Sustainability in the Business World – Important Carbon Terms to Know

By now, almost everyone has heard the term “sustainability” thrown around like so much trash on the highway. As a business owner, you will find that how your business engages with sustainable principles impacts your success. That’s because increasing numbers of your customers prefer to do business with companies that incorporate sustainability into their daily operations. In fact, in a study by First Insight, 62 percent of Gen Z consumers prefer to purchase the products they use from companies that operate sustainably.

If you’ve been looking into the concept of sustainability for your business, you might wonder about all the terms used. None are more fundamental than those revolving around the element carbon. Here are some concepts you need to know as you work to make your business more sustainable:

Term Explanation
Carbon A naturally occurring element, in fact, one of the most frequently found elements. Carbon is often called the king of the elements because it makes up so many compounds. Carbon is an essential component found in all living and nonliving things.
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) A geologic or biological process of capturing and storing carbon dioxide to slow climate change. In it, carbon dioxide is captured from power plants or industrial activities, transported to a storage location (usually deep underground) and then stored.
Carbon credit A method that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by allowing companies to release a capped amount of emissions. Should the business need to exceed that limit, it can purchase unused credits from other companies. One carbon credit allows for one ton of GHG to be released.
Carbon cycle The flow of carbon from one thing to another. The carbon cycle happens continuously and occurs when plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Animals release carbon dioxide after breathing in oxygen.
Carbon dioxide Naturally occurring gas composed of one atom of carbon and two atoms of oxygen. Abbreviated as CO2, it heats up the planet and is a prime factor in global warming; thus, it is a greenhouse gas. It has several sources: the burning of fossil fuels, wildfires, and volcanic eruptions. It is also released when animals inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide.
Carbon dioxide emissions


Discharges that come from the burning of fossil fuels and cement manufacturing.
Carbon footprint A carbon footprint refers to greenhouse gases discharged from human activities. United States residents produce some of the largest carbon footprints worldwide.
Carbon market When a company needs to release more carbon emissions than is allowable, or if they don’t need all the carbon credits available to them, they can buy or sell credits on the carbon market.
Carbon neutral When a company or other entity creates a balance between the carbon it emits and how much it removes, it is said to be carbon neutral, producing a net-zero carbon footprint.
Carbon sink Carbon sinks are geographic features that take in more carbon dioxide than they release. Naturally occurring carbon sinks include forests, soil, oceans, and coral reefs.
Carbon source Carbon sources expel more carbon dioxide than they take in. A significant carbon source comes from the burning of fossil fuels.
Climate change A long-term change in weather referring to that caused by human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels. When fossil fuels are used, greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere. Because these gases trap heat, they trap heat on the surface of the Earth, bringing about global warming.
Climate neutral Being climate neutral means that a company or entity emits greenhouse gases at the same rate as it removes from the atmosphere.
Climate tipping point Tipping points are those thresholds where grave consequences occur from minor changes, causing more significant and often irreversible changes. An example is the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
Decarbonization Decarbonization refers to energy production and is cutting back or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.
Emissions trading Emissions trading is also known as “cap and trade” and is a mechanism to reduce pollution. Emissions trading works by placing a cap on emissions released. When emissions released are lower than that allowed, they can be traded by the business or entity to another organization that needs an extra allowance for the pollutant released.
Fossil fuels Fossil fuels are those created from decomposing plant and animal remnants buried deep in the Earth and left eons ago. Coal, natural gas, and oil are three examples.
Global warming Global warming has occurred since the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-1800s. Heat is trapped by industrial processes that release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, causing a rise in temperatures worldwide.
Greenhouse effect The greenhouse effect describes heat being trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, causing insulation around the planet. This insulation keeps the globe at higher temperatures than it would be if no greenhouse gases were present.
Greenhouse gas (GHG) Greenhouse gases cause a buildup of heat in the atmosphere, making them primary contributors to global warming. Carbon dioxide, fluorinated gases, methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor are all greenhouse gases. Methane is composed of hydrogen and carbon and comes from wetlands, natural gas usage, decaying organic materials in landfills, and coal mining. Nitrous oxide comes from combusting fossil fuels and solid waste, industrial and agricultural processes, and wastewater treatment. Fluorinated gases are released during commercial and industrial operations and from household activities.
Mitigation Mitigation in terms of the climate means avoiding or limiting the damage to the environment from the release of emissions into the atmosphere.
Net zero Refers to reaching the level of emissions produced as equal to those removed from the atmosphere.
Offsetting Offsetting in environmental terms relates to removing greenhouse gases from one source to allow their emission somewhere else.
Paris Climate Agreement The Paris Climate Agreement is an international mandate for countries worldwide meant to tackle climate change. It has the overarching goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, thereby ensuring that the increase of the average temperature worldwide will be less than 2° Celsius above those present before the Industrial Revolution. The Paris Climate Agreement has been signed by193 countries and the European Union.


Many are the terms surrounding the concept of sustainability. Understanding those related to the element carbon is vital since it figures prominently in our lives.


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