making the world carbon neutral by 2050 – and outlined steps essential to achieving that goal. To approach net zero, federal and state legislatures have begun contemplating and drafting carbon neutrality-related bills that will directly impact our economy, energy policy, infrastructure, manufacturing, and more. With this level of importance, do we know what carbon neutrality means exactly?

Carbon Neutrality

Wikipedia defines carbon neutrality as a state of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions.2 A company is carbon neutral when any carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from their activities is balanced by an equivalent amount being removed.

Steps to Becoming Carbon Neutral

How does an organization get to carbon neutrality? There are three basic steps.

  1. Calculate carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases from your activities.
  2. Reduce emissions wherever possible through increased efficiencies.
  3. Balance the remainder by purchasing carbon offsets.3

Carbon Offsetting

The balance of carbon neutrality can be achieved through a process called carbon offsetting. Carbon offsetting is supporting or investing in efforts to reduce or remove emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to compensate for emissions elsewhere. Common offsetting projects may support the expansion of renewable energy and may include solar or wind farms, biogas digesters, hydroelectric dams, or biomass energy. Offsetting is the most viable approach to becoming carbon neutral. It sends a powerful message to your customers, employees, and community that you’re committed to helping to create a sustainable future. Any carbon offsetting project should be transparent – and focused on helping to support those communities most at risk of the impacts of climate change.

Carbon Negative

Once you’ve calculated your emissions and taken action to offset them for a zero balance – achieving a state of carbon neutrality – the next step in helping to combat climate change is offsetting more emissions than your activities generate. When you remove more carbon than you emit, you achieve carbon negativity. While carbon neutrality is now the goal for many governments, companies, and households, we look forward to a time when more of us aim to be carbon negative.

Net Zero Carbon and Net Zero Emissions

Increasingly used to refer to a broader commitment to climate action and decarbonization, net zero carbon means that no carbon was emitted, so there’s no need to capture or offset carbon. Net zero emissions refers to the overall balance of greenhouse emissions produced and removed from the atmosphere. It can be applied to individual countries, organizations – and it’s increasingly being used to refer to the point where humans stop adding to the burden of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Helping to Create a Net Zero World

The International Energy Agency’s Net Zero by 2050 report details more than 400 milestones that must be reached for the world to achieve net zero by the mid-century mark. As an individual – and if you own a business – you can make a difference by choosing to examine your impact, reduce your emissions, and attempt to offset your emissions. Subscribing to community solar is a simple way for renters, homeowners, businesses, municipalities, and nonprofits to reduce their carbon footprint.

Nelnet is committed to shrinking its carbon footprint, and investing in renewable energy is just one way we’re trying to achieve this. Nelnet Renewable Energy was born as part of this effort. Our parent company started with solar tax equity investing and has since developed a co-investing platform that makes it easy for others to invest in solar projects. For any who are interested, we invite you to learn more.

When we all do our part to expand renewable energy, we can achieve seemingly impossible goals.

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