What It Means to Be Carbon Neutral

March 30, 2020

There’s no shortage of apocalyptic books, movies, and video games that imagine the end of humanity, involving everything from flesh-eating microbes to militant alien invasions. And yet, the biggest threat to life on earth is anything but fantastical. According to a recent Science Magazine article written by a group of top climate scientists from around the world, immediate and significant action is necessary to curb emissions and stem global climate change in order to prevent actual doomsday scenarios from plaguing the next generation.

But for many of us, it’s not a lack of awareness that prevents us from taking action, but rather a feeling of helplessness in the face of such an enormous problem. It’s a feeling Andreas Slettvoll knows well, and was determined to address when he cofounded CHOOOSE. The company makes it easy for businesses and individuals to offset carbon emissions by funding projects that remove harmful carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

CHOOOSE is a platform that enables everyone to act.

Individuals can sign up for monthly subscriptions that pledge a fixed amount toward supporting global carbon reduction projects, and companies can purchase carbon offsets to neutralize emissions caused by typical business activities. In an upcoming article, we’ll detail how Thrive Market became carbon neutral with help from CHOOOSE, but first, we asked Slettvoll to explain how understanding and managing our carbon footprints—and encouraging businesses to do the same—is the best way to bring us closer to a climate-positive future.

First, some basics. What’s a carbon footprint?

A carbon footprint is the total amount of carbon dioxide produced directly or indirectly by a specific activity, such as driving a car to work every day or having a product shipped to you. Carbon footprints are usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide, or CO2. As human beings, we leave an unavoidable carbon footprint, simply by existing on planet Earth, but there are choices we can make to help minimize and even offset our footprint.

What’s carbon offsetting?

After understanding and reducing your carbon footprint where you can, offsetting is an effective way to mitigate emissions globally. An offset funds the reduction of CO2 somewhere else on the planet to compensate for a given carbon footprint. The best offset projects also drive new technology and development in the regions where they operate, so there are multiple layers of value created.

So, Plan A is to always reduce emissions to the extent possible within the constraints of current technology, and Plan B is to offset the emissions that are unavoidable. The overall goal is to work together and move towards a low-carbon, climate-friendly society.

What does it mean for a business to be carbon neutral?

Simply put, it means that the business has taken action to remove at least as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as the business puts into the atmosphere.

How do businesses analyze and manage their carbon footprints?

This varies a lot from business to business, based on the scope of the carbon footprint and the timeframe. Some parts of business are directly measurable while other parts are approximated. The simplest parts to measure are often energy use, transportation, and facilities. Other measurements, like manufacturing and supply chains, are dependent on the data that’s available. There are a variety of tools and indices which can help businesses to fill in the gaps.

At CHOOOSE, we connect businesses to CO2-reducing projects that are verified by the United Nations to help offset the carbon generated from their businesses. Our real goal, however, is to not be needed anymore! We’d love to have companies invest in sustainable business operations to the point that they don’t have a carbon footprint in need of offsetting.

For the businesses pushing it the furthest, like Thrive Market, you can also analyze the historic footprint of business activities. In fact, Thrive Market is the first company we’ve worked with to go back in time and offset all of its emissions since it began operating.

Addressing the emissions that have already occurred is, and will continue to be, one of the most important jobs in addressing climate change.

And individuals?

It’s pretty much the same process that businesses go through. Basically everything we do or consume has a carbon footprint. What we eat, how we move, what we buy, what we wear—even our digital habits. All of this is within our own control sphere. However, even good decisions come with a footprint, and going completely carbon neutralis next to impossible in the modern world. That’s where CHOOOSE comes in, letting you address the remaining footprint after you’ve reduced it as much as possible.

Why is it important for every business and individual to take steps to minimize their carbon footprints?

An avoided emission is always the best—so the less carbon we put into the atmosphere, the better. And to be honest, it’s also good for business. The low-emission alternatives to business-as-usual are usually just as good and cheaper—so maybe your company’s Chief Financial Officer might end up being one of the biggest proponents of sustainability.

The interesting thing about carbon offsetting is that it effectively puts a price on carbon and forces companies pay for the pollution they’re creating.

What are some common misconceptions about carbon offsetting and carbon neutrality?

Many people believe that businesses and people use carbon offsetting as a get-out-of-jail-free-card—and some actually might. We believe offsetting in a vacuum or as an alternative to changing the business-as-normal is pretty dull. The interesting thing about carbon offsetting is that it effectively puts a price on carbon and forces companies pay for the pollution they’re creating. Doing so creates financial incentives for reducing emissions, making it easier to make the bigger changes that are needed to stabilize climate change.

Tell us about CHOOOSE. How did it start and what’s it’s main objective?

It started in Norway one late evening when my friends and I were talking about climate change. Everyone talks about climate change, but very few act on it. We wanted to make it delightfully simple for everyone to address their climate footprint. So we did. And we wanted it to be in a way that appealed to normal people like ourselves. One that does not prescribe how to live your life, but that provides solutions and inspiring messaging. CHOOOSE is a platform that enables everyone to act. We are not a political or activist organization. We simply think a climate-friendly society is good for everyone.

For individuals interested in minimizing their carbon footprints, what first steps do you recommend?

Start with something that engages you! Without personal engagement it’s difficult to do anything. There are a lot of great mini-guides out there, like the United Nations’ Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World. Also, try to make it fun. Instead of feeling like you’re sacrificing something by starting Meatless Mondays, re-brand it to something you’ll look forward to, like Pancake Monday. It’s still meat-free, but a lot more tempting!

What has a bigger impact: carbon offsets or minimizing current carbon footprints?

Always minimize first, but use CHOOOSE for the remaining and unavoidable footprint.

Is it enough for individuals to focus on their own footprints or is larger action needed?

A combination is necessary. It’s kind of hard to engage others if you’re not doing anything yourself. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something—and that something can be quite substantial at scale.

CHOOOSE offers monthly subscriptions to help reduce air pollution. Tell us more about this program and its impact.

By now, we’ve learned that the choices we make do affect the size of our footprint, and many of us already make an effort to reduce our emissions where possible. But as human beings, we leave an unavoidable carbon footprint simply by existing on planet Earth.

By signing up with CHOOOSE you start a monthly subscription of instant, ongoing climate action. You pick your plan and choose how to balance your CO2 footprint. Your support goes directly to carefully curated CO2-reducing projects every month. CHOOOSE has a growing community of subscribers from 70+ countries. We designed this program specifically for those who acknowledge today’s climate crisis and want to do more than what’s possible inside their own range of control.

Photo from CHOOOSE

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Melinda Gross

Melinda writes about health, wellness, and food for the Thrive Market blog. She started her career as a financial journalist in NYC and has written for Where Magazine, Worth, Forbes, and TheStreet.com. When she's not reading or writing, she enjoys working out, sketching, and playing with her daughter and mini-dachshund, Goliath.

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