Forest-Based Carbon Neutrality: What Is It & Does it Matter?
Reforestation as part of carbon-neutral or net-zero commitments seems to be all the rage lately. But what do such initiatives mean? Do they actually make a difference? Or is it just a way of making you feel good about purchasing a product?
It’s an unfortunate fact that rising temperatures caused by carbon emissions are creating large-scale problems. From worsening hurricanes to heat waves, extreme weather patterns occur around the world more frequently. According to the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) we need to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 to limit global warming to a safe, manageable level. Reaching this goal is a two-part issue: we need to reduce carbon emissions as well as remove carbon from the atmosphere. This is where reforestation and carbon-neutral commitments come in.
Read on to learn the answer to “What is reforestation?”, how it makes a difference, and how reforestation and carbon neutrality go hand-in-hand.
What is Reforestation?
Essentially, reforestation is restoring an area of forest that was destroyed. But it’s not just a matter of planting trees and moving on, as biodiversity can be quite complex. Reforestation takes concerted effort from government entities as well as the private sector. In some cases with the right support, forests that have been destroyed can regenerate on their own. However, in others cases, deforestation has destroyed too much for regeneration. Specific mixes of plant species will need to be planted in order to restore the forest, and invasive species may need to be controlled or removed.
What Does Conservation Mean?
Reforestation is a piece of the conservation puzzle. But what is conservation? Conservation is intentionally caring for the earth’s natural resources in order to protect them for future generations. Some of the main goals of conservation include protecting biodiversity as well as maintaining the natural, healthy functions of the environment. In the United States, for example, National Forests are managed by the Forest Service. These forests can be used for hunting, cattle grazing, lumber, and recreation, but conservation efforts seek to protect National Forests from overgrazing, deforestation, pollution, and decline.
What Does Carbon Neutrality Mean?
With the amount of CO2 currently in the atmosphere, cutting all carbon emissions alone will not be enough to prevent disaster. That’s why carbon neutrality is so important, and every brand that hopes to stay relevant - and do good - is making carbon-neutral commitments.
Carbon neutrality is the balancing of carbon emissions and carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration occurs when CO2 is absorbed from the atmosphere and stored in carbon sinks, i.e. trees, soil, and oceans. Regenerative agriculture practices are important for businesses serious about doing more good for the planet than planting trees, as RegenAg seeks to reduce emissions rather than just offset emissions. Planting trees (albeit often well-intended) is often a crutch used by brands so they can continue emitting as much carbon as they want.
Carbon offsetting is a practice some companies use to achieve carbon neutrality. Essentially, emissions created in one area are offset by reducing emissions elsewhere. This might be done by investing in renewable energy or low-carbon technology. Another way companies offset their carbon emissions is by investing in carbon sequestration and reforestation efforts, which is why we’re seeing so many “ship this online, and we’ll plant a tree” initiatives. As a relatively new concept, there is little standard regulation surrounding carbon offsets.
Carbon Neutral vs. Net Zero
You may have heard the terms “carbon neutral” and “net zero” being thrown around interchangeably. However, the two terms do have some notable differences. Carbon neutrality refers only to carbon emissions. Net zero, on the other hand, considers all kinds of greenhouse gasses, not just carbon. To achieve net zero emissions, many of the same principles are applied: efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must also be balanced with efforts to remove greenhouse gas emissions.
How to Spot Companies That Aren’t Carbon Neutral
With so many companies greenwashing their products these days, you might be rightfully skeptical of their claims of carbon neutrality. One of the problems is that the terms “carbon neutral” and “net zero” aren’t regulated. Another is that many companies punt carbon neutrality to a far later date in the future, without a plan outlining how they will achieve it. This means that some companies might use these terms to appeal to consumers without making actionable changes. So how do you spot these companies?
#1 Short, medium, and long-term goals
One of the ways is to look at the company’s carbon neutrality goals. Are they only setting long-term goals of 2050? Or do they have short- and medium-term, actionable goals that will help them actually reach net zero by 2050? Companies that are serious about their carbon-neutral commitments are taking action now, and being transparent along the way, not just later down the road or come 2050.
#2 Carbon emission reduction (not just offsets)
Another sign to look for is whether the company is reducing carbon emissions as much as possible. Is the company looking at its carbon and greenhouse gas emissions more broadly across its supply chain and taking steps to reduce its impact? Where applicable, is it investing in and incentivizing regenerative agriculture practices? Is the company making significant reductions in the virgin plastic it uses in its products and packaging? Finally, watch for companies that use offsets to get out of actually reducing their carbon emissions. Compared to the cost of investing in clean energy, buying offsets is cheap.
How to Know If a Company Is Carbon Neutral
Okay, so we’ve talked about signs of a company that isn’t carbon neutral. But how do you know what companies are actually making progress toward carbon neutrality? One of the things to look for is how transparent the company is. Look for companies that disclose specific details of their carbon neutrality plan.
Other signs a company is actually working toward carbon neutrality include some combination of the following initiatives:
- Investing in renewable energy
- Investing in reforestation efforts
- Investing in regenerative agriculture
- Cutting carbon emissions as much as possible, as quickly as possible
- Being certified by a third party, such as the Carbon Trust
- Investing in efficient servers to develop carbon-neutral websites
- Investing in traceability software to accurately count and report on carbon emissions/sequestration
Does Reforestation Make a Difference?
Does reforestation actually make a difference? Yes! Reforestation makes a huge difference. Tree growth is the number one way to capture CO2 from the atmosphere. In fact, a recent study suggests that two-thirds of all carbon emissions could be removed by restoring forests and repairing damaged ecosystems.
Some of the benefits of reforestation include:
● Increased biodiversity
● Carbon sequestration
● Improved air quality
● Restored wildlife habitats
● Enrichment of soil
● Maintenance of water quality
● Flood prevention
● Reversal of desertification
The effectiveness and value of reforestation, however, comes into question when a brand or group uses it as a catch-all offset to appear to be more eco-friendly than they actually are (i.e. buy this product, we plant a tree, but the product is unsustainable and environmentally unfriendly). Or, when reforestation and offsets are double counted, meaning two companies take equal credit for the planting of a single tree or the reforestation efforts of a plot of land.
How Much of a Difference Does Conservation Make?
Knowing precisely how much of a difference conservation makes can be difficult. After all, it’s hard to measure what would have happened without conservation efforts. For example, a 2020 study found that conservation efforts saved at least 28 bird and mammal species from extinction. While we may never know precisely how much of a difference conservation makes, we do know that such efforts make a positive impact on the damage humans have caused to the environment and people.
Examples of Carbon-Neutral Companies Making Waves
More and more companies are moving toward carbon neutrality, but there’s still a long way to go in terms of quality commitments and real progress. Here are some examples of carbon-neutral companies making and keeping their commitments, today.
● Kickstarter: This tech company is one of very few to have so closely achieved carbon neutrality. Kickstarter reached this status in 2019 by purchasing carbon offsets as well as by powering its offices with renewable energy to reduce emissions.
● Warby Parker: Warby Parker is an online eyewear company that offers sustainable frames that are also affordable. The company has implemented measures at its factories to manage waste, water, and scraps. To offset its carbon footprint, Warby Parker has invested heavily in the Sky Wind Project, which supplies windmill-powered energy to the surrounding area.
● Coffee Bros: Coffee Bros is one of few food and beverage companies that has been certified as carbon neutral. The company has significantly reduced its carbon emissions by optimizing its roasting schedule, only roasting twice a week. Plus, Coffee Bros is in the process of switching to packaging that uses less plastic or replacing existing packaging with fully compostable bags.
● Ikea: Furniture giant Ikea is going beyond a carbon-neutral pledge to be what it calls “climate positive” by 2030. The company runs initiatives that reduce carbon emissions and are switching to renewable energy along with investing in sustainable forestry practices.
Reforestation and Carbon Neutrality Conclusion
What is reforestation? Beyond repairing damaged forests and capturing CO2 in the atmosphere, reforestation is hope in a more sustainable future. Achieving carbon neutrality will be a long process that will take a lot of effort, collaboration, and transparency. But with clear commitments, transparency progress, and data-driven reports, carbon neutrality is possible for any brand.
True eco-friendly practices also go beyond environmental impact and incorporate the human aspect as well. For example, as brands look to be greener, carbon-neutral, or eco-friendly in any way, they should also be aware of the impact on the human contributors – farmers, recyclers, landowners, etc. – they employ and influence along the way.
With BanQu, you can make -- and prove -- your conservation efforts or carbon-neutral commitments as an organization. BanQu is a data-driven true traceability platform that helps brands and manufacturers source sustainably and comply fully with ESG and Due Diligence requirements. So you can do good for people and the planet (and, your business!). Chat with us today to learn more!