Carbon offsetting & the road to carbon neutrality?
The term carbon footprint describes the total amount of Greenhouse gas (GHG) produced directly or indirectly by an event, entity or a product. For products such as a cotton t-shirt, it includes GHGs produced during manufacturing, transportation, the use of the product and also the end of life. The term was heavily promoted in the early 2000s by British Petroleum (BP) in an effort to divert the attention of environmental impact from the oil industry to individual consumers on their own personal impact on the planet due to their consumption. Carbon footprint has since become an integral part of environmental conversations and ubiquitous in the media and has been heavily associated with global warming.
Because our carbon footprint has an accumulative effect on global warming, there has been a recent movement and focus on so called "carbon neutrality" to help save the planet from overheating. Simply put, carbon neutrality is to achieve "net zero" carbon dioxide and other GHGs emission. The emphasis of net zero is important as it's not about zero emission, but rather, it's about balancing the emissions with methods called carbon offsetting, which is a way to reduce one's net emission by purchasing carbon credits or by investing in green energy or planting trees etc. On the global and national level, the Paris agreement in 2015 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change saw over 100 countries all pledging to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and on the business level, companies such as Apple have pledged to go carbon neutral by 2030 and Microsoft have even announced to go carbon negative by 2030. There's even an organisation set up to verify carbon neutral brands (climateneutral.org).
'There's a concern about the pure focus on the numbers game and "net neutrality" rather than reducing the gross emission itself'
This all sounds great but is it really solving the problem or just another PR game? Don't take us wrong, planting trees and investing in green energy is definitely important to preserve the planet for future generations and it is good that there's a consensus on something needs to be done about GHGs and climate change. However, there's a concern about the pure focus on the numbers game and "net neutrality" rather than reducing the gross emission itself. The biggest problem we see is that because one's carbon emission can be reduced by carbon offsets, it could be diverting our attention from the real problems of cutting gross emission and innovations to make products and processes more energy efficient. In many cases, it can be a danger for brands to turn to tree-planting and spending money to buy carbon credits as an convenient solution to combating over-production/ consumption and carbon emission.
We don't want to take the moral high ground in saying that carbon neutrality and carbon offsets is just a PR game, but industries should step back and look at the bigger picture and evaluate their current business model and seek to improve current service/manufacturing processes rather than focusing on just one number : Carbon neutrality.
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