Being aware of the carbon release of the purchased products, an act of transparency towards consumers for an informed buying experience
The assurance of carbon footprint measurement
Every action within the life of products in different areas produces an amount of carbon footprint that is calculated over the life of the supply chain, including the disposal of the product. Reducing this quantity can only commence with its measurement, which has already been neglected for years by companies that have not implemented measures to offset its production. In 2006, explains Leonardo Boeri, European Business Development Executive at Carbon Trust, when the organization published work on consumption-led approaches to tackling climate change, became clear «there was no standardized way for businesses to calculate the footprint of their products and services, so they worked with the British Standards Institute and the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to develop the world’s first standard for measuring the carbon footprint of products and services». On the other hand, some brands like Allbirds were already calculating the carbon footprint of each of their products some time ago, says Hana Kajimura, the Sustainability Lead, at the individual product level by directly gathering information from suppliers and understanding the materials used, the type of transportation that takes place internally and externally; this information is needed to design and develop low-carbon products. The growing attention to climate change and its direct connection with carbon dioxide gas emissions have laid the groundwork for the development of methodologies aimed at decreasing the latter. Although regulations at the government level were related to goals to be achieved in the future, without dictating diminishing laws, some companies and organizations have evolved in this direction, with the support of verified certifications to aspire to.
Carbon labelling as food labelling
From the perspective of both brands and subsidiary organizations, communicating this type of information through traceable labels on products seemed logical considering the growing interest and awareness of consumers. Kajimura, drawing a parallel with nutrition labels on food, says that consumers should be able to choose a brand also on the basis of its emissions and commitment to reduce them, in the case of food labels everything was easier when their presence was regulated at government level. «Currently, there are no mandatory reporting protocols that require companies to disclose information about carbon impact of purchasing decisions; most of the initiatives that involve carbon labelling are voluntary», explains Boeri. These transparency initiatives with respect to the work of brands should go alongside sustainable communication initiatives so that their work can be verified. The Carbon Trust organization proposes a carbon footprint certification program to verify measurement by including the management and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The protocol used, Boeri says, establishes specific requirements and guidance for organizations seeking to measure and reduce emissions from their products. At this point, it becomes critical though to be able to communicate at a level generally understood by the consumer these audits performed. Labels help consumers identify the brands active in this area and their Carbon Trust certifications based on internationally recognized standards. This information is key at a time when greenwashing campaigns are on the rise to help consumers understand the meaning of the label and the commitment behind it.
Measurement and applications
Calculating carbon emissions has never been a norm for brands in a wide range of fields such as food, as stated by Carbon Trust, or in fashion with respect to Allbirds’ experience. Kajimura explains how in order to implement these measurements it is necessary to understand and know in detail the supply chain starting from the farmers who produce the raw fibers, which is not part of the traditional fashion model. The basic steps calculated by Carbon Trust are extraction and production of materials, transportation of raw materials, production (or service provision), distribution, product use, disposal/recycling. Boeri explains that commonly energy use, transportation fuel, and direct gas emissions such as refrigerant leaks from air conditioning units and waste are measured. At the material manufacturing level, it can be challenging to have traceability of the process, Allbirds approaches this issue in two different ways: having a contained supply chain helps the brand to be able to be aware of the work done at the different steps without needing special technology to track the process. The second approach is based on the possibility of being a brand that has an interest in developing the product starting from the raw material and identifying the farms to work with. Carbon Trust supports instead companies by investigating the carbon impact of the materials they source and then helping them find ways to reduce it. Engagement builds on companies’ work with their supply chain, «they can help factories invest in renewable energy and efficiency measures». In addition, internationally recognized standards are followed to obtain reliable measurement data.
Bottom up and top down approach to find a solution
«Customer choices can help shape a company’s product portfolio, the material used, supply chain, and broader operations. Customers can be one of many factors driving decarbonization in the private sector, along with policies, investments, cross-sector initiatives, and technology», states Boeri. In terms of corporate engagement Carbon Trust, which is particularly active in the food sector, has certified the carbon footprint of several of its products globally, although some choose not to share the results on the label. The organization helps companies reduce their carbon footprint in several ways: first, the most material areas, also known as hotspots, must be understood. At this point, companies can revise their processes toward a greater environmental focus. Boeri explains: «Offsetting carbon emissions can be achieved by purchasing ‘carbon offsets’. A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made to offset emissions from a company’s operations or value chain. Offsets are measured in tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)». The program does not provide those, but there are high-quality verifiable credits, those recognized by the certifications are Gold Standard, VCS, and UK Woodland Carbon Code credits for offsets. The strategy by the Allbirds brand highlights how it is possible to implement internally the decrease of the carbon footprint since a few years in fact it is carbon neutral. The strategy is divided into three parts: the first is to measure and label products, the second is to reduce the footprint as much as possible until it gets to zero emissions and then the third part is to offset the percentage of emissions. Working now and not with long term goals through these steps is the goal of the company, offsetting every year along the way of the company because the climate crisis is related to companies not taking responsibility, that’s why Allbirds aims to reduce first instead of paying for the damage. Kajimura affirms: «each of our products in 2030 will have a carbon footprint equivalent to one kilogram of CO2, while the standard now is fourteen kilograms».
Lampoon Reporting: carbon footprint transparency
Transparency on emissions data is becoming a key element within all companies, and labels are a way for consumers to learn about measurements in an objective and scientific way. This allows purchasing behaviors to be modulated and carbon footprint to be reduced. This consumer attitude was attested to by research commissioned by Carbon Trust to YouGov in 2020, two-thirds of consumers surveyed in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK and US are supportive of product carbon labels. At the governmental level, precise regulations and laws are lacking, but some initiatives have been proposed to promote labelling initiatives. «Thailand’s subsidized carbon reduction labelling scheme had one of the largest take-ups, while schemes in other countries, ranging from Japan to Switzerland to Brazil, have been moderately successful», states Boeri. Kajimura agrees that there is an absence of strong regulation in particular of carbon rates that are capable of offsetting emissions and the requirement to use labels, so that having to calculate a carbon footprint and having to report it can be made customary. Brands are now reacting to this situation on their own, often prompted by investors to request climate risk analysis to adjust strategy to meet this. Boeri also explains how this process is less burdensome for companies: there is more optimal information available that allows for carbon footprint assessment, and companies commercially use life cycle assessment by having quite accurate footprint results. Providing verified data is key to clear communication with those using the service or product, labels are a direct way to do this, but websites and forms of engaging communication could also form the basis of this transparent connection. Identifying the carbon footprint can have positive implications in lowering costs, although it would be worthwhile to introduce offsetting taxes at the legislative level. At the moment companies are allowed to cause damage to the environment by polluting without having to repair this at the price of making these damages weigh on the whole society.
It is an association founded in 2001 that collaborates with companies, organizations and governments in order to develop and promote sustainable plans for the future lowering the carbon impact. Accelerating this transition as climate change advances is their main goal, aiming for a more prosperous economy through resource efficiency used in line with environmental compliance.
Tim Brown founded Allbirds questioning the scarce use of a material as sustainable as it is performing as merino wool, absent in footwear production. Together with Joey Zwillinger, an engineer and renewables expert, they created a fabric specifically for these products and continue to experiment with the use of natural materials to this day.