In just a century, we’ve shifted from living on a sustainable planet towards one that could cause half of the world’s population to move from their homes. Most of our current technologies and fossil fuel sources are melting icebergs and making species go extinct. This means “business as usual” has to change.
Who’s going to change it? We need business leaders who can take this knowledge and help restore the resources we share for the future. History will favor the businesses that take the initiative today–not tomorrow, not in a few years. But what does initiative look like in a world stressed by climate change?
One solution is turning your carbon emissions graph upside down and creating a climate positive business model.
CO2 may be hard to measure, and the overall impacts of climate change are complex, but the underlying math is quite simple. The more CO2 we emit above what the earth can absorb, the hotter the earth’s average temperature. We need to reduce that trend.
The only way to do this is to stop emissions, and remove existing emissions from the atmosphere. In practice, this is quite difficult. We currently release over 36 billion metric tons of CO2 each year.
Is it impossible? Not at all.
This is why the business movement to become climate positive is important. It not only shows what’s possible, it addresses the realities of our climate dilemma.
You’ve probably heard of the phrases “net zero,” “carbon neutral,” and now we’re about to add another to the list: “climate positive.” All of these labels relate to the total climate impact a business or entity has with their operations.
These terms reflect how much CO2 emissions we remove compared to the amount we create.
While most businesses are racing to “zero,” others are looking at their carbon emissions graph as an opportunity to reach zero and continue the downward trend. That’s what happens when your company produces “negative emissions,” which is a very “positive” thing to do.
By taking out more emissions than you put into the atmosphere, you can actually create a positive climate impact. That’s why “carbon negative = climate positive.”
But how is this done?
It’s important to define the climate positive entity. This can be a corporation, individual, product, service, or city. Of course, all business activities are associated with CO2 emissions of some kind. To remove more emissions than an entity produces, there are two main strategies.
Offsets: First, you can offset the carbon emissions by using forests, soils, or oceans as a natural carbon sink. In the future, carbon capture technologies may catch up with the scale of emissions. With offsets, there are several principles for buying or creating high-quality offsets.
They should be “additional” to the existing sinks in the world, permanent (lasting over a century), and it should cause no “leakage” by motivating actions that would remove carbon, such as shifting deforestation to another area.
Avoided emissions: The second strategy used by carbon positive businesses is to design products or services to help other people eliminate their carbon emissions. For instance, Greenly helps companies identify and implement strategies to reduce their carbon emissions.
Renewable energy technologies, electric vehicles, companies helping suppliers reduce emissions, and designing items for long-term reuse all reduce the need for people to depend on carbon emitting processes, too.
Calculating climate positivity is not a simple matter, which is why Greenly has created a streamlined platform for carbon emissions measurement and reduction.
Carbon neutrality occurs when a business balances its total emissions by reducing enough CO2 using carbon sinks to get to a “net zero” level of carbon emissions. Climate positive businesses go one step further by eliminating more CO2 from the atmosphere than they emit.
Businesses usually start the path to carbon neutral or climate positive operations by assessing their total carbon footprint.
Businesses calculate their emissions according to different scopes defined by the GHG Protocol: Scope 1 (operations emissions), Scope 2 (emissions from energy used for operations), and Scope 3 (total value chain emissions including upstream supply chain and downstream consumer emissions).
Then businesses identify the main opportunities for eliminating CO2 emissions from their operations to the bare minimum. CO2 emissions reduction is the main underlying principle for “Net Zero” and “Climate Positive” business models.
This can happen by making energy efficiency improvements, changing electricity sources to renewables, retrofitting the heating in buildings, and switching vehicle fleets to electric vehicles. Even then, some of today’s processes such as manufacturing don’t have effective low-carbon alternatives.
Finally, they can choose strategies to remove the excess CO2 they have emitted. This is where carbon offsetting comes in. Carbon offsets can be bought from trusted vendors, or programs can be implemented directly from a company.
In the context of global carbon emissions, carbon neutrality is not enough to mitigate the impacts of climate change. In order to reduce the impacts of climate change, the entire world needs to become carbon neutral, not just one business. Even then, we’ll need to address historical emissions.
Climate positive businesses strategically remove and avoid excess emissions. They apply these principles not only to their own activities, but across their entire sphere of influence. In other words, climate positive businesses support other people’s transition to a low-carbon economic model, too.
Here are some ways they do this:
Value chain emissions: When you consider the full impact a business entity has on the world, it extends far beyond its immediate operations. Suppliers, customers, logistics companies, and professional services all engage with a business to support its operations.
Supporting the carbon emissions reductions for each of these nodes of influence extends the climate impact of a business far beyond the confines of its immediate operations.
Circular design: High amounts of CO2 emissions are created when products are manufactured. Circular design looks at the full life-span of a product to minimize its resource footprint from production to disposal.
Then product designers can make adjustments to design for easy repairs, longevity, reuse, and recyclability. This can help reduce emissions from waste and landfilling processes as well as by reducing overproduction.
To make this profitable, some products can even be sold as a service (like car rental) rather than an individually owned item.
Branding and marketing for awareness: Companies have a strong influence over the ways people use and engage with their products and services. Climate positive businesses can promote the transition to a low carbon economy from their product labeling to their lobbying.
Climate positive business has many benefits. As an early adopter, your business will immediately stand out as a leader.
In 2015, Marc Carney, former Governer of the Bank of England, gave a famous speech in which he pointed to the “tragedy of the horizon.” He cautioned against the short-termism of today’s business planning cycles which extend roughly 2-3 years into the future.
Climate change demands we extend our models to address a much broader time scale, to ensure a more stable financial and political future.
One reason is that climate change comes with hefty costs. Carney’s speech noted that weather-related costs have tripled and we’ve seen an increase from $10 billion to $50 billion in inflation-adjusted insurance losses since the 1980s.
The most recent UN climate report states that the cost of inaction will be much higher than the cost of action. We have a very short window of time to act. Businesses should take a practical approach to climate science and phase out their emissions as fast as possible.
Climate positive business is smart business. Designing systems that use the most efficient, user-friendly, and inexpensive opportunities creates better products and services. Optimizing the resources, energy use, and processes are all part of an intelligent approach to business.
For example, fuel and gas prices have proven to be volatile and unpredictable. They also have environmental and health costs.
In contrast, renewables are now cheaper and offer unique versatility thanks to microgrids and battery storage. They can offer back-up supplies while earning extra income by supplying power to the grid.
The important thing to remember is that businesses have been retooled and disrupted throughout history. Some of the systems that seem natural to us today–such as the internet–didn’t even exist in its current form fifty years ago.
Future businesses will learn from the past and innovate new ways to conduct business. Climate positive businesses are trailblazers leading the way.
When business leaders lean in to the positive impacts of reducing emissions beyond today’s levels, they start to create a positive feedback loop.
The UN IPCC tells us that these existing CO2 emissions are expected to continue to cause impacts well into the end of the century. For example, sea ice melting and sea level rise are permanent impacts which we will have to face.
However, climate action isn’t just positive because it prevents further harm. Polluting CO2 emissions represent a major drag on the economy. Climate change causes drought, food insecurity, and spreads disease. Our global stability is at stake.
As we start to remove some of these negative domino effects, the momentum of positive impacts will become more and more noticable. This value will offer rewards to businesses taking climate action. They can attract better talent, loyal customers, investors, and a supportive community.
The world needs more proactive leaders who can go above and beyond the bare minimum requirements to achieve net zero, or even worse–sticking with a business-as-usual model.
Becoming climate positive starts with corporate leadership and creates a ripple effect outward.
Here are some key steps to the process.
Launching your climate positive strategy starts with delegating or hiring a Chief Sustainability Officer who is capable of managing sustainability within your organization. Your CSO will need key contacts across the organization, as sustainability should be an integral part of your operations, rather than a separate branch of activity.
A carbon assessment requires choosing a measurement approach (absolute versus relative emissions), defining your carbon assessment scope (Scope 1, 2, and/or 3 emissions), and gathering the data to estimate annual emissions.
To make sustainability become your business reality, get help. To become climate positive, you’ll want to use the support of digital tools and companies that can help you every step of the way.
Partnerships can help you improve your overall strategy by putting you in touch with sustainability experts, the latest offsetting resources, a stronger partner network, and more cost effective approaches. Don’t expect to build up your own knowledge base from the beginning.
Allow the sustainability principles of transparency and strong governance to guide your selection of partnerships.
As renewable energy sources become more plentiful to access and cheaper to invest in, it’s important to move your operations off of fossil fuels.
Starting with energy efficiency improvements and moving towards technological replacements over time will significantly reduce your carbon footprint, so you’ll have less to offset.
Your office space is an essential piece of the puzzle which sends a message to your employees, too. Ensure your building is optimized with energy efficiency improvements, an efficient use of resources, and is built for longevity.
It’s important to invite others to support the company’s vision for climate positivity by sharing the news. Engaging events, newsletters, press releases, and community forums can all allow your employees and community to get involved.
The key principle is to involve others in this purpose. The people in your network should feel some sense of ownership for this effort. Invite them into aspects of the planning process, and crowdsource some of your ideas.
The more that people talk openly about the problem of climate change and its solutions, the faster we can shift towards a cleaner, safer future.
Greenly is the perfect partner for launching a climate positive business initiative. We supply you with the data you need. We make carbon assessments easy and practical to complete. This gives businesses clarity on the actions they’ll need to prioritize to draw down their CO2 emissions. Request a demo today.