One could argue that climate change awareness has been reenergized. Largely thanks to the 16-year-old phenom that is activist Greta Thunberg, who inspired a global youth climate strike this past September, it seems consumers have an accelerated zeal for buying products that aren’t just “less bad” for the environment, but also those with zero carbon load.
Environment-focused certifications have been around for a while. And more than anyone, natural retailers and natural entrepreneurs know the scope of seal options that are available for food products.
But the just-launched certification Climate Neutral Certified (which despite the similarity in logo design is not connected to New Hope Network), an audacious new certification that aims to help make manufacturing and selling zero-carbon products “as simple, actionable and credible as possible,” according to the organization, may be a key tool to help communicate your brand’s environmental commitment.
We sat down with Climate Neutral Brand and Communications Manager Caitlin Drown to learn more about this fledgling certification, and understand how the seal can help improve your product’s carbon footprint, and demystify environmental product marketing.
How did Climate Neutral start?
Caitlin Drown: Last year we had two founding companies that came together. There was BioLite, a Brooklyn-based company that makes outdoor gear such as cookstoves and headlamps, and Peak Design which makes travel and photography bags. Both companies were going through the same process of auditing their carbon footprint and trying to understand what would be needed to offset their emissions. They realized there was no easy way to do this. For a lot of brands, understanding their emissions involves months of auditing, and is usually a huge expense.
The two CEOs started talking about barriers preventing other companies from doing this, and they saw it didn’t have to be as complicated as it had been for them.
Climate Neutral was officially incorporated in February 2019. Our consumer-facing launch kicked off on the start of Climate Week on September 23rd in New York City.
How many brands are currently on board?
CD: We have 52 brands on board, with more to come. While most of these brands are outdoor brands, we’re beginning to expand into other industries. We have at least one coffee company, and interestingly, three organic mattress companies. It’s very exciting to see the different brands that are working with us. We’re open to working with any brand that is trying to make a positive impact on the environment.
Tracking carbon footprints in any business is extremely complicated. How is Climate Neutral both simplifying this process while also keeping the certification robust?
CD: One of the biggest barriers for why a lot of brands have a hard time with this is complexity—even if you’re hiring a third-party consultant to measure your carbon footprint it’s an imperfect process. There’s always going to be a little bit of uncertainty.
We worked with a great team of engineers to build a calculator. With this tool we’re looking at the averages. When you look at one industry from the next, at the end of the day there’s not a huge difference between consumer packaged goods in terms of revenue. In order to be climate neutral, it costs around 0.4% of a company’s revenue.
We took 100 data points and we are working on getting the averages, and based off your data inputs, this number will change.
When brands input their data into your calculator, what kind of number will they get back?
CD: Brands will receive a number in metric tons of CO2 their business produces. From there, the reduction strategies will estimate how to reduce your carbon footprint. Brands will also receive the specific number of carbon credits required to offset carbon load, which is based off of your metric tons of CO2.
What kind of commitments are brands required to make in order to receive the certification?
CD: There’s no set list of commitments brands can choose from, but we work with brands to identify areas where they can make those carbon reductions. Different companies have different commitments. A natural mattress company, for example, committed to donating used mattresses to local charities instead of tossing them in the landfill. That’s an example of one commitment.
We’re trying to chip away carbon footprint over time, so we’re open to different strategies. Of course we review everything to make sure commitments are legitimate and that they’re creating a true impact.
On top of those commitments, are companies required to purchase carbon offsets?
CD: Yes. Whatever they are unable to reduce they must purchase carbon offsets.
There are a lot of consumer-facing certifications out there, including sustainability certifications. What’s your strategy to help consumers recognize Climate Neutral?
CD: Our certification isn’t tied to any specific industry. The USDA Organic label is usually tied to food; the Energy Star label is only tied to electronics and appliances. Our label can be used across industries. We’ve been putting in a lot of time and energy to make sure it’s aligned with good marketing and branding practices. From a design standpoint, the logo can be easily readable from a distance, making products stand out on the shelf.
We’re also trying to spread the word that purchasing products with Climate Neutral is a way consumers can make a difference. We’re not trying to increase the specific amount of products they buy. But we want them to go into a store or service provider, see our label, and know which company is focused on this issue. This will help educate and empower consumers to make smart purchases. Consumers are beginning to care more about climate change than they were in the past.
Climate Neutral helps consumers call on brands to make action against climate change.
If a brand wants to get involved, what should they do?
CD: If any brand is interested in learning more, they should definitely hop on our website at climateneutral.org. And from there they can learn more about the process, and also fill out a form to contact us to get the ball for certification rolling.
Consumers are starting to understand the power they have to fix the climate change problem instead of adding to it. With government inaction on this issue, brands are starting to take notice. Businesses and consumers are stepping up to the plate.