Carbon neutral refers to the achievement of net-zero carbon emissions. It is used in the context of business processes that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, such as transportation, manufacturing and computing. Carbon neutrality can be achieved by developing processes that don't consume fossil fuels, but more realistically, it tends to be achieved through the purchase of carbon credits, or by taking actions to offset what is released, such as planting trees.
Carbon neutrality is a key issue in computing because these technologies tend to consume a lot of energy. Data centers in particular are known for their high energy use and large carbon footprints.
Companies with massive data centers, such as Facebook, Microsoft and Google have been putting ever more effort into reducing their reliance on fossil fuels in recent years. Energy is a major expense in data centers, and one that's expected to grow if the price of fossil fuels continues to rise. The possibility of carbon taxation is also a risk that companies must mitigate.
Tracking energy and carbon emissions can also be a powerful marketing and branding tool for big tech companies, especially if they also face attack from environmental groups for their energy consumption. In 2010, Greenpeace sounded the alarm against the potentially damaging effects of cloud computing, which relies on massive data centers that use tremendous amounts of energy. The organization also called on cloud computing providers to move toward green energy to reduce the environmental impact of data center energy use.