By Editor Morten B. Reitoft
A few days ago, I saw a press release from a company - and usually, I never pay attention to press releases, but this caught my attention, as the headline was 'X Products to be Carbon Neutral by the end of 2022.'
The claim is interesting and follows other vendors' claims, but statements like this often raise more questions than answers. This article is not specifically about the company, which is why I call it 'X,' and could have been about any vendor claiming to produce carbon-neutral products.
So what is the problem? Users want to believe that vendors are genuine about their statements - and, of course, vendors most likely have honest considerations in their sustainability journey. In the headline, X writes that X products will be Carbon Neutral by the end of 2022. That in itself is great. There are, however, two problems that need to be addressed. When X addresses that their products will be carbon-neutral, can they really separate their products from the entire company?
And is carbon-neutral a goal of today, or should the objective be sustainable - adding more objectives to becoming a greener company?
Or, more importantly, can a company produce a sustainable product without considering the entire company, the product, and the end-of-life for the products a company develops?
Example: Can you produce an oil rig that is carbon-neutral?
Most people would probably say that it's impossible not to consider the entire life cycle, and you can even think about whether it's possible to warrant anything? What about the whole supply chain?
A printing machine consists of hundreds if not thousands of components, so can you at all warrant a product without having every part-supplier doing the same? And then they need to warrant their entire supply chain! And who is policing this? Suppose a large company claims to be carbon-neutral. In that case, it is complicated to check the statement, and by offsetting CO2, you have to be confident that an independent party controls the company you work with. Do they have projects that deliver what they promise? The 'green' industry has grown into an entirely new industry with hundreds of companies selling projects to offset carbon - some more creative than others - but that we will look into during the following months! X writes in their press release that they partnered with climate specialist Forliance, but that is, as mentioned, only one of several companies offering this type of service. The carbon offset industry often refers to the 'Gold Standard,' a 'standard' defined as 'best practices' by WWF and several NGOs. We will also look into the Gold Standard in the coming months.
Finally, we will look into a company called 'ControlUnion Certifications,' an organization that certifies the agricultural industry today and police some of the projects mentioned by numerous companies. Where does this leave Two Sides, PEFC, the EU Flower, Nordic Swan, FSC, and the types of the environmental program we use in the printing industry today?
But back to how companies get their companies and products carbon-neutral. If you measure all the energy, CO2e (CO2e is short for carbon dioxide equivalents), waste, resources, etc., you, of course, get an overview of your impact. To become carbon-neutral, you identify your carbon footprint and the reductions and measures you can't achieve by using green energy, minimizing emissions, etc., you offset by buying CO2 quotes.
The Kyoto Protocol was agreed upon in 1997, which started the quota system, enabling CO2 quota trading.
The English-speaking German media, DW Documentary, covers this in-depth. In many films, DW questions the sellers of CO2 quotas - or more precisely, the projects and the associated prices. I will link to a few of the most exciting documentaries.
From all perspectives, it's good to minimize the environmental impact you and your company have. Some companies go the extra mile and decide not only to reduce environmental impact but to implement a circular economy. We did this film before the pandemic with Kasper Larsen from KLS Pureprint, who has become one of only two Pure Print printing companies in the world where everything has been reviewed!
The issue with carbon offsetting is a couple of things. If your carbon footprint measures aren't accurate, you will not be able to know what to compensate for. Suppose the quotas you buy aren't real or produce projects that reduce carbon emissions. In that case, you end up in a situation where you, so to speak, purchase hot air - and what happens if a customer, despite your good intentions, finds that you are not compensating at all?
Let's take an example of how difficult this is:
A plane burns fuel and emits CO2. The plane emits almost the same CO2 whether the plane is full or empty. You can easily understand that compensating for YOUR carbon footprint is the total divided by the number of seats! Second issue. If you fly from Paris to NYC - the distance is not always constant as the routes changes, but the fuel burn also depends on weather conditions. Third issue. The fuel burn is VERY different from airplane to airplane. A new Airbus A350 emits considerably less than an old Airbus A340. These are simplified examples, but below, you can understand why this is something to consider!
When it comes to compensation, it becomes even less transparent. The following examples are one way, economy class Paris (CDG) to New York (JFK):
MyClimate CO2 amount: 946kg. Price ranges from €24 to €81 (depending on the project).
Atmosfair CO2 amount: ranges from 1,071kg to 1,342kg depending on various airliners, and the last is an average of numerous airliners. The price is €31
ICAO is the official United Nations (UN) CO2 calculation tool for flights. Here you can calculate CO2, but you can't buy. For the CDG to JFK trip, the CO2 amount is 330kg. The differences in the calculations and the services offered are vast, and so is the compensation price.
The bigger question is how the above companies/organizations use the money to offset their carbon footprint. ICAO offers an API so that the calculation service can be integrated into whatever website - and from here, you can, with 'green' consciousness, calculate and sell reasonable, actual CO2 quota. Still, as you can see, the calculations are different, and the compensation prices are different, so don't fool yourself into believing that compensating your business will be any easier!
For the organizations offering various projects, you now must judge whether these projects in any way compensate for your emissions - and maybe interestingly enough, how much of your money goes to sales, marketing, administration, and actual projects.
The earlier mentioned DW has made a film where the claim is that pretty much anything less than €50 per tonne is impossible. That means that any in our industry who claims to compensate for CO2 needs to pay min. €50 per calculated tonne, and even when using companies selling various projects, some scientific evidence should be required.
Some of the projects that the CO2 selling companies offer are so fantastic that these may be hoaxes. Some seem good, but when researching, it appears that the projects are sold through more companies - which can be legit and OK, but it could also not be?
We will, as also promised, investigate both the sellers and the buyers and let you know our findings. My son asked me a great question today. He said, if the companies are progressing in the right direction, isn't that good enough? It is. The point is that so many companies are offering services to companies that some may not be as green as all hope. The second and more critical issue is that the IPCC reports are frightening reading, as the global CO2 emissions since the early '90s have continued its almost sky-rocketing growth, so greenwashing - if this is - is using the green agenda to sell more. Not exactly what we need if not right!