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Going Beyond Net-Zero: How Reducing Your Carbon Emissions Can Take You to Carbon-Negative

Many modern companies and individuals are concerned about the effects of industry on climate health. Throughout history, people have burned fossil fuels to create energy, releasing carbon molecules into the atmosphere. However, the Industrial Revolution in the late 1700s empowered people to burn fossil fuels on a much larger scale than ever before.
Going Beyond Net-Zero: How Reducing Your Carbon Emissions Can Take You to Carbon-Negative

Environmentalists have connected human health issues and climate change to the increasing levels of CO2 and other particulates in the air. In response, people have worked to become carbon neutral by reducing emissions and buying offsets.

However, some modern companies are going a step further to become carbon-negative. Here’s how reducing your emissions can get your company there.

Understanding the Terms

A company or individual becomes carbon neutral when they reach zero net carbon emissions. This means they’ve taken as much carbon out of the atmosphere as they’ve put in. If you looked at atmospheric carbon like a math problem, carbon-neutral means you’ve reached 0. This is sometimes also referred to as net-zero carbon emissions, which means you’re responsible for zero carbon emissions overall.

By contrast, carbon-negative means you’ve had an overall positive effect on the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. You’ve pulled more carbon from the air than you ever put in. If this were a math equation, you would have a negative symbol before the amount of carbon you’ve put into the atmosphere overall — thus, carbon-negative.

Becoming carbon-negative means eliminating your emissions and then investing in offset programs that recapture carbon and prevent it from entering the atmosphere. According to a 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, emission reduction and offset programs are needed to reach climate goals by 2050.

How to Become Carbon-Negative

Reaching carbon-negative takes time and intentionality. First, you need to determine how much carbon you or your company is personally responsible for. This can be tricky because carbon is released both directly and indirectly. Many companies measure their emissions in terms of scopes one, two and three to determine their total environmental impact.

The next step to reaching carbon-negative is to reduce your total emissions. The smaller you make your carbon footprint, the easier it will be to offset unavoidable emissions and become carbon-negative. Two ways companies can do this are by switching to cleaner energy sources and using local resources to avoid the carbon costs of transport. 

You can invest in carbon offset programs after you’ve reduced emissions as much as possible. These programs use nature and technology to capture carbon from the air and prevent it from reentering the atmosphere. Forests naturally store carbon in organic material, while technologies like bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) create energy and reduce atmospheric carbon at the same time.

Why Reduction Matters

Many offset programs combine carbon cleanup with social development projects. For example, a company may fund fuel-efficient stoves for an underdeveloped community. This benefits local individuals while reducing the total amount of fossil fuel being burned. Because all industry generates some level of carbon, offsets are an invaluable part of reaching carbon-negative.

However, carbon offsets don’t negate the need to reduce initial emissions. In fact, they highlight the future expense of continuing to send carbon into the atmosphere. Offsets can be understood as damage control, whereas carbon reduction is preventive environmental care. Reducing initial emissions should always be the first step toward carbon-negative.

The more you reduce your emissions, the less you’ll need offset programs to reach your goals. Many companies make carbon-neutrality their initial goal. Once they’ve achieved neutrality, they push forward to become carbon-negative. Individuals can also follow this pattern to have a net-positive impact on the environment.

Better Than Zero

In math, the only numbers lower than zero have a negative symbol in front of them. This is the concept of carbon-negative. Instead of simply eliminating their carbon footprint, companies are going a step further and pulling more carbon from the atmosphere than they initially contributed. Reaching carbon-negative is important for reducing global temperatures.

To become carbon-negative, companies and individuals must start by reducing their emissions. Next, they can invest in offset programs that use nature and technology to safely capture and store carbon. When used together, reduction and offset programs can positively impact the environment, taking you and your company past neutrality to carbon-negative.

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