Sustainability/Analysis/

Green Glossary: Carbon negative

Is being carbon negative really as good as it seems?

By Sarah Drumm

Young tree plant

The Green Glossary features in Sifted’s weekly Sustain newsletter. We take a sustainability term or phrase and give a brief explanation on what it means, and how startups are connected to it.

Don’t you mean carbon neutral? This is one step beyond that. Carbon negative is a term — possibly coined by an offsetting consultancy looking to make a bit more money — that refers to removing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than you emit.

Is it a good or a bad thing? Wanting to be carbon negative is absolutely not a bad thing. But there are two problems with the term: the average consumer doesn’t know what it really means, they just think it sounds great. And second, that means it can give businesses who are happy to pay more for offsets (and aren’t necessarily investing in schemes that actually remove carbon) the cover they need to continue with business as usual.

Can you give me some examples of carbon negative businesses? In August 2020, Scottish brewery Brewdog claimed it had become “officially the first carbon negative beer business”, but its 2021 sustainability report does not detail the types of offsetting schemes it is investing in to achieve this status. Microsoft and Ikea have both pledged to become carbon negative by 2030. Food startup Rubies in the Rubble has detailed how it plans to get to carbon negative status.

Where can I read more? Microsoft has set out how it plans to become carbon negative. The Conversation has unpacked the differences between terms like carbon negative, net zero and so on.

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