The benefits of carbon-neutral goods, services or even organisations can be realised more easily and cost-effectively than many firms might imagine
Carbon neutrality can be an affordable and achievable objective of any company’s emission-reduction plan. So says Andrea Abrahams, global director of BP Target Neutral, a non-profit programme run by BP to help customers reduce their climate impact.
Alongside the clear environmental benefits, there is a strong business case for cutting your net carbon footprint to zero, she adds: “The time to get involved in meeting the climate challenge is now. The United Nations’ Paris agreement of 2015 sets out how we must permanently reduce global emissions – and companies need to investigate how to be part of the solution.”
“Firms aiming to become carbon neutral and/or develop carbon-neutral goods and services usually make efficiency savings in the process, while also boosting their reputations. What’s more, going carbon neutral doesn’t have to be daunting – it’s a pretty simple step to take.”
To achieve this status, a business must measure its total carbon footprint, commit to a reduction plan and then offset any residual emissions.
The offsetting process works on the principle that, for each tonne of greenhouse gas a firm emits, the equivalent emission can be averted or removed elsewhere by purchasing carbon credits issued by offsetting projects around the world, such as reforestation programmes or renewable-energy schemes.
First emerging after the Kyoto protocol on climate change was agreed in 1997, offsetting has had its critics. Some companies may remain sceptical about its effectiveness, but Abrahams believes that “it’s a tool that’s come of age. Offsetting is a well-managed and carefully monitored process with lots of safeguards, so people should feel assured that a carbon credit represents a genuine emission reduction.”
She continues: “Offset standards have also continued to improve. More and more people in the industry now know what ‘good’ looks like, while there is help from associations such as the not-for profit International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance, which has established a code of best practice.”
A holistic approach
Abrahams stresses that offsetting is “one of a number of tools that a company should use to achieve carbon neutrality. To permanently cut your firm’s emissions, it’s first vital to tackle all major sources across its operations.
“That might involve initiatives such as improving its energy efficiency and switching to a renewable supplier. Many firms will reach a point where they mistakenly think that they can’t take things any further until more effective or affordable technology becomes available – but they can, because offsetting is always available.”
What’s more, it’s affordable. The average offset cost across the BP Target Neutral portfolio this year is about £3 per tonne of CO2 equivalent, says Abrahams, who adds that investing in its projects can benefit local communities in many ways.
These include the creation of jobs, the reduction of poverty and ill-health, and the promotion of gender equality.
Last but not least, carbon-neutral status can serve as a powerful marketing tool, while the process of achieving it can drive down costs, according to Abrahams: “It’s a relatively affordable way to differentiate your company from its rivals. Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in low-carbon and carbon-neutral offerings, so this can boost the power of your brand,” she says.
“Working towards the long-term goal of carbon neutrality will, through an increase in energy efficiency and a reduction in waste, almost certainly take cost out of a business.”
Practical steps you can take
To get the most out of offsetting, there are simple rules to follow, advises Abrahams. These include:
- Ensure you use reputable providers (members of ICROA such as BP Target Neutral) so the carbon credits you buy are high quality.
- Use carbon credits that are validated, verified and registered under international standards such as Verra, Gold Standard, Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and others.
- Treat offsetting as an ‘and’ not an ‘or’ activity in your carbon management strategy.
- Consider integrating carbon offsetting into your company’s CSR programme, especially if your CSR projects aim to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 targets were set down in 2016 to eradicate poverty and protect the planet.
Offsetting projects can be selected that support one or more of the 17 SDGs so promoting those and your CSR goals in one go. (All BP Target Neutral projects are chosen for maximum impact on SDGs).
- Unlock the full value of an offsetting project beyond its carbon management benefits. Linking it in to your communications strategy will mean you have powerful stories to tell. This may also affect which type of project you select. For example, choosing a project in a location relevant to your customer base can allow you to report on the local support you are giving a sustainable scheme. Aligning offsetting schemes with your corporate strategy may also be helpful (a company that uses a lot of water may want to choose a project that has an impact on water, for example).