The Gator Nation is getting greener.

Thanks to We Are Neutral, an initiative of the local non-profit Earth Givers, the University of Florida became the first school in the National Collegiate Athletic Association to become carbon neutral.

After offsetting the carbon emissions from one of its football games in 2007, UF decided to continue its partnership with We Are Neutral and offset the entire athletic program’s carbon footprint. In 2008, the entire football team went carbon neutral, and in 2009, UF began its initiative to offset all the carbon emissions associated with the traveling, facility uses and administrative aspects from all of its athletic programs. Then, in 2010, UF went even further and offset the carbon emissions related to the utilities for the O’Connell Center, the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and the University Auditorium for the school’s spring graduation ceremony, making it UF’s first carbon neutral commencement. For only $542, UF offset 49 tons of carbon emissions.

To accomplish this task, the carbon dioxide emissions from all of these activities are calculated and summed up by service providers — such as the International Carbon Bank and Exchange — as a carbon footprint, measured in tons of carbon. For each ton of carbon released to the atmosphere, We Are Neutral sells offsets to UF, or any other interested individual, business or organization, at approximately $12 per ton to help “neutralize” the emissions. These carbon offsets are purchased from a reserve, or carbon bank, that We Are Neutral has created through energy conservation and carbon sequestration projects, such as helping-low income communities make their homes more energy efficient through weatherization projects and upgrades that include insulating AC units and water heater pipes, installing toilet tank bags, diverters and low-flow shower heads, as well as compact fluorescent light bulb exchanges. In addition to generating carbon credits, these upgrades help residents reduce or neutralize their carbon footprint and save money on their utility bill.

Another method of providing carbon credits for purchase is through a partnership We Are Neutral has with the Alachua Conservation Trust. Through its Revolving Tree Fund, We Are Neutral purchases native Florida needle longleaf pine trees from the trust and plants them locally with the help of local volunteers. For each tree planted, one ton of carbon offsets are generated through restoration and sequestration projects that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change impacts. The initiative has helped UF raise its sustainability ratings and get closer to its goal of becoming a carbon neutral campus by 2025.

Generally, carbon offsetting programs are not implemented where emissions were generated. For example, a business or individual may buy carbon credits from a wind farm, solar array or tree plantation located in a different state. These programs allow the purchaser to offset emissions they may not be able to avoid generating or reducing through internal restructuring or lifestyle changes. However, with We Are Neutral’s locally focused model, the community initially impacted by the carbon emissions benefits directly, making the program’s model unique. The trees provide carbon sequestration, cleaner air and cooler environments for outdoor activities, and the home upgrades help families living in the community.

The organization’s co-founder, Jacob Cravey, hopes that this model of “locally generated, locally applied” carbon offsetting will act as a model for others nationally, as well as help to build a stronger Gainesville community where residents and businesses are able to support and empower each other through their collective efforts towards carbon neutrality.

Others in the community have also grabbed hold of the momentum being generated by We Are Neutral. Here at home, Gainesville’s annual environmental film festival, Cinema Verde, has offset the festival’s activities four times. Fest, Gainesville’s music festival, has offset its activities 5 years running.

This year, We Are Neutral is also helping to make Bonnaroo, the renowned four-day music festival, carbon neutral. Their goal is to offset the entire event, as well as emissions generated by those who traveled to the event, through similar energy saving and tree planting efforts in that community. The three-member We Are Neutral team, co-founder Jacob Cravey, Anna Sampson and Jacob Adams, plus its volunteers will also be offsetting their group’s carbon footprint when they travel to Tennessee for Bonnaroo this June.

Not many businesses are happy with a net zero return, but in the case of We Are Neutral, that is exactly what they want to see. A whole lot of zeros.