What is Climate Positive Commerce?

Mitchel White
February 12, 2021

Climate positive commerce. It pretty much does what it says on the tin. Generally speaking, climate positive commerce describes commerce that has a positive effect on the environment. But let’s get technical: to qualify as climate positive, a product has to help remove more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than are released during its creation.

Confusingly, climate positive means the same thing as carbon negative – it describes an activity that goes beyond achieving net zero carbon emissions. It creates an environmental benefit that removes additional CO2 from the atmosphere.

Neutrality is Not Enough

You may have heard of the term ‘carbon neutral.’ For a company to achieve carbon neutrality, the carbon emissions that are generated during its production processes have to be offset by an equivalent amount of carbon savings elsewhere. These emissions will be counterbalanced by funding a carbon sink, often in the form of newly planted trees. However, here’s when we encounter the problem. Carbon neutrality is just not enough. Carbon neutrality works on a staggered basis: it creates a problem only to rectify it at a later time.  But what if there’s no time to rectify it later?

The recent years have seen record heat waves on four continents, wildfires in the Arctic Circles and fatal water shortages. Scientists are referring to a ‘sixth mass extinction’ of wildlife, birds, insects and marine life.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that the world’s carbon emissions have to fall by 45% by 2030 to keep the planet’s average temperature from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. If the world warms more than 1.5 degrees, scientists project that the planet’s ecosystems could begin to collapse. We would face extreme weather, rising sea levels and mass species extinction at an even more devastating scale. Many vulnerable and low-lying regions will become uninhabitable, creating a mass flow of climate refugees.

Beyond Forestation

According to the Committee of Climate Change, the UK will have to plant 1.5 billion trees if it is to meet its pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050. However, trees only reach their most productive stage of carbon sequestration at about 10 years after being planted (absorbing about 48 pounds of carbon per year). Even if 1.5 billion new trees were planted today, in 10 years time, the consequences of climate change will be too catastrophic to correct.

It’s apparent that the next 10 years are pivotal when it comes to slowing climate change. Balancing the scales is no longer sufficient. Now’s the time to tip them in the planet’s favour. Commerce needs a radical shake-up. It’s irresponsible to defer solutions to when it’s too late.

That’s why climate positive commerce is absolutely necessary. To be truly sustainable, companies can’t rely on a future fix. They need to foster an environmental benefit by optimising every area of their business practice for sustainability. This may mean moving away from fossil fuels. It means cutting transportation and allowing employees to work from home.

How to Create a Climate Positive Product?

In order to create a climate positive product, a manufacturing company will have to total up the greenhouse gas emissions it produces. This includes both those involved in its creation and its use. For example, a tech giant launching a new laptop model would have to account for the carbon produced in its manufacturing. They would also account for the carbon used in its delivery, and by the user who needs energy to power it.

Crucially, a climate positive company takes action to reduce carbon emissions, not just offset them. For instance, they would switch to renewable energy, or use sustainable packaging materials. To be counted as climate positive, a company needs to purchase more carbon credits than the CO2 it produces. Only then is the overall process is carbon negative.

What is a Carbon Sequestration?

However, it’s clear that we can’t achieve climate positive commerce without effective ways in which to offset carbon emissions. The process of removing carbon from the atmosphere is known as carbon sequestration. Once it’s stored, it is kept in a carbon sink. Natural carbon sinks include forests, vegetation and the ocean. For example, CO2 is naturally dissolved in the ocean and absorbed by plants during the process of photosynthesis. Although forestation is one option, there are further avenues that allow for the sequestration of carbon. It’s worth taking a look at some of the ways in which this is possible.

Enhanced Rock Weathering

A recent paper published in Nature Magazine spotlights enhanced rock weathering. This process takes advantage of the carbon storage ability of crushed rock dust, depositing it over agricultural soils. For example, when crushed basalt, or other silicate material is added to soil, it slowly dissolves with the carbon present to form carbonates. These carbonates either remain in the soil or slowly migrate towards the oceans. The authors argue that enhanced rock weathering would enable up to 2 billion tonnes of CO2 to be removed from the atmosphere each year.

Iron fertilization for Phytoplankton

This one’s a bit of a mouthful to say, so let’s start by looking at the plant itself. Phytoplankton are microscopic algae that float on the surface of the ocean. They absorb nutrients such as nitrates, phosphates, and fittingly – iron. Phytoplankton absorbs CO2 through photosynthesis and this process produces a staggering 50-85% of the oxygen in our atmosphere. Iron fertilization for phytoplankton attempts to facilitate this process. By adding amounts of iron to the ocean, industries can support phytoplankton populations.

Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS)

CCU2 is the process by which CO2 emissions are captured and permanently stored in geologic layers 4500 feet underground. As per 2020, 20 CCUS power generation projects are under development, with about US $20 billion invested in the industry.

Climate Positivity for Brands

IKEA is taking a multi-faceted approach to achieving climate positive commerce. Aiming to go climate positive by 2030, the company pledges to take action now, achieving sustainability without delayed offsets. Andreas Ahrens, the head of climate at IKEA Range and Supply states the following:

“We are confident that natural carbon storage in our products and positive effects of responsible land use, as well as enabling reductions outside of our own value chain will secure the remaining needed reductions (of carbon emissions).”

Of course, not all brands take this approach. To be climate positive, a multi-pronged strategy is required. For example, a climate positive clothing retailer will be committed to a circular fashion business model. They ensure garments are kept in use for as long as possible. They would guarantee that their materials are 100% recyclable and they would choose textiles that require less water to grow. Food manufacturers would rely on plant-based alternatives, which reduce the emissions from fertilisers and circumvent the methane produced by livestock.

Sustainability is an imperative for the companies of today – not just because the grave environmental situation demands ethical commerce, but due to consumer demand. That’s because value-driven customers are increasingly insisting that their products are beneficial to the planet and its people.

Value-Driven Consumers

The New Sustainability: Regeneration report finds that 89% of consumers are about protecting the planet, 92% claim to be trying to live more sustainably and 79% care about their impact on the environment. Research by NYU Stern’s Centre for Sustainable Business on U.S consumers revealed that 50% of growth in consumer packaged goods from 2013 to 2018 derived from sustainable products. Brands can no longer claim that there is low demand for sustainable products. In fact, according to a new study by IBM and the National Retail Federation, 70% of consumers think that it’s important that a brand is sustainable. Customers are now looking to their preferred brands to reflect their politics and to facilitate their efforts to shop in an environmentally-friendly manner.

Sustainability is an imperative for brands as value-driven consumers increasingly demand options that don’t harm the planet and its people. At Reward, we only work with ethical brands. We pride ourselves on our commitment to sustainable commerce, and work with companies who make climate positivity a reality. Climate change is no longer just an environmental issue – it’s a must for the future of business.

The failure to adopt environmentally-friendly practises is the failure to adapt to the changing tides of consumer behaviour. Climate positive commerce has to become the standard by which we operate.

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