What a Year's Worth of Offsets Look Like in Action: 2021 Portfolio Review

Lauren Frisch
December 30, 2021
Climate Neutral's Lauren Frisch wraps up 2021 with a look at the diverse carbon credit portfolio of Climate Neutral Certified brands and how it contributes to meaningful climate mitigation.

The carbon market is complex, and rapidly changing. As Climate Neutral’s Program Manager, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to prepare for changes in the carbon market: from following new, innovative projects to navigating increasing credit prices as demand for credits skyrockets. It’s a major priority for Climate Neutral, and one that you’ll hear more about in coming months through our work and communications. 

But that’s not my goal today. As we wrap up the 2021, I want to look back on the awesome portfolio of credits that Climate Neutral Certified brands supported over the past year. In 2021, Climate Neutral Certified brands supported 93 unique carbon credit projects, investing close to four million dollars directly into eliminating carbon emissions. Done as part of our annual certification requirements, it’s a significant resource investment into tangible and immediate decarbonization. This work happens in addition to the internal reduction actions that companies begin implementing as soon as they achieve certification.

So let’s dig deeper into our carbon credit portfolio and its impact! I’ll review how Climate Neutral Certified brands select credit projects, what our portfolio impact looked like in 2021, and a few examples of projects and project types that our brands supported. I’ll highlight some of the opportunities presented by the carbon market, and show how Climate Neutral’s diverse credit portfolio contributes to real, meaningful climate mitigation. 

How do Climate Neutral Brands select carbon credits, and how are the credits evaluated? 

Climate Neutral Certified brands are required to purchase carbon credits that meet the Climate Neutral Standards. We created these Standards to reduce the risk of investing in projects that are more likely to fall short when it comes to carbon performance, including variables like how carbon removal is measured, or the amount of time carbon, once removed, is kept out of the atmosphere. We review these Standards every year to make sure we’re staying on top of important changes in the market and keeping our process rigorous. 

What kind of impact has the Climate Neutral brand community created?

In 2021, Climate Neutral Certified brands invested in approximately 860,000 carbon credits. This means that these brands collectively avoided or removed approximately 860,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere. In case you’re wondering what that amounts to in daily life, that’s the equivalent of removing approximately 190,000 passenger vehicles from the road for a year.

Climate Neutral Certified Brands' 2021 Carbon Credit Impact
[Click to expand full-size carbon credit portfolio graphic]

What kind of projects are in Climate Neutral’s carbon credit portfolio? 

In 2021, Climate Neutral Certified brands supported projects from 23 countries around the world, on all continents except for Antarctica. Approximately 70% of these credits came from energy and industry–related projects, including cookstoves, renewable energy, industrial, and landfill gas projects. 30% of projects represented natural climate solutions including all types of forestry projects, grasslands, and mangrove projects. We are also starting to see brands supporting innovative, engineered carbon removals projects.

 

How do these projects create impact? 

As a scientist, one of my favorite parts of this work is digging into how different credit projects sequester carbon, and the other community and ecosystem benefits they create. We’ll cover more on project characteristics in 2022, but for now, here are some quick hot-takes from some of the projects and project types Climate Neutral Certified brands supported in 2021. 

On the natural climate solutions side, forestry projects represented about 27% of our total portfolio. Forestry is a hugely important sector to continue supporting through the carbon market. This is because deforestation and land-use change account for approximately a quarter of global emissions. Forestry projects can be structured as projects that avoid further deforestation, those that rebuild existing forests, or a combination of the two. All of these project types help build and maintain an important carbon sink. Climate experts have projected that forest ecosystems have the potential to store enough carbon to account for one-third of global carbon emissions.  

As a former oceanographer, I am especially captivated by blue carbon projects with goals to support coastal ocean ecosystems. Climate Neutral Certified brands supported one mangrove reforestation project this year, which is planting 6 million mangrove trees along the coast of Myanmar in a region that now only has 16% of the original forest intact. Mangrove rehabilitation is an especially interesting climate solution because mangroves grow more quickly and capture more carbon than terrestrial forests, so they have an untapped potential to help store carbon rapidly and efficiently.  And because mangroves are tangly, intertwined trees that form along coastlines, they provide exceptional habitats for young fish, protect coastlines from storm events, and reduce rates of coastal erosion by slowing down wave activity and providing a barrier to the coast. Blue carbon is still a pretty new project type, and I am excited to see how we can integrate more blue carbon credits into Climate Neutral’s portfolio as they become available. 

There are a ton of project types focused on reducing emissions associated with energy and industry credits, which proved to be an important backbone to our collective impact. A number of our brands chose to invest in cookstoves projects because they directly benefit developing communities. In 2021, Climate Neutral Certified brands supported cookstoves projects in Mali, Nigeria, and Uganda. These projects help families replace inefficient woodburning cookstoves with more efficient models. This reduces fuel intake, deforestation risk, and time spent on cooking, while improving indoor air quality and helping families save money spent on fuel.  

Finally, while there is nothing inherently sexy about landfill gas projects, this long-standing type of carbon credit is well understood and addresses an important and growing source of methane emissions. Reduction of methane emissions is critical to our climate mitigation efforts because methane as a greenhouse gas is about 30 times as strong as carbon dioxide. And because 15% of US methane emissions come from organic decomposition at landfills, landfill gas capture projects have huge potential to help reduce this problem. These landfill gas projects help capture this released gas and convert it to biofuels, which also reduce fuel dependence for local communities. 

 

What happens next? 

As the carbon market grows, we’ll see an increase in both the good and the not-so-good credits available on the market. Even for companies interested in acting on climate, questions of where to invest in carbon credits and the importance of project screening can feel a little overwhelming.

We believe that there’s a role for every carbon avoidance and removal technology under the sun. There are a lot of emissions to eliminate around the world, and no magic solution is worthy of being the only choice. We need it all.

But we also know that not every project in the voluntary market can withstand a quality check. That’s why we put so much emphasis on the development and annual evaluation of the Climate Neutral Standards, working with our group of external advisors, and additional project selection work. I’m excited to see how we can continue to use our Standards and the Climate Neutral Certification process to make it easy for brands to identify and invest in credits that generate meaningful impact.

We’ll continue to publish these analyses each year to show how our portfolio has evolved and our impact has grown. As we close up this year, I’d like to thank all of our Climate Neutral Certified brands for trusting our process and investing in our Standards. I’m proud to recognize their efforts, and just thrilled to be able to share the impact our community has helped create. 


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About the Author

Lauren Frisch
Program Manager

With a background in environmental research and science communication, Lauren is interested in helping companies use science-based, data-driven strategies to mitigate climate change. She has a BA in environmental geology from Colgate University, an MS in environmental policy from Bard College, and an MBA from the University of Vermont. Lauren lives in Burlington, where she spends most of her free time trying to keep up with her sled dog Daisy.

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