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What Exactly Is Climate Neutrality, and Why Is It So Important?

Phrases like “climate neutrality” are rising in popularity. But what does it mean, and why is it so important? Here's what you should know.

Written by
Brightly Staff

Phrases like “climate neutrality” and “net-zero emissions” are rising in popularity. From large corporations like Apple committing to become carbon neutral by 2030, to countries around the world vowing to slash their emissions by 2050, the world seems to mean business when it comes to reducing its climate footprint. 

But is it good enough? Why is climate neutrality so important, what does it actually mean, and what can we do as consumers? Those are the questions that were answered in an episode of Good Together.

During the episode, she speaks with Caitlin Drown, the brand engagement manager at Climate Neutral—a non-profit organization working to decrease global carbon emissions. So many brands you know and love have already become Climate Neutral Certified (including Allbirds, Wolven, and MATE the Label). And we're very excited to share Brightly is Climate Neutral Certified, too.

Continue reading below to find out what it means to be climate neutral, how to offset emissions as a consumer, and more.

What Is the Climate Neutral Organization?

Climate Neutral is an organization that was founded just over two years ago as a way to help brands identify and mitigate their carbon emissions.

"It's really easy to go to the store and identify products that are organic, or non GMO. But it's been really difficult to understand which companies are taking climate change seriously," says Drown. "Climate change is really complex. You see the words 'sustainable' and 'eco-friendly,' and a lot of time, it doesn't actually have much data or work behind it."

That's why the Climate Neutral certified label is so important. "It shows consumers that a company has measured and offset its entire carbon footprint, and that it's working to reduce future emissions," she says.

How Do Brands Become Climate Neutral Certified?

Each brand that obtains Climate Neutral's certification goes through a three-step process.

"[The brands] have to measure their carbon footprints, all the way up the supply chain, down to delivery to their customers," says Drown. "They have to offset that footprint entirely by purchasing carbon credits, and then the third step is really crucial for meeting the global goals around climate, and that's to reduce future emissions."

Currently, 230 brands have been certified, and the organization is on track to have nearly 400 brands certified by the end of 2021. Together, those brands are expected to have offset over $1 million tons of carbon by the end of this year. According to Drown, that's the equivalent of the amount of emissions from more than 200,000 cars being on the road for an entire year.

What Is Climate Neutrality?

Now that we've broken down what Climate Neutral does as an organization, let's talk about what climate neutrality actually is. It can get a bit confusing with terms like "carbon neutral" and "net-zero emissions" being thrown around. The good news is that it's not quite as complicated as you might think.

"They're all pretty much fundamentally the same," says Drown. "The difference between 'climate neutral' and 'carbon neutral' is that climate neutral counts all greenhouse gas emissions. So instead of just measuring carbon dioxide, we use carbon equivalent when we're measuring a company's footprint. That's taking into account all the greenhouse gas emissions."

Drown goes on to add that "net zero" has essentially the same meaning. "It basically means that you're offsetting all the emissions you're responsible for to get to that net-zero spot," says Drown. "So all three can more or less be used interchangeably."

How Do You Offset Emissions?

Ok, so regardless of what you call it, it essentially means you have to offset your emissions. But how do you accomplish that? Simple—by purchasing carbon credits. "One carbon credit is equal to one ton of carbon that's either removed from the atmosphere through a project like a forestry project, or those emissions are avoided in the first place through something like a renewable energy project," explains Drown.

The brands that have become Climate Neutral purchase enough credits to completely offset their carbon footprints from the previous year. But you can also purchase offsets as a consumer, or simply try to buy from companies that offset their emissions. This means looking for certifications like Climate Neutral's, but Carbon Neutral certifications or B-Corps are also good indicators.

Why Is Climate Neutrality So Important?

Now the most important question: Why should we care about climate neutrality as consumers? "If we continue emitting, we're going to see more and more impacts from climate change that extend beyond environmental issues like extreme weather," says Drown.

Things like rising sea levels, extreme temperatures, and storms can partially be tied to climate change, but Drown says there are a variety of other impacts as well.

"It increases food insecurity and has public health implications," Drown says. "For instance, you can see more deaths related to record-high temperatures, or from illnesses that are appearing from mosquitoes and other types of insects that thrive in a warmer climate. And, unfortunately, civil unrest is closely linked to extreme weather in the sense that if there's food insecurity, for example, that can cause problems within countries."

So the effects of carbon emissions really do extend far beyond what many people may think of as climate change. "It's really important to think about the ripple effects that a changing climate will have across every sector of society," Drown adds.

How to Reduce Emissions as a Consumer

We've spent a lot of time talking about companies, but let's switch gears and talk about what you can do to reduce your own emissions. "One thing is really looking at what you're eating," says Drown. "Are you buying local? Because there are carbon emissions associated with shipping things. So if you're purchasing things locally, that's beneficial."

She also recommends cutting down on meat consumption as a way of decreasing your emissions. "Meat, compared to plants, has a much higher carbon footprint," says Drown. "If you're able to start slowly—whether that's just doing Meatless Mondays, or only having meat with dinner instead of lunch—that's one way to reduce your own personal carbon footprint."

Drown also recommends thinking about your electricity usage. You can switch to LED lightbulbs, or even take it a step further and purchase power from renewable energy sources.

"Most energy companies have an opportunity for you to purchase power from renewable energy sources," says Drown. "That's something I did, and it really didn't make a difference in my electricity bill. But now I know that's coming from renewable energy sources."

Even small actions can be really powerful. That's why Drown encourages consumers to take advantage of any sustainable options that are presented to them. "The most important thing as an individual is to use your voice and to use your wallet to call on change," she says.