Becoming carbon neutral as a company will no longer be a choice. Here we explain the importance of offsetting.
This article is part of a 3 series of content. Please find all articles links in our intro.
Becoming Carbon Neutral
There are 2 ways you can become Carbon Neutral as a company:
- By reducing your emissions to zero.
- By offsetting your emissions through a Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) project or an Emission avoidance project.
But the best solution consists in doing both: reduce as much as you can, then offset what is left.
At Tree-Nation we have developed a methodology that explores a fourth option.
Listening (or not) to the public consensus
In theory, it makes sense to focus on reducing emissions in the first place, as this will need to happen eventually in order to stop climate change. 20 years ago, this would probably have been the wisest decision. However, we have today reached a stage where lowering our emissions to zero will not even stop climate change: we also need to store the carbon already emitted floating in our atmosphere. Also offsetting plays an essential role in slowing down the tipping-points of climate change irreversibility, allowing us a very needed time to complete our transition towards sustainability.
In order to achieve a scenario where the world stays at 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels, the Paris Agreement plan includes carbon storage solutions. Without carbon offsetting we shift to a scenario of 3 to 4ºC above pre-industrial levels. In other word, a dooms-day scenario.
15 years ago, the public consensus (or trend) was to put a 100% priority on reducing. Offsetting was even perceived negatively as this could be seen as an excuse not to reduce.
Tree-Nation in 2006, at inception, received a letter from Greenpeace to stop all activities. We kept on.
5 years ago, the public consensus had moved where not only offsetting was accepted but was started to be seen as part of the solution.
Today, the shift has increased even more, and offsetting is not only seen as essential but considered by some as the cheapest and fastest solution to fight climate change!
What a journey from 15 years ago! When we started Tree-Nation in 2006, we were proud to be pioneers. This often means going against conventional wisdom and we believe it is important not to rest in the comfortable position we are in today, of being where the consensus is.
Our mission is to look into the future, it always has been.
Tomorrow is what matters. We believe the consensus will change again and consider offsetting not to be a secondary solution, or an essential part, but the very first thing we should do. And we will explain why below.
Reducing emissions is difficult
Let's be clear, there is no alternative to reducing your company's emissions. This needs to be done, there is no other way. What we offer here is a methodology to achieve reducing your emissions faster, not a way to escape this inevitable duty.
The hard truth is that reducing emissions is really difficult. It takes time too. And companies are totally unprepared to do it, both because this will affect their bottom line as well as because this often requires a drastic shift in their corporate culture. We just need to see where we are today, with climate change being finally acknowledged by all as an undeniable truth, and yet, despite the fact that every company is perfectly aware of it, companies keep selling products and services that pollute. And so far customers keep buying them. No drastic improvement has been met, except some recent (and amazing) success in specific industries like energy (with solar) and transportation (with EVs).
Making a transition to sustainability, as a company, should not be underestimated. And this is why "reducing first, offsetting after" may not work well for your company.
Tracing your emissions takes time
The first problem is that to reduce, a company needs to understand where its emissions are. It needs to make a CO2 emissions study. A level 3 study will need to include your suppliers. It can prove difficult if your suppliers are abroad and not abiding by the same local laws.
Once your emissions study is done you need to find alternatives. Switching to a new energy source may be relatively easy, but changing the materials of your products may be much more challenging. You need to put your best effort into solving those challenges, no matter how hard they are.
But also, some changes are truly easy, especially behavioral changes in your office. Offering solutions to employees as car-pooling to work or access to e-bikes can make a real difference. Reducing your paper consumption (just unplug the printer!), or removing plastic cups from the coffee machine. Lots of small gestures put together lead a long way. Education is also very important, you can achieve amazing changes just by suggesting or showing your team the way. This also gives the opportunity to bring colleagues together, and unite them around a very positive goal, for the greater good.
While some changes are easy and quite immediate to implement, some are genuinely hard and require effort and time.
Time is the issue
Whenever you think about climate change you should see it as a ticking bomb. It's a time issue. We only have a few years before climate change reach a tipping point that will make it irreversible.
And whenever you think about sustainability you should think about it as a journey, a long transition that is not achieved in one day. With us you will often hear the term sustainability transition to reflect the fact that this is not an all-or-nothing process, that it requires time and lots and lots of tiny steps put together.
Therefore you need to think about your sustainability transition from a time point of view. On one hand, you need to go as fast as possible as climate change requires it. On the other hand, this is a meticulous and lengthy process that will take its time, no matter how much you want to shorten it. Time is the true reason for designing our own methodology.
Don't hesitate, don't wait
Perfect is the enemy of good. Often a company doesn't dare to improve one aspect of their products to make it more sustainable because the rest of the product isn't. This will attract the press/public on the company's dent into sustainability and the company may be criticized for not doing enough. To avoid that the company will do things well, they might delay this project to take the time to completely change their product. This behaviour is a deplorable mistake that slows down a company's transition to sustainability.
We believe any small change is a sufficient and valid step and should never be delayed.
Don't fight your corporate culture
Some companies should take their corporate culture and throw it in the bin, the non-recycled one. But for the large majority of companies, corporate culture has never been about promoting pollution or unhealthy practices. Your corporate culture has probably nothing wrong in itself, except for the fact that it may be sufficiently strong that it is hard to make drastic changes. A corporate culture is built to create your company's values, to establish them among your team, and define expected behaviors. It creates consistency.
What you need is to change, and while your corporate culture in itself may not be at fault, it is not helping by being the guardian of a fixed order.
Instead of changing your corporate culture, we will use one aspect of it that you have spent years refining: operational efficiency.
We know you know but just in case: Operational efficiency is primarily a metric that measures the efficiency of profit earned as a function of operating costs.
Thank you for reading!
Maxime Renaudin, Tree-Nation founder