If your business, company or organisation wishes to become carbon neutral to reduce their environmental impact and demonstrate a strong commitment to sustainability, this episode is for you.
I’m joined by Polly Hemming from Climate Active to discuss the steps business or organisations need to take to become certified carbon neutral and the associated costs and auditing requirements. This episode follows from episode 155 How to Offset Your Carbon Emissions with Louise Tarrier from Carbon Positive Australia which also discussed carbon neutrality, but for individuals and organisations not seeking certification. In contrast, this episode is for the businesses seeking carbon neutral certification.
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welcome to eco chat polly. how did you get into your current line of work ?
I studied marketing and advertising at uni straight out of school. And after I’d finished that I kind of had this sort of existential kind of mid 20s crisis where I felt like I didn’t know anything about the world. But here I was going to try and you know, sell stuff to people. So I never pursued that. I went back to uni to study art science, and then later on teaching.
And after that I went out bush and taught in remote indigenous communities as well as in academic publishing for a little publisher called Aboriginal Studies Press. Later on I went on to teach in immigration detention and also taught asylum seekers up in Darwin. And somehow after I finished doing that, I got a job doing science communication in the government organisation, Supervising Scientist.
That was sort of the first job I had that pulled in my knowledge of editing and publications as well as my marketing and communications skills and my understanding of broad science content. I really started to become quite passionate about translating, not only complex, but I think emotionally contentious issues for people. It was our role to provide assurance that we were doing really rigorous environmental monitoring and ensuring that there was no adverse effect on the environment or the traditional owners of the land where the mines were sets up.
I was based in Darwin and I just applied for this job, doing communications for what was then called the National Carbon Offset Standard. And that’s this programme that I’m working in now. The job was not only doing communications but also overseeing the rebranding which was somehow just this perfect storm of all the skills I’d culminated over those last 10 years. Not really knowing what I was doing, but kind of following my heart and my interests just turned out to be the perfect fit. !
Thanks for sharing your story. I’ve got so many friends that are working in the science communication space and many of them come from a communications or an arts background. They’ve got a real knack at distilling the complex into simple language and concepts that people can really relate to. I think sharing your story gives other people permission to take a sharp right hand turn and head into climate work as well.
I think its almost better if you’re not a scientist because you are not so wedded to the concepts. Scientists think that every single big of information is necessary to get out there but that’s not actually the case. People remember two or three really broad concepts and that’s what we need to focus on communicating.
I agree. And also just getting out to the regions and being with the People and Traditional Owners. I worked in a zinc mine in Northwest Queensland for four years as an environmental advisory and was involved with a lot of monitoring of the mine and its impact on its indigenous neighbours. At the end of the day we’re all the same aren’t we ? We all inhabit this earth and want to make it a better place.
What is carbon neutrality?
It’s a simple concept but in practice it’s a lot more complex.
If I was to give you a dictionary definition, you’d probably say that carbon neutrality is achieving a balance between the emissions generated by an activity with emissions removed by another activity. So overall, you have net zero emissions or a carbon neutral (although now we really mean all greenhouse gases).
While I say carbon neutrality, we’re really talking about climate neutrality, there’s some bodies that still very strictly separate the two, but you can kind of use the two terms interchangeably. So if you’re going to reach that state of carbon neutrality, again, like at a super high level, you reach it by measuring the emissions generated by an activity, such as running a business, reducing those emissions, and then offsetting or cancelling out those emissions with something called carbon offsets or carbon credits.
So in a practical sense, if someone were to make a business that were running carbon neutral, they’d measure all the emissions from every aspect of operating that business and develop a full carbon account, which is basically a list of all those emissions, then they look at all those sources of emissions – electricity, cars, stationery etc – and you reduce them where you can. Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to reduce emissions entirely. So you’re left with what we call residual or unavoidable emissions that you just can’t get rid of no matter what you do. To compensate for those residual emissions, you then purchase carbon credits or carbon offset units, and this gets you down to that state of carbon neutral.
Why is it in a business or organisations best interest to go carbon neutral?
I’m a bit of a purist. I think personally, we’re past the what are the benefits phase and we’ve kind of moved on to a look, this is not negotiable stage. Climate Action is just something you have to do but I also recognise that’s me being a bit evangelical and overly simplistic. Businesses are realising that carbon neutral is not only the right thing to do, but that it makes business sense. As soon as awareness of climate change started to come in the mainstream is, we’ve seen an explosion in carbon neutral certifications, I think it started to affect consumers buying behaviour, and also their expectations of brands and businesses. And that’s leading to a change in awareness and behaviour of investors, corporates and executives.
I could imagine that in some cases, the stakeholder pressure is growing faster than the regulatory pressure.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s a really good point. What we see play out with our membership (we’ve got almost 140 businesses certified with about 206 certifications between them) is that there’s a spectrum of reasons for being carbon neutral, depending on what your businesses and what sector you’re operating in.
Large ASX listed organisations might be motivated because they know that there’s a risk of shareholder action if climate action climate risk isn’t disclosed and acted upon. Whereas a winery might take action because their industry might already be dramatically affected by climate change and so they need to be part of the solution to protect their livelihood. There is also a little preschool in Albert Park that has been certified and they are doing it because they want to integrate climate action into the education of their kids.
We also know that consumers are more willing to purchase and are seeking out sustainable brands now. They’re expecting more from brands . So there’s money to be made from green consumers.
I think younger consumers can sniff out green washing straightaway, they’ve got a real eye for it. So there’s no pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes.
It’s the same with employees. I think employees expect to work for businesses that have a greater purpose. Employees want to feel connected to something, so if you want to attract the best talent and more importantly keep that talent, you need to show that you are an organisation that has purpose beyond just profit.
How does offsetting work ?
Just building on why would a business want to become certified, with Climate Active specifically, what really sets us apart from other certifications, or self declaring is the rigour that’s involved in our certification. If you’re using the Climate Active trademark, then you’ve got a valid and transparent and credible claim of carbon neutrality.
If you’re going to become certified carbon neutral with us, you’d set an emissions boundary. You’re basically drawing a line around what it is you want to make carbon neutral. But you don’t have to do it all at once. It’d be great if you could, but we recognise that it’s quite expensive. So you can call that aspects of your business that you want to make carbon neutral and then say maybe commit to expanding that in an emissions reduction strategy later on. Most people certified their business operations and they use the carbon neutral organisation stamp.
If you’ve decided what you want to make carbon neutral you need to look at your business, and basically draw up an inventory or a list of all the sources of emissions generated as a result of your business existing and operating. That’s the fuels you use to power your vehicles, the electricity used to power your office, your waste, freight, staff commuting, stationery, and once you’ve got that list, you can see where you can easily make reductions.
So you might be using heaps of electricity. Is there any way that you can reduce that? Could you switch to carbon neutral electricity, or buy green power? Even better? Could you install rooftop solar?
Can you cut down on flights in your business? Is there other behavioural practices that you can change? The idea here is that you get your emissions as low as possible. You can’t set a target to measure success against if you if you don’t have an idea of what your footprint is. And there’s a bit of a misconception that carbon neutrality is just about offsetting. So you check a few offsets at the problem, and you’re good. But really, offsetting should never be looked at out of context, or be seen as a solution in its own right, but it’s part of an integrated carbon management strategy.
Reduce as much as you can by changing all those things I’ve just mentioned. Then have a look at that list again and see what it’s looking like. You’re going to be left with a stubborn amount of emissions that you just can’t get rid of depending on what your business is and what your budget is. And so this is where the offsetting comes in.
You purchase the equivalent amount of carbon offsets to compensate for your unavoidable emissions. That’s when you can make a claim of carbon neutrality. To be certified, the process is a little bit different, because you need to show proof of your process and have that verified. So if you want to go beyond self declaring and be certified, you need to carry out all these steps again, but in a certain way. You need to follow a framework, we have the Climate Active Carbon Neutral Standard. You basically need to show that you’ve accounted for literally every bit of carbon coming and going into your business, or justify why you haven’t accounted for certain things. Then you need to submit all that documentation to an independent third party auditor, and have it all verified. When you’ve done all that, you put it all into a report, you send it to us, we check off on it. And then you have to publish that report so others can see that your claims are credible. So the steps sound quite simple. But you can see that there’s a lot to each step.
And you need to prove that you’re genuinely committed to reducing your emissions and how you’re doing that. And you also need to use certain types of offsets. So we have offsets, or integrity, integrity criteria, sorry for the offsets in our standard. And then you need to submit all that documentation to an independent third party auditor, and have it all verified. And then when you’ve done all that, you put it all into a report, you send it to us, we check off on it. And then you have to publish that report so others can see that your claims are credible. So the steps sound quite simple. But you can see that there’s a lot to each step.
Do you have any small or even home based business that go down that route ? Or are they just major corporations?
Our Standard is designed to be scalable. We do have those big organisations, such as telcos and energy companies, but we also have small businesses with a handful of people working for them. We’ve streamlined some of the processes for smaller organisations where you don’t necessarily need to get an environmental consultant in. But those small businesses are still required to get audited or checked by a third party. It is absolutely achievable if you are small business. I’m not sure about home businesses but it would certainly be worth looking at your carbon footprint as it would be quiet low and costs would probably be quite low to offset your emissions.
do many organisations have a true decarbonisation goal? is carbon neutrality without offsetting emissions possible?
I think everyone has a true decarbonisation goal. I don’t think anyone is secretly wanting to pollute. But I think the reality is getting to that state is really difficult and complex. It’s also highly dependent on specific business operating environments. It’s really easy to set a target, but it’s quite hard for businesses to map out that pathway.
I don’t think it’s possible to be carbon neutral without using offsets. You can certainly get very close depending on the sector you’re in and the nature of your business. But the technology just doesn’t exist, or doesn’t exist at scale yet. So there are some sectors that are really hard to decarbonise. So for example, we don’t have a no emissions aviation industry yet, or no emissions airline fuel. So if you’re running an airline, or your business is say, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, there’s no way you could reach carbon neutrality without offsetting.
And money is obviously a huge factor. So even if the technology did exist, it might not be achievable for business right now. So if some of your listeners have those small businesses that you mentioned, they’re not necessarily going to be able to afford a fleet of electric vehicles, even though the technology exists, it’s actually cheaper for them to offset until that technology becomes affordable. That said, I don’t think the fact that technology doesn’t exist is an excuse not to do anything. At the very least, what you should be doing right now is offsetting your emissions.
What is involved in carbon neutrality certification? What auditing requirements are there?
If someone was ready to be certified by us (Carbon Active) we would get you to submit your registration form to tell us what it is you are certifying, we would do a bit of due diligence and research, and we would assess whether what you want to certify is ambitious enough. We want to manage that risk of greenwashing.
Once we’ve approved your registration, we send you a copy of the Licence Agreement to sign (which has all our fees, terms and conditions, trademark use guidelines etc). You will also need to pay licence fees to Climate Active for us to maintain your certification and to allow you to use the trademark. You will probably also need to pay a registered consultant to help you prepare the paperwork and they will have their own fees.
If you are serious about going down this path, I would highly recommend using a sustainability consultant, unless of course you have in house expertise in carbon accounting. There are a list of registered consultants on our website that have completed training and are aware of the specifics of the Climate Action certification process.
Once you’ve completed all your reporting requirements, and had it audited by a third party, you would submit this to Climate Active team, make your payment, and you will receive a Notice of Certification and be able to use our Climate Active Certified organisational stamp on your marketing material!
As I mentioned, there is a cost involved in becoming carbon neutral, whether you go down the certified path or not. But you need to take a step back and look at the big picture and the impact your business is having on the environment and how you are helping by playing your part in offsetting those carbon emissions.
Where can our listeners go to learn more about climate active and get support on their carbon neutrality journey?
A great place to start is on our website www.climateactive.org.au where you will find a high level of information. There is everything you need to know about carbon neutrality and how you go about it along with a Directory of all our certified members and what they are certified for. You can use this Directory to find comparable businesses, whether thats in size or structure of product offering and also have a read of their public disclosure statements.
Finally, I think there’s nothing more powerful that talking to businesses who have already taken the journey. Our members are always more than happy to talk to businesses who are thinking about carbon neutrality. If you can’t track them down on our website, get in touch with the Carbon Active team and we will organise for someone to get in contact with you.
You can also have a chat to the consultants listed on our website. They’re all really enthusiastic about carbon neutrality and I think they will give you a pretty honest account of the process.
Where can our NON-AUSTRALIAN listeners go to GET SIMILAR SUPPORT?
There are heaps of organisations that offer some sort of carbon neutrality. But it’s really a tricky one because anyone can use the term carbon neutral. I would advise anyone outside Australia who is looking for an equivalent to Climate Active, to do their due diligence and make sure the organisations you are looking into are transparent about the methodology behind their processes and how rigorous their processes are.
Well there you have it! I hope you found this episode useful. For further information on Climate Active and the certification process for carbon neutral businesses and organisations in Australia, visit the Climate Active website climateactive.org.au and follow Climate Active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram.
If you’re growing an eco business and want support with the digital marketing AND sustainability aspects of your business, I encourage you to check out my Eco Business Collective. Eco Business Collective is where I combine my extensive environmental engineering and business experience to support a growing number of entrepreneurs to make their eco businesses more sustainable and more profitable. Members receive personalised coaching support from me and a network of connections to help them grow a thriving and profitable eco business online. Join now and enjoy a FREE 30-day trial and the opportunity to lock in special foundation member pricing.
Over to you!
Do you have any tips for reducing your carbon emissions? Share in the comments below!
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