The science is crystal clear. Humanity has to stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. As of 2020, we are offsetting the emissions we generate, while still working hard to reduce the ones we can.
By funding energy efficient cooking stoves in rural Kenya, we are taking responsibility for the emissions we can’t prevent yet. It is an important part of A Day’s March taking direct climate action.
But first, let’s be clear. Carbon offsetting is not our suggestion of a long-term solution to the climate impact of our industry. We need to move rapidly towards a circular economy within the boundaries of our planet. But while we are on that journey, offsetting our emissions means we are taking responsibility for our carbon footprint right now.
"Research shows that companies that include offsetting as a part of their carbon management strategy typically spend ten times more on internal emissions reduction activities than the ones who don’t”
We have chosen to offset our emissions working with ZeroMission, one of Sweden’s most renowned agencies in this line of expertise, by funding a project providing energy efficient cooking stoves in rural Kenya. We asked Sustainability Specialist Sofia Bernett to sit down with Filip Dessle, Climate Strategist at ZeroMission and talk about carbon offsetting as a part of our overall ambition to reduce our impact on the planet.
Sofia Bernett: Hi Filip! First, explain carbon offsetting.
Filip Dessle: Well, in the most basic sense, carbon offsetting is a way to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions that arise from a business, product or service and that we can’t reduce or avoid on our own yet. By investing in projects that reduce emissions, we are preventing, avoiding or sequestering the same amount of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere and adding to the warming of our climate.
How does it work?
- There is actually a very clear definition with five criteria that must be met in order to define an effort as carbon offsetting. First, there has to be additionality, meaning the emission reduction would not have happened without the financial means that you provide as a buyer. Google “carbon offset” and you will find a lot of very cheap options. Too cheap it could be argued, as those projects are often happening anyway, so your money risks not having a real impact on the emissions reduction. If you want to make a difference, you have to pay for it, that is the bottom line.
The reductions also have to be measurable according to scientifically recognized and accepted methods. And a third independent party has to verify that the reductions actually occurred before the carbon credits can be sold. Every tonne of greenhouse gases that is avoided, reduced or sequestered has to be traced, given a unique number and then marked as “retired” in an international register when purchased. The reduction also has to be permanent, meaning emissions are not only postponed but prevented altogether. Besides compensating for greenhouse gas emissions, carbon offset projects should always contribute to the wellbeing of local ecosystems as well as improving livelihoods for people in the communities taking part.
Carbon offsetting has been widely discussed lately, at least here in Sweden. Some say it is an easy way out or an excuse to continue business as usual instead of committing to necessary changes in order to reduce the actual carbon footprints. What are your thoughts on that?
– There is a tenacious myth of carbon offsetting being used as a sort of letter of indulgence. But what we are seeing is the exact opposite. Companies who offset their activities are more prone to actively reduce their own emissions. In fact, research shows that companies that include offsetting as a part of their carbon management strategy typically spend ten times more on internal emissions reduction activities than the ones who don’t, according to a study by Ecosystem Marketplace in 2016.
I believe an important reason for that is because in order to offset, you have to first calculate and analyze your emissions. And with that, you realize the magnitude of different activities. You understand what you can easily change right now and what you have to deal with long-term.
Offsetting also means taking on a cost that can be quite substantial. To reduce that cost you have to work hard to reduce emissions within your business. What you are doing by offsetting is taking responsibility for the emissions that have already occurred. It is like taking care of your own waste. And it is something you can do while working to reduce that waste.
That being said, nobody believes carbon offsetting is going to solve the climate crisis. Right now our global emissions curve needs to peak and bend steeply downwards. By the year 2030 we need to have reduced global emissions by at least 50 percent in order not to exceed the 1.5 degree target stated in the Paris agreement. By 2050 the planet must be down to net zero emissions, meaning we will have to have created negative emissions using new technology, as well as using what we already know about restoring and preserving ecosystems to capture carbon in biomass and soil. This will take a deep structural change in the way we produce, consume, transport, eat and invest. As well as how we manage our forests, farms, land and oceans.
Business as usual is not an option with or without carbon offsetting. But it is one important tool available right now, while transitioning to net zero greenhouse gas emissions and a circular economy. A Day’s March is taking the cost of their emissions right now because they realize they don’t have time to wait for their own business and its value chain to reach zero emissions.
A Day’s March has chosen to offset their current emissions through a project providing energy efficient cooking stoves in rural Kenya. What effect does this project have on local families and environment?
– This project is essentially about reducing deforestation in rural Kenya, while empowering women and improving the health of their families. These efficient stoves require half of the firewood needed by traditional stoves, which means fewer trees have to be cut down in order to provide fuel for cooking – that’s how emissions are reduced. Preserving forests is an excellent way to protect us against climate change. Deforestation is a huge problem. The people in deforested areas in the Global South are among the first and most vulnerable to be affected by the consequences of climate change, even if all of us will be affected sooner or later.
“This project is essentially about reducing deforestation in rural Kenya, while empowering women and improving the health of their families. These efficient stoves require half of the firewood needed by traditional stoves, which means fewer trees have to be cut down in order to provide fuel for cooking – that’s how emissions are reduced.”
Energy efficient stoves mean that women and children, who primarily are the ones collecting all of that wood and doing the cooking, get more power over their own lives. The efficient stoves also reduce inhalation of harmful smoke indoors, since the firewood is fully incinerated within the stove. Indoor smoke from cooking stoves is a big problem in developing countries causing poor health and even deaths.
You were speaking of additionality. Wouldn’t this happen anyway?
– Energy efficient stoves are expensive and the families in these communities would have a hard time affording them on their own. Half of the cost of the stoves are financed with carbon credits. The other half is provided through interest-free microloans by local savings groups led by women. This strengthens the position of women locally, a very important added value of the project. The loan is repaid within two years, which is possible because the families save money using the efficient stoves.
How do you guarantee the long-term effect it will have?
– A single energy efficient stove in use is avoiding emissions by about 2,4 tonnes of CO2-equivalents every year. For the benefit to be sustained over time, it is important to make sure the stoves are actually used. That is why training how to use and maintain the stoves properly is a crucial part of this project. The stoves are built by local craftsmen who can repair them if need be. From the monitoring reports that show us how much the stoves are used, we can conclude that this project is highly successful.
How can A Day’s March make sure they are offsetting the emissions of their entire activity?
– Together with sustainability consultants from our partner agency U&We we have done a thorough calculation of the emissions generated by A Day’s March. We have been working closely with A Day’s March, analyzing everything from the raw materials in the garments and their production and transports, to the electricity in their stores and headquarters. The calculations also include the climate impact from their customers washing and drying the clothes, as well as the impact when the garments are finally recycled or disposed of down the line. When specific data was not available, generic data from the literature was used to estimate activities in the value chain.
The calculations provide A Day’s March with valuable information to determine where and how emissions should be reduced, as well as determining the amount of emissions that are to be compensated for. As of 2020, A Day’s March will annually offset every tonne of greenhouse gases that has occurred in the entire value chain during the previous year. The calculations also apply an uncertainty margin of the carbon footprint to make sure that the emissions aren’t underestimated.
What do you think should be the next step for A Day’s March and the textile industry as a whole, when it comes to actively reducing their climate and environmental impact?
– We know the biggest climate impact of the textile industry comes from acquiring the raw materials and the actual production. The first step is to find out what that impact is. Today it is really hard to gather all the info needed about the entire value chain. It is the biggest challenge but also the greatest potential.
The textile industry needs to make demands on their suppliers, or even better help them, in order to be able to trace, calculate and minimize their impact. Significant impact reduction can for example be achieved by switching to renewable electricity in production facilities and making sure that transports of materials and garments are as energy efficient as possible.
Besides that, the industry really needs to move away from the “fast fashion” business model. Encourage slow and long-term consumption. Communicate how to take proper care of garments to make them last longer. Begin the transition towards a circular economy where nothing is thrown away – since there really is no “away” – but recycled and reused.
Words by Sustainability Specialist Sofia Bernett