The term 'Carbon Neutral' may be all the rage, observes Amy Sims, but firms should avoid taking it at face value
The rush is on to become the first 'carbon neutral' business in each sector. It's not just corporations that are seeking this stamp – a cabaret, surf shop and even an airline have all proclaimed themselves the first in their field to go carbon neutral.
Being 'first' in anything is obviously desirable because it courts the press, no matter how niche you are. This summer several media outlets devoted column inches to the 'first carbon neutral burlesque cabaret in London'.
But how on earth could a business, whether its employees wear tassels, ties or trunks, be carbon neutral? Surely even if they are making efforts within to reduce their carbon footprint there will inevitably be emissions remaining. The simple answer is they pay someone to take care of it elsewhere through a concept fraught with dubious services and questionable results: carbon offsetting. When you offset you pay a service provider to reduce carbon emissions elsewhere, equivalent to the emissions you are emitting.
Silverjet reaped plenty of publicity when the company announced that it was 'the first carbon neutral airline worldwide'. The airline's ticket price includes a mandatory carbon offset contribution which is invested by their 'climate consultancy partner' in projects such as subsidising the cost of energy efficient light bulbs in Jamaica and landfill gas capture in Ecuador.
Loose Fit Surf Shop in North Devon considers itself the world's first 'Carbon Zero' surf shop. The shop plants a tree for every surfboard that they sell. The trees that have so far been planted will result in over 200 tones of carbon dioxide being absorbed, gaining Loose-Fit the 'Carbon Zero' status.
Being publicised as a caring, green and conscientious business is valuable in a market where consumers increasingly respect these traits.
The carbon neutral status is so desirable now because climate change has become a mainstream consumer issue. In a recent consumer survey 66 percent of respondents in the US and UK agreed that everyone needs to take responsibility for their personal contribution to global warming.
Consumers want more information from businesses about how they are addressing the climate impacts. Fifty percent of respondents in the UK would rather do business with companies that are working to reduce their contribution to global warming.
All of which makes the 'neutral' tag a valuable marketing tool. But ultimately, it's the small every day changes that add up to make the most difference. Employee behaviour change, whether it's a burlesque show illuminating dancers with energy efficient bulbs or a surf shop recycling its waste, are crucial in the fight against climate change.
If you are investing in a company because of its carbon neutral credentials take time to first scratch beneath the surface of the label. Find out what it has actually done in order to receive such a title, and who deemed them to be 'neutral' in the first place.
Unfortunately, most are simply paying another business to offset their emissions, instead of cleaning up their own act first. And some are even bestowing themselves with the 'neutral' title, much like a café rather dubiously proclaiming that it serves the 'World's Best Coffee'. Businesses should take responsibility for their day to day emissions and not rely on a project abroad to cover their carbon.
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