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Carbon Offsetting: The Basics

Carbon Offsetting is the process of neutralizing carbon emissions. Simple, right?

But what is a carbon offset? And what are carbon emissions? What’s carbon, anyway? 

These questions are essential to understanding of the process and theory behind carbon offsetting. There are many key terms and, as in any field, there are multiple working definitions of each term, depending on which expert you talk to. Definitions are not set in stone, but they do serve as a starting point for understanding and creating an intelligent conversation.

We live in a world that is transitioning from thoughtless consumption and resource usage to a more thoughtful and reasonable approach to resource management. The green movement and the green economy are both premised on the belief that humans can be sustainable members of the Earth’s ecosystem rather than simply destroy it.

Carbon offsetting is a core approach to raising our society’s awareness and reducing our impact on the environment. But what do all of those words mean?


Carbon Offsetting: Key Terms

Carbon—Carbon can mean a lot of things. In this context, “carbon” typically means the amount of carbon molecules that are part of CO2 compounds that are released into the atmosphere. Did I lose you? Think of “carbon” as the gas being emitted when fossil fuels get burned.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)– A common chemical compound present in fossil fuels that is released as a gas.

Carbon Offset—Money or resources invested into capturing greenhouse gasses or creating and using alternative, clean energy.

Carbon Neutral—When the carbon emissions and carbon offsets of a person, business or group are equal. 

Carbon Footprint—The total, overall impact, measured in CO2, of a person, business or group.

Carbon Emissions—The specific amount of carbon generated and released into the atmosphere by a given activity, person, or process.