carbon neutral
adj. Emitting no net carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Also Seen As
Other Forms
Guy Dauncey, an environmentalist, book author and lecturer who lives in British Columbia, decided to go low-carb last year. It wasn't about laying off the potatoes: Mr. Dauncey decided to do something about the carbon dioxide his lifestyle was pumping into the atmosphere.

The invisible gas, emitted by burning gasoline and other fuels, is blamed for rising global temperatures. That worries Mr. Dauncey. So after calculating how much CO2 he had emitted by driving his car, heating his home and flying on business trips during a year, he wrote a check for $280 to help install solar panels in Africa and Bhutan.

Mr. Dauncey calculates the CO2 saved by switching people from kerosene to solar power will make up exactly for the 28 tons he estimates as his own emissions. "I have become carbon-neutral," he says.
—Antonio Regalado, “New Lifestyle Option for the Eco-Minded: 'Carbon-Neutral',” The Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2004
Burning wood for fuel also generates carbon dioxide emissions, but as long as new trees are planted to replace those used as fuel, the level of emissions doesn't change as the new trees are soaking up carbon to offset the emissions from the wood fuel. So wood fuel is 'carbon neutral.'
—“Better management of forests across Europe would tie up much more carbon,” Irish Independent, March 09, 2004
1992 (earliest)
The attractions of miscanthus stem from its status as a ''C4'' plant, which means it has a highly efficient method of photosynthesis, converting more light and heat into energy than other plants. The only other C4 plant commercially grown here is forage maize. Miscanthus flourishes with a low fertiliser input, and is suited to northern Europe. It is also carbon neutral, extracting as much carbon dioxide during growth as is expelled when it is burnt.
—Crispin Aubrey, “From sewage sludge to giant grass,” The Independent (London, England), July 20, 1992
A plant is said to be carbon neutral if the carbon dioxide (CO2) that it absorbs while alive is the same as the CO2 it emits when burned as a fuel. For people and organizations, becoming carbon neutral is usually achieved by implementing renewable energy projects — such as planting trees, which absorb CO2 — that offset the amount of carbon dioxide emissions.

How does one find out one's total carbon output, that is, one's carbon footprint (2000)? By performing a carbon audit (1997) that tallies up the amount of CO2 emitted by driving one's car, running one's appliances, and other activities. You then get to carbon neutrality (1997) by planting trees, investing in solar energy, and implementing other carbon offsets (1991).

Here are some yearly carbon footprint figures to consider:
  • An average person (world-wide): 4 tons
  • An average American: 22 tons
  • An average Chinese: 2.25 tons
  • Driving an SUV*: 5 tons
*10,000 miles at 18 miles per gallon
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Note that Carbon Neutral ™ is a trademark of Future Forests Limited, with a filing date of June 5, 2000. Thanks to Louise Wells for passing along this phrase.
Filed Under