Carbon neutrality is crucial to addressing the climate crisis. In this piece we shed some much needed light on what it means and ways of achieving it.
We all dream of a world where humanity lives harmoniously with nature. Our air and oceans are clean, our forests lush and full of life, and fruit trifle will be calorie free. If we’re going to achieve this paradise, we’re going to have to make the switch and become carbon neutral.
Tackling the climate crisis makes sense from an environmental and economic perspective. This should not be disputed. We rely on a stable, healthy planet for so much. We need all businesses and organisations to act alongside individuals and countries.
Unfortunately, some research we undertook recently into Fortune 500 companies indicates that climate change still isn’t being considered nearly enough in these companies’ strategies. There are also those who talk a good talk, and perhaps even have good intentions, but undermine themselves through their actions.
In this piece, we are going to delve a little deeper into why this matters and what carbon neutrality really means. But let's begin with some basics figures.
Time is of the essence
By now, we can see the impacts of the climate crisis appearing all around us. From record hot months to extreme events unfolding in nature across the globe. As you'll know, to prevent the situation from worsening it is critical that we limit the emission of more greenhouses gases, especially CO2, into the atmosphere.
Experts have predicted that CO2 levels should be kept under a 440 parts per million (ppm) threshold in order to keep global warming under an acceptable 2C limit. In 2018 levels were at 407.4ppm. At current rates, it’s predicted we only have around 16 years until we exceed the carbon budget remaining to keep under 440ppm and the 2C limit. Not the most pleasant of facts to digest at a dinner party, but true nonetheless.
One of the things governments, companies and even individuals can do is to reduce their carbon emission and strive for carbon neutrality.
Untangling the expressions
Carbon neutrality, or having net zero carbon footprint, is achieved when carbon emissions are balanced by carbon removal, or sequestration if you want to get fancy about it.
Try saying that sentence fast, six times in a row. Luckily you rarely have to, unless you are Greta Thunberg in the UN or at the World Economic Forum, pleading for companies and governments to wake up .
But we digress.
To achieve neutrality on a global scale, all carbon emissions would have to be compensated by carbon removal. Quite a task, but achievable by first reducing carbon emissions to an absolute minimum and then offsetting them by utilising carbon sinks, such as forests, that absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
Achieving carbon neutrality (or even better, negativity)
We, as well as a few other organisations, countries, cities and even rock stars around the world, have pledged to operate on a carbon-neutral model.
It’s important to be completely open and transparent on this as it goes deeper than a mere marketing campaign or PR stunt. It is fundamental to how we operate as a business which is why we publish a carbon report that breaks down our carbon footprint and makes the data available for all to see.
For 2019 we did the sums and were happy to find that our net carbon emissions were actually negative. This means we can proudly share that we are a carbon-negative company!
We achieved this by taking measures to decrease carbon emissions from our processes, and then offset what we reluctantly emit using carbon offset programmes. This two-pronged approach is crucial, as it’s always better to decrease emissions upfront than offset them later.
Offsetting and the power of trees
Our actions as a business inevitably emit carbon. We compensate for the carbon emitted through offsetting programmes such as tree planting. Trees, as well as providing a shady spot on a summer’s day, are excellent at capturing carbon.
On average, a mature tree can removes 21kg of CO2 per year. There is currently a campaign underway to plant around 1 trillion trees on suitable land globally, with the potential to absorb up to 200 billion tonnes of carbon.
There are other ways businesses can help too, such as donating a portion of profits to fund educational programmes that teach others about topics such as carbon neutrality. This is the aim of one of the projects supported by A Good Foundation.
However, some criticise offsetting as an easy way out and stress the importance of not emitting the carbon in the first place. In answer to the 1trillion trees project, there’s a counter-argument that states that whilst this is a worthy project, it could distract from other methods of fighting climate change, like switching to clean energy.
There’s also a body of research that looks into the efficacy of trees to continue to absorb carbon as global temperatures climb, and it takes years for trees to mature and offset the carbon humanity emits daily.
Prevention is better than cure
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure and this is certainly the case with achieving carbon neutrality. Initiatives like transitioning to clean energy, saving water and avoiding terrible polluters such as deforestation, reduce the upfront cost of operations and negate the need for offset programmes.
From a preventative perspective, we as a company are dedicated to designing products made from sustainable materials using clean manufacturing techniques. We take measures like solely working with suppliers who meet our standards on key areas such as energy sources and water usage. Other areas we focus on are personal travel, for example holding meetings online and flying only when we really have to.
To truly succeed, carbon neutrality has to become part of your DNA, like a superpower we wish we all had. We realise that we’re not perfect, but by working hard to limit our carbon emissions early on, it reduces the need for offsetting programmes later down the line.
Being the best you!
The race to decarbonise the world is a marathon not a sprint- a process of constant reevaluation, reinvention and fine-tuning. There is hope, and as a business we’ll keep working to improve our processes using the methods available to use.
As it’s a team effort, here are some tools and tips for lowering your personal carbon footprint:
Change your search engine – with Ecosia, every search you make eventually adds up to a tree being planted. 45 searches = one tree.
Eat less meat - the single most effective action you can take to combat climate change is to reduce your consumption of meat, or even stop eating meat entirely.
Don’t buy fast fashion products – the fast fashion industry produces a huge amount of CO2. Try alternatives like sustainable fashion, repurposing old clothes, choosing locally handmade garments, buying vintage, or participate in clothing swaps with family and friends.
Stop buying plastic water bottles – drink from the tap, or filter your own water. This will also save you money and prevent more plastic trash from ending up in our precious oceans.
When you travel, climate compensate – Here's a scary quote from the World Resources Institute:
"Emissions from the transport sector are a major contributor to climate change — about 14% of annual emissions (including non-CO2 gases) and around a quarter of CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels.
Even more concerning: At a time when global emissions need to be going down, transport emissions are on the rise, with improvements in vehicle efficiency more than offset by greater overall volume of travel."
Make sure to consider the environment in your travels and offset your impact, here’s a handy tool to work it out. Oh and by the way, don't forget to compensate for those car trips!
Keep track of your emissions – the UN has developed a great tool to easily calculate the environmental impact of you and your family, based on your behaviour.
For further reading, here are our top ten ways to reduce your carbon footprint based on the latest research.
If you want to know more about our carbon negative status, our annual carbon report or just want to give us some feedback – reach out to Emilia Cullborg at firstname.lastname@example.org.