What is Net Zero Carbon?
2 min read

What is Net Zero Carbon?

Disentangling the terms "net zero" and "net negative" carbon
What is Net Zero Carbon?

A hydrogen unit on a self-sustaining microgrid in Northern California

Originally published 25 SEPT 2020

Last night, over a pizza dinner (which, by the way, is considered a vegetable in my hometown New York City), my Mother (hi Mom!) asked me to explain net-zero and net-negative carbon emissions. She was grappling with my last post, Next-Gen Sustainability 101.

I love feedback. Sustainability communication definitely needs improvement, and if my "101" was too complex, then I want to fix it.

Here is a drawing I made to complement my explanation:

I told her that a carbon footprint is the amount of pollution released by a company into the environment. Once we have a calculation of the organization's pollution, we can develop a strategy to reduce it. Once the company releases no pollutants into the atmosphere, either directly or indirectly, they are net-zero carbon, or carbon-neutral.  

Reducing an organization's carbon footprint means doing things like insulating buildings, removing emissions from smokestacks, or moving factories closer. An organization can also use what are called "carbon offsets," or just, "offsets."

Offsets connect buyers to zero-emissions, zero-waste, or environmental regeneration projects outside their organization. Common offsets projects are construction of the solar grid and stewardship of forests. A certificate for the emissions reduction is generated and reported in a global registry. Net-zero is when the emissions minus the reductions is zero.  Below zero is called net-negative.

Negative emissions are a relatively new concept, and are described as the volume of atmospheric pollutants absorbed from the atmosphere back onto ground or ocean. Negative emissions methods include regenerative soil management, forest stewardship, geological formation, aquaculture, and mechanical air filtration. Negative emissions can be produced through organizational systems design, or by purchasing offsets.

There is certainly more to say on the subject, and I look forward to sharing more at a later time. In the mean time, feel free to contact me to discuss anything here in more detail.

To close, here are data trends of 30 atmospheric gases over the decades from MIT.

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