There’s no getting around it: one of the most consequential issues of our day is also one of the trickiest to address in our consumer choices. Yep, we’re going there. Let’s talk about the climate crisis.
Those of us who’ve made a habit of feeding our dread by keeping up with the news can likely cite an abundance of reasons that our planet is more or less doomed. Even as a brand that’s all about empowering commerce with conviction, we’d be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the role extraction and consumption have played in getting us to where we are today. And, willingly or unwillingly, all consumers can expect to make some radical behavioral changes in our lifetimes to turn the tide.
But some of those changes in behavior might not have to be so radical. In fact, organizations like Climate Neutral are showing that the burden of climate action doesn’t, and shouldn’t, rest exclusively on individual consumers. For instance, if you’re a consumer trying to do your part, why should you have to spend hours researching the most environmentally responsible brands? Shouldn’t companies make it easier by promoting a certification standard — something visible, universal and trusted, like the Certified Organic seal from the USDA?
That’s where Climate Neutral certification comes in. You’ll see it starting this spring, as more than 130 brands begin displaying their certification on goods produced with a net-zero carbon footprint. What does that mean, exactly? It means the companies have measured both direct and indirect emissions, invested in carbon offset projects to negate every ton of carbon they produce for a full year, and committed to a plan for reducing their emissions in the future.
Climate Neutral is the brainchild of Peak Design CEO Peter Dering and BioLite CEO Jonathan Cedar. As manufacturing veterans, the two founders believed that more businesses would do the right thing if they had simple, standardized tools for measuring and offsetting their carbon footprint. Notably, Climate Neutral isn’t calling for a moratorium on commerce. It’s calling on the business community to adopt a minimum standard for environmental responsibility, and empowering consumers to demand nothing less.
“Businesses are responsible for more carbon than any individual, and they’re nimble enough to do something about it,” says Caitlin Drown, brand + communications manager for Climate Neutral. When I remark that it’s novel to see a player in the climate space shifting the onus for action away from individuals and governments, Drown elaborates on the measures the business community might take—changes in supply chains, material swaps for more eco-friendly production, and investment in technologies to lower emissions.
While none of these actions are necessarily breaking new ground, it’s notable that Climate Neutral Certified brands commit to not only paying to offset their current carbon emissions, but also reducing their emissions long-term.
Many existing emission-reduction programs and incentives have been criticized for possibly creating a system where large carbon producers can essentially pay for offset projects to buy their way out of making any long-term commitments to reduce their emissions. Drown and her Climate Neutral colleagues refer to this as the ‘get out of jail free card’ built into most carbon offset incentive programs of the past.
The Climate Neutral certification closes that loophole and standardizes what brands are measuring. Once a brand opts in, they are effectively committing to setting an internal price for their carbon emissions to keep their certification current, and establishing an incentive to keep that expense down like any other line-item of their operating cost.
With more than 60 large brands and more than 70 smaller brands signing on in just the first 13 months, Climate Neutral may well be on-pace to hit their goal of roping in enough commitments to offset 2% of total U.S. emissions by the end of 2021.
But what role, if any, can individual consumers play in helping that along? The Climate Neutral Certified label is not just a way of signaling to consumers who is and isn’t worthy of their business. Instead, consumers should feel empowered to use Climate Neutral’s standards as a starting point to ask their favorite brands what actions they’re taking to reduce their carbon footprint. Drown says that’s a conversation that’s already beginning to unfold.
“I manage our social media, and the number of times consumers have tagged us on posts that have led to conversations with brands is substantial,” she says.
To be clear, Climate Neutral is not encouraging anybody to use carbon neutral production to justify more purchases. “We’re never encouraging anybody to consume more. We’re asking them to consume more consciously, ” Drown says. “If you’re going to buy something, look for a brand that is taking climate change seriously.”
“If you’re going to buy something, look for a brand that is taking climate change seriously.”
In Cause Consumer parlance, we like to remind ourselves that “perfect” is an illusion, but “better” is always achievable. Thanks in large part to the many recent reports animating the gravity and urgency of the global climate crisis, Drown notes that brands “are starting to feel serious pressure to do better.” She also stresses that they will listen. “Even if they’re not the most eco-conscious, they do want to make their customers happy.”
When consumers use their voice and their power in this way, then maybe “consumerism” can shed some of its negative connotation. Maybe it can be an “ism” that connotes positive change — an update to an existing behavior that helps turn the tide on the climate crisis.
The first class of Climate Neutral Certified brands can be seen in stores and online with the label this spring. Drown encourages folks to start looking out for those, but reminds us that we don’t have to wait until then to start the climate action conversation with brands we’re loyal to. Climate Neutral’s website has a simple, transparent breakdown of the process whereby they help brands measure their carbon emissions, offset that impact, and ultimately make plans to reduce their carbon emissions going forward.
You’ve probably noticed we’ve not yet said anything about what a Climate Neutral certification means for the cost of products to consumers. It’s a fair concern. After all, it has been compared to the certified organic label for food, and for many households, cost and access are still steep barriers to healthful, sustainable food.
But the cost differential doesn’t apply here. Really. Once they’ve measured their carbon emissions, Climate Neutral brands essentially commit to absorbing that cost as a self-imposed tax. And even so, you’d be surprised how inexpensive carbon offsetting is. For most brands, it amounts to about 0.4% of annual revenues. For some products, that can be less than pennies to the dollar—all the more reason to support brands that are taking action, and demand others do the same!
Visit https://www.climateneutral.org/certified-brands to check out the brands committed to going carbon neutral. Are any of your favorites on the list? Who would you like to see commit in 2020? Tell us in the comments below.