What does it mean to be a “carbon neutral” brand?

It’s becoming more common for brands to describe themselves as “carbon neutral”. What does it actually mean?

Sarah Drumm
Editor
Covalent's products feature a unique "carbon dates" which can be used to trace their production
BRAND ROUNDUP

An increasing number of brands are now describing themselves as carbon neutral. The term is popping up in reference to everything from sunglasses to nail polish, and there are now well over a dozen brands in the Thingtesting directory that explicitly say they are minimizing their carbon footprint in some way. Even getting food delivered can be done without adding extra emissions to the atmosphere in some parts of the world.

A product’s carbon footprint – that is, the amount of CO2 that’s emitted during the process of making it, selling it and shipping it out to customers – is often quantified in grams, and it’s an easy metric for customers to digest.

“[It’s] a tangible way to compare products when making a purchasing decision,” Linda Kelly, vice president of partnerships at Carbonfund.org says.

Knowing what this number is also allows brands to “neutralize” their carbon footprints – either through offsetting or reducing their carbon emissions – thus becoming carbon neutral.

Some brands have taken this idea a step further by claiming that they are “carbon negative”. This term means that unlike carbon neutral brands, which typically focus on bringing their overall carbon footprints to zero, carbon negative brands actually try to remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than they emit. Examples of carbon negative brands include Sheep – which reduces its footprint where it can, and then purchases ten times the amount of offsetting credits to more than neutralize the remainder – and Newlight, the maker of AirCarbon.

To showcase AirCarbon’s carbon-negative qualities and its potential to replace leather and plastics, Newlight has gone on to launch two sub-brands: Covalent (a sunglasses and accessories brand) and Restore (which makes reusable foodware for catering companies).

“There’s a broad recognition that climate change is one of the most important issues we face today, and people want to be part of the solution,” Newlight’s co-founder Mark Herrema says. “But carbon neutral is not enough; to solve this problem in the timescale that we have available to us, we need to go further.”

What can shoppers look out for?

Brands that make claims around carbon neutrality should be able to demonstrate that a third-party assessment has been carried out to determine what its overall carbon footprint is. Its offsetting efforts should also be certified by a third party such as the Carbon Trust or Carbonfund.org.

While a lot of brands communicate their carbon footprint calculations and the companies they are working with to offset it, fewer provide clear details on how (or if) they are attempting to reduce their carbon footprint in the first place.

Both parts of this equation are important. While offsetting is better than doing nothing, it has been criticized as letting companies or people “have their cake and eat it too”, as it lets them carry on with CO2 guzzling operations today, while the offsetting projects they sponsor (such as tree planting schemes) may take decades to actually remove those emissions.

“Consumers should understand that a brand describing itself as carbon neutral has assessed the estimated annual carbon emissions associated with all aspects of its operations, then has reduced and neutralized those emissions,” Kelly explains. “A brand that promotes a specific product as carbon neutral should be able to show the product’s ‘cradle-to-grave’ carbon footprint based on a Life Cycle Assessment of that product.”

17 brands that describe themselves as carbon neutral

Restore

Regenerative foodware made from AirCarbon® that works for people and the planet.

COAT

Paint, just better. Simple high-grade products, curated colours, and fast free delivery. Consciously made, hand-finished and Carbon Neutral.

Covalent

Regenerative, carbon-negative fashion. Made with AirCarbon®.

Magic Mind

A productivity drink designed for long-term improvement in cognition stress and energy.

ROOM

Sustainably designed soundproof phone booths and modular meeting rooms for the new workplace.

Everybody & Everyone

We use material science & smart design to maximize the life of clothes & minimize our impact on the planet. Size-inclusive, eco-innovative.

Plant People

Plant people is unlocking centuries of botanical and mushroom intelligence with cutting edge technology, science and research.

Baloo Living

Baloo Living offers the only quilted weighted blanket made with 100% cotton—free from polyester & synthetic liners—for cool, natural sleep.

Mango People

Multifunctional makeup products formulated with organic botanical oils, Ayurvedic herbs and fruit pigments. Vegan | Cruelty Free

Atoms

The most thoughtfully designed everyday sneakers? Atoms makes comfortable, sustainable sneakers.

JIGGY

Puzzles worth framing. JIGGY is refreshing the humble jigsaw by partnering with emerging female artists to create puzzles you can frame.

Seemore Meats & Veggies

Seemore Meats & Veggies is a women-owned-and-led meat company that makes sausages with humanely-raised meat and up to 35% fresh vegetables.

Our Place

Do-it-all kitchen essentials to simplify home-cooking. The best-selling Always Pan is designed to replace 8 traditional pieces of cookware.

Kester Black

Nailing sustainability? Kester Black craft cruelty free, 10-free, vegan nail polishes that are New Zealand designed and EU made.

Rosaluna

An all-natural, handmade agave spirit distilled in the rolling hills of Santiago, Matatlán—the heartland of Mezcal in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Prima

Prima is an award-winning whole body care brand making skincare, bodycare and supplements with CBD and clinically-validated botanicals.

What is Thingtesting?

Thingtesting is a database of internet-born brands. We’re building the un-sponsored corner of the internet where consumers can come together to talk honestly about new things. Read more about Thingtesting here.

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