What's the Difference Between Carbon Neutral and Carbon Negative?

Unlike many other fads that come and go with the tide, being environmentally conscious is one trend that will never go out of style. If anything, this evergreen lifestyle choice is one that will only become more and more prescient in the years ahead, and can implemented across every level of day-to-life: whether it’s reducing consumption of resources, consuming more plant-based meats to cut back on land clearance needed to rear cattle, or simply recycling materials, there are so many things which can mitigate the effects of climate change. As our population continues expanding well beyond the seven-billion mark – and at a rate of growth never seen before at any other point in world history – there’s no time like the present to reduce your carbon footprint.


As such, there has been increasing drive for large corporations to offset the emissions generated across their business practice, in a bid to slow the effects of climate change and ensure their products don’t cost the earth. The burning of fossil fuels as a source of energy is one of the most damaging forms of pollution, with carbon dioxide accounting for nearly three quarters of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions. The detrimental impact of these emissions has catastrophic implications for the environment, leading to higher sea levels and unnaturally modified weather patterns. One of the strange paradoxes of global warming is the potential for unseasonal cold snaps and, in a Day After Tomorrow worst-case scenario, a climate eventually akin to the ice age.


As such, many large corporations – and entire countries – are resolving to amend their ways and keep the planet safe for generations to come. Two of the goals set by these countries is to be either carbon neutral or carbon negative, which are the kinds of phrases that you have heard before but aren’t entirely sure on what they mean…

What does carbon neutral mean?

Just about every activity that involves power usage or any kind of internal combustion – from turning the lights on in your living room to cutting the grass with a ride-on lawnmower – contributes to your carbon footprint. Individually, you can choose to reduce that carbon footprint, but even if you cut down on half of your usual energy usage, the cumulative impact of this would be a drop in the ocean compared to the damage affected by multinational companies. After all, half the carbon emissions of a family of five will be a whole let less than half of the pollutants generated by a company such as Amazon or General Motors, which both promise to be carbon neutral by 2030.


In a nutshell, if a company or a country goes ‘carbon neutral’, it means they will have removed from the atmosphere an equivalent volume of carbon emissions that they have produced themselves. The neutrality is achieved by the balance between what carbon emissions are produced and what carbon emissions are removed. The way that companies achieve this is by investing in carbon offsets, which fund projects all over the world committed to restoring trees lost to deforestation or repairing damaged wetlands.


In fact, anyone can buy into carbon offsets and do their bit to sponsor renewed tree growth, but a larger-scale investment that is more directly catered toward global companies would be the carbon credits scheme. This essentially permits corporations to continue emitting carbon dioxide, from the exhaust pipes of their delivery trucks or from the chimneys of their factories, in exchange for their support of renewable energy projects or any other greenhouse gas-reduction programs. Generally, one carbon credit ‘buys’ one metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions.


Often used interchangeably with ‘carbon neutral’ is the phrase ‘net-zero emissions’, which is reasonable enough, but it still helps to know the specific difference between these two. Carbon neutrality relates to the balancing out of carbon dioxide produced against carbon dioxide removed – or turned into clean oxygen by photosynthesis – whereas net-zero emissions encompass all greenhouse gas emissions and is therefore a much more ambitious commitment for large companies.

What does carbon negative mean?

As the name suggests, carbon negativity is taking a further step to reverse the impact of carbon emissions produced. The simple definition of this means that companies pledge to remove more carbon from the environment than they themselves put out into the atmosphere, and is usually characterized by extensive investment in carbon-reduction plans such as funding solar power research or tree-planting initiatives. The ‘negative’ here is the minus amount that is left from the carbon removed from the atmosphere: companies will achieve a neutral figure when they remove their own carbon emissions, but the minus – or ‘negative’ – figure is when they go below the point of neutrality to remove even more of their carbon emissions. As it happens, then, this negative is very, very positive!


The expense involved in sponsoring so many carbon-reduction schemes means that not every company can afford to commit to carbon negative programs, yet the biggest polluters are often the most profitable business entities, so the two balance one another out. Essentially, the companies that really ought to cut back on their worldwide carbon emissions are usually the ones who can afford to do so. Meanwhile, some companies choose to exercise a flair for corporate jargon by referring to carbon negative schemes as “climate positive” initiatives, which is more confusing than anything else.

Achieving carbon neutrality

There are many ways you can reduce your carbon footprint, such as utilizing more sustainable energy sources – solar, wind, and geothermal heating – and riding to work on a bicycle instead sitting in a traffic jam as you drive into the office. You can also purchase individual carbon credits, most commonly extended to individuals for use on flights as the airline industry produces so much pollution around the world. Did you know that a single return flight to New York from Chicago and back again accounts for 630 lbs of carbon dioxide per passenger? That’s close to a third of a metric ton in emissions, from just one 1,500-mile journey (which is also the average distance commercially sourced food will travel from producer to consumer in the US.)


Another way to substantially minimize your carbon footprint is by sourcing your ingredients and foodstuffs from small-scale, independent suppliers. This not only supports local economy, with every cent going nowhere else but to the farmer – no pesky middleman in sight – but also means that food has far shorter distances to travel from producer to supplier. This is absolutely the philosophy driving Buffalo Market’s business practice, as we nurture long-standing, valuable relationships with farmers all over California in order to provide you with the very best organic produce at the most competitive prices.


Operating on a farm-to-fork scheme that cuts down on the number of miles food will spend in the back of a mobile storage container, we don’t believe market-quality produce needs to come at the cost of the environment. And with an inventory exceeding 2,600 items and counting, there’s just about no limit to the dishes you can experiment with at home. Why not see what’s on offer today and discover what a difference organic ingredients can make to your kitchen? You’ll be amazed at the results.

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