Climate Change 101
What are carbon emissions and how do they contribute to climate change?
Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) - often called carbon emissions - are a form of air pollution. GHGs change the earth’s climate by trapping heat. As humans put more GHGs into the atmosphere, the planet’s atmospheric insulation changes from a nice, breathable summer quilt to a dangerous layer of bubble wrap that changes living conditions for virtually everything on Earth. If you want to learn more, check out this explainer video.
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced by something or someone. Companies and countries have carbon footprints, and so do you. A carbon footprint includes many different kinds of emissions, including things you probably wouldn’t think of, like raw material extraction and freight shipping. To learn more about what’s included in a company’s carbon footprint, check out our How It Works page.
How much does the world need to reduce its total carbon footprint?
A lot! And quickly. Recent estimates show the planet’s emissions reached a record high of 55.5 BILLION tCO2e in 2018. There is more CO2 collected in the atmosphere now than ever before. In order to avoid continuing on this path and facing the tragic impacts of climate change, like more frequent and intense incidents of extreme weather, we need to reduce global greenhouse gases way below current levels, starting immediately. Find out more about the need for global emission reductions here.
Why is this important now?
People have been talking about climate change for decades and doing very little about it, so the issue is more than ever. All of the recent science suggests that we're approaching a point of no return on climate change - and political, economic, and social systems are not responding quickly enough. Humanity's decisions in the next 10 years will determine, more than ever before, how our climate changes and the extent of its impacts over the next century and beyond.If you want to dig deeper, we suggest checking out Vox’s breakdown of the situation. Or, if you have some time to dive in, peruse this authoritative (700 page) report.
What does tCO2e mean?
There are six main GHGs, so it's helpful to count them with a single unit: tCO2e. tCO2e stands for tonnes (t) of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent (e). "Tonne" is a fancy way of writing metric ton, or 2,200 pounds. “Carbon dioxide equivalent” is a standard unit for counting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions regardless of whether they’re from carbon dioxide or another gas, such as methane.
What is a carbon credit? Is it the same thing as an offset?
Carbon credits and offsets can be confusing, but don’t need to be. A carbon credit is a certificate generated when someone takes an action to eliminate a metric tonne of greenhouse gas emissions. People that develop carbon-eliminating projects can produce carbon credits. When carbon credits are used by companies or individuals to zero-out their own emissions, it’s called an offset. So really, offsets are just credits used for a specific purpose.
How are carbon credits created?
Carbon credits are created when someone does a project to eliminate a metric tonne of greenhouse gas emissions. The project might be a reforestation initiative that sequesters (sucks up) CO2, or a project that replaces coal-fired electricity with solar electricity. The project developer can sell the carbon benefits of the project in the form of carbon credits. There are hundreds of ways to create carbon credits, and the list is growing steadily. Find out more about different types of carbon projects here.
What does carbon neutral mean?
Carbon neutrality means having a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere. Worldwide carbon neutrality is needed by 2050 to limit the worst effects of climate change. This is why Climate Neutral is working to encourage companies to take the lead by achieving carbon neutrality today.
How does a carbon credit help fight climate change?
Carbon credits put money into climate change solutions. Solutions such as tree planting involve increasing the global uptake of carbon. Solutions such as renewable energy involve transitioning electric power generation away from fossil fuels. We need them all, and we need them very soon.
Carbon credits are especially useful to neutralize the effects of emissions that can’t be avoided, either because it will take a long time, or we don’t have the technology. Many economic processes in our world don’t have zero-carbon options yet. For an example, let’s take a look at flying on airplanes. It’s possible to limit your flying, but air travel is a part of daily life (except during a pandemic, of course). Until we have all-electric planes charged with zero-carbon electricity, we need verified carbon offsets.
How do you know if carbon credits work?
The market for carbon offsets has a strong system of third-party verification. Climate Neutral relies on this system, with a few of our own modifications to help us feel confident that we’re recognizing offsets that are generated using the most trustworthy and rigorous standards.
These are the offset standards that Climate Neutral allows:
These groups are the independent overseers of the carbon market, and help ensure the integrity of offsetting projects by verifying that carbon credits meet the big six requirements: real, permanent, quantifiable, verifiable, enforceable, and additional.
Where can I read more about carbon markets?
See this article from Forest Trends.
What’s the link between race, racism, poverty, and climate change?
Climate change is a massively overriding environmental issue that has disproportionate effects on minorities and disadvantaged communities. People of color in America suffer more from climate change. People of color also care more about it. And while race and racism are top of mind in America right now, it’s also important to remember that the people most affected by climate change globally are also among the poorest. Solving climate change doesn’t solve racism or poverty, but we cannot solve climate change or poverty without solutions that recognize the rights and wellbeing of every person. For further reading, we recommend checking out:
Climate Neutral Certified 101
What does it mean when I see the Climate Neutral Certified label?
When you see the label, you know that a brand has achieved zero net carbon emissions by cleaning up its historical emissions, and is on a journey to limit carbon emissions from its operations.
Let’s use our favorite fictional example, a company called InTents. The label on InTents products means that the company has counted up the carbon emissions it’s responsible for, offset all of those emissions, and implemented plans to reduce emissions. It includes all of the carbon emitted over the course of one year making and delivering products or services to customers.
Say you’re shopping for a tent, and see our label on the InTents website. You check out InTents’ brand profile page and see that InTents certified by measuring 67,145 tonnes of 2019 emissions. You also see that InTents offset them by investing in a forestry project, and plans to change its aluminum tent poles to recycled aluminum to reduce carbon emissions of future tents.
You’ll find the Climate Neutral Certified label on product packaging, websites, and social media.
Who is behind Climate Neutral?
Climate Neutral was co-founded by Peter Dering of Peak Design and Jonathan Cedar of BioLite. As founders and CEOs of carbon neutral companies, Peter and Jonathan shared the same burning question: Why aren't more companies doing this? The answer: measuring a company’s carbon footprint can take a long time and requires a ton of capital, and these barriers prevent companies from measuring their carbon footprints. Moreover, carbon offsetting is widely misunderstood, misrepresented, and poorly marketed, both to brands and to consumers. Peter and Jonathan decided to fund the launch of Climate Neutral as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in early 2019. We operate as an independent entity overseen by our Board of Directors and fully motivated to achieve our mission to decrease global carbon emissions.
What is Climate Neutral’s end goal?
Climate Neutral is creating the Climate Neutral Certified label as a trusted consumer standard that shows which companies have achieved carbon neutrality in their operations. Our goal is for our label to become ubiquitous and drive large scale decarbonization around the world.
How do I know you guys are legit?
We have a transparent process and follow industry best practices to ensure good governance practices. Our organization is overseen by a board of directors, advisors, and two separate certification committees (check them out here) and maintained through a multi-stakeholder process. Our certification standards are transparently posted here, and will be continuously updated as needed from our stakeholder feedback process to make sure they are consistent with the latest approaches to corporate responsibility and the current state of the voluntary carbon market.
How is Climate Neutral different from other pledges and labels?
We believe that the consumer has largely been left out of the picture by other labels and standards, so we’re spending a lot of time thinking about how to make our label meaningful, useful, and trusted.
We also believe that impact doesn’t require complexity, and are committed to making our certification process clear and straightforward.
We shun overhead costs, and believe that the time and resources that companies invest in carbon management should go toward offsets and reductions.
Why just focus on greenhouse gas emissions when the world has so many sustainability problems?
Greenhouse gas emissions are the single most globally damaging form of pollution, and yet, they are mostly unregulated. Every sustainability goal is worthy, but most are irrelevant in a world made uninhabitable by carbon pollution.
Furthermore, efforts to reduce carbon emissions are often aligned with other environmental priorities. For example, recycled metals are typically less carbon intensive, and carbon offsets typically support biodiversity and provide other environmental benefits.
Why are you asking businesses to do something? Isn't this a government thing?
It's everybody's thing. Governments around the world should be regulating emissions, but unfortunately aren't, and we don't have time to spare. Climate change requires immediate action, which is why companies need to take responsibility for their own emissions. We hope this corporate movement will tell policymakers that there is mass public support for carbon regulation, spurring the government to take action.
How will Climate Neutral make its certification recognizable and valuable to my customers?
We make a nice label and you put it on your stuff! We're committed to making Climate Neutral Certified a household name and focusing on both our own marketing strategy and helping our brands communicate their certification to their customers. Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. We’re constantly having conversations with the media, and have a presence at top industry events and conferences.
We work hand-in-hand with our brands to help you promote your commitment and certification. And, our brands love to collaborate, so you’ll have the chance to reach new customers through giveaways and network-wide sales.
I want to bring this to my boss – do you have something I can share to help me make the case?
Sure do - share this website and drop us a line and we'll set you up with what you need to outline the business case!
Why is Climate Neutral a non-profit?
Climate Neutral is structured as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization so that we can avoid conflicts of interest and be neutral in this whole process. (Neutral...get it?) We don't want commercial interests to get in the way of how we certify companies. And we want your investment in neutrality to fund decarbonization projects, not buy us yachts.
I’m a researcher/ scientist/academic and I have questions about Climate Neutral – how can I get in touch? Climate Neutral Certified
Reach out to us via our Contact page. We look forward to talking.
Getting Certified with Climate Neutral
What's the idea behind “Measure, Offset, and Reduce"?
Once your footprint has been measured, the next step is to offset the entire thing. Those emissions already happened, and need to be cleaned up if you’re going to call yourself carbon neutral.Then you need a plan to lower your future emissions: reduce what you can. In many instances, there will be low-hanging fruit – energy efficiency improvements, waste management opportunities, more video chats instead of flying across the country for a three-hour meeting, and so on.
In order to effectively mitigate the impacts of climate change, all businesses need to have long-term plans for maximizing their reduction efforts across their corporate value chains. And while taking reduction steps is an important solution path, offsetting what we can’t reduce now is always going to be better than doing nothing at all.
Isn’t carbon offsetting expensive?
Surprisingly, no. High-quality credits can be purchased for $4.50-7.00 USD per metric ton. A good rule of thumb is to assume it'll cost about 0.4% of annual revenues to offset your entire carbon footprint. That boils down to about 12 cents to offset a pair of shoes or 30 cents to offset a backpack.
My company doesn’t make a physical product – is my footprint zero?
Even if you don't make a physical product, you have a carbon footprint. Everything from the electricity used to light your office and run your computer to employee work travel counts in calculating your carbon footprint.
Is there a size minimum or maximum for certification?
It’s hard to create a carbon footprint for an organization that doesn’t yet exist, or hasn’t completed a full year of operations. We recommend folks in those situations get in touch once they have a year under their belt.
On the other end of the spectrum, we’ll take even the largest companies. In fact, that’s the path to our greatest scale and impact.
What does Scope 1, 2, 3 emissions mean?
Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions represent the entirety of a carbon footprint from a company’s activities.
- Scope 1 signifies direct emissions that come from on-site facilities. This can include the fuel you burn in company vehicles, the natural gas you use to heat your office, or any direct emissions from owned manufacturing plants.
- Scope 2 represents indirect emissions. This is mostly your purchased electricity.
- Scope 3 represents indirect emissions from your supply chain and in most cases makes up the majority of a company’s footprint. Scope 3 represents tCO2 emitted across the entire corporate value chain – that means emissions released from extracting raw materials used for finished products, corporate business travel, employee commuting, shipping and transporting, and more.
To learn more about Scopes 1, 2 and 3, visit World Resource Institute's GHG Protocol homepage found here.
How do Scope 3 emissions compare to Scope 1 and 2?
It depends on your company, but for many companies, Scope 3 emissions are the biggest chunk. These are emissions from your value chain: all of the activities you engage in as you create and bring your product to market. Quite often, all of the emissions embedded in the raw materials or services you purchase, the airline miles you fly, the commutes of your employees -- these add up to much more than your electric bill (Scope 2).v
Calculating my company’s carbon footprint seems complex – how will I know the measurement is accurate?
There will always be uncertainty in estimating the entirety of a company’s footprint, if Scope 3 is included. Uncertainties stem from imperfect data collection, oversimplifications of reality to translate dollar values into units of tCO2e, and much more. But don’t let perfect be the enemy of good! Estimating your carbon emissions doesn’t have to be an arduous or expensive process. Climate Neutral has built a tool that combines the power of estimation with the capability to refine with operational data. We need to take action now -- and our tool allows precision where you can muster data and a scientifically sound estimate where you can’t.
How important is the "reduce" part of this?
Essential. We can’t stop the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels unless we all take a good hard look in the mirror and come up with a plan to reduce our own emissions over time. Accordingly, we require that reduction plans are created and implemented on an annual basis and encourage brands to adopt reduction targets that are consistent with the latest climate science, for example by developing a target through the Science-based Targets Initiative, found here.
How are carbon credits selected?
We select carbon credits based on our offset requirements which are developed by a continuous review process of the best available standards to ensure companies are utilizing quality credits. Our standard creates a common baseline for all companies so that Climate Neutral Certified means one thing - not 1,000 different things. Feel free to use the Contact Us link and we'll walk you through our logic.
Once I get certified, what happens?
First, give yourself a big pat on the back for this exciting accomplishment! Next, display the Climate Neutral Certified label on your products, website, and marketing materials to share your certification with the world. Continue to work on reducing your emissions and encourage more companies to follow your lead.
How much does it cost to get certified?
Getting certified will have two costs: purchasing carbon credits and a certification fee. The largest of those is your offset purchase. You’ll pay $5-10 per tonne of footprint for offsets, and in total they should cost you less than half a percent of gross revenues.
You’ll also pay us a certification fee, which helps pay for the work we’re doing to build the movement behind our label -- and to help you get certified to use it. You’ll pay us $0.45 per tonne of your footprint, unless you’re a non-profit (see our full pricing here). The smaller your footprint, the less you pay us. In a perfect world, everyone’s footprint would be zero and our work would be done!
I’m a member of 1% for the Planet. Does my offset purchase count toward my 1% contribution? How about the certification fee I pay to Climate Neutral?
Yes: if your offsets are sourced from a broker that is a 1% for the Planet non-profit partner, then your offset purchase counts toward your commitment. If you use our pooled procurement, you can choose our 1%-friendly option. If you purchase your own credits, we can send you a list of providers that are in the 1% for the Planet network. And yes: Climate Neutral is a 1% for the Planet non-profit partner, so your certification fee counts toward your contribution.
My company already has a plan to measure, offset, and reduce our emissions! Can I get Climate Neutral Certified with the work we’re doing?
That's great that you already have a plan - nice work! Now, we just need to make sure it fits our certification requirements. Drop us a line and we'll give you some quick feedback and identify any gaps. You could already be close!