Is Carbon Offsetting Just A PR Stunt? — Interview With Charlotte Griaud From Climate Partner
Let’s start with the basics: what does the Climate Partner do?
Charlotte: Climate Partner is a consultancy that drives businesses to take ambitious action when it comes to climate change. The idea is to help businesses collect data on their activities, measure this in terms of carbon emissions and then help them reduce and offset unavoidable emissions. Our overall motto, as a business, is to get one climate neutral item in everyone’s shopping basket.
Can you explain why just one?
We want to start with one. A whole shopping cart full of climate neutral items would be ideal and for now we are seeing, slowly, an uptake in climate neutral labels, of people taking greater climate action with their businesses. Getting to the point where everyone, shopping anywhere, in Asda or with a small business, has an item with a climate neutral label, will be a big step forward.
Why do you think it’s important for businesses to be carbon neutral?
Measuring carbon emissions allows businesses to finally take into account they have on the environment. Carbon is the easiest thing to measure but it’s also one of the most universal ways of measuring.
Carbon in the atmosphere is everyone’s problem and it has no borders.
It’s a great step forward because it allows massive insight into where your emissions lie but it’s also important to take action, given how little time we have to reverse climate change and reverse the damage we’ve done.
I’m sure you’re aware of all the criticism offsetting is facing? People say it’s just a distraction…
Yes, a lot of backlash has come from seeing carbon offset as a scapegoat and seeing it as an easy option for businesses to just pay offset and then not do anything.
Reduction strategies take a long time to implement:
It takes a while to change contractors, to switch to a renewable energy supplier etc.
I think there is no trade off- reduction comes hand in hand with offsetting. Climate neutrality means that rather than waiting for those reduction strategies to take place, and to just sit there twiddling your thumbs, waiting for things to reduce themselves and innovation to catch up in terms of options to reduce, offsetting means you have taken immediate action.
Amongst the solutions to climate change, it’s also massive reforestation and re-wilding. Also, helping developing nations have a better standard of living. Offsetting projects allow for that. Without offsetting projects, carbon finance, that’s the whole other aspect of climate change we wouldn’t be re really focusing on. So climate neutrality demonstrates that you are giving back, you are aware of your carbon footprint, you are offsetting the unavoidable and you’re also looking at reduction strategies.
How open are your clients about their carbon footprint? Do they come to you or do you have to find them?
There has always been a lot of fear from businesses about getting into the arena when it comes to climate change. It’s definitely a place where there can be a lot of criticism and greenwashing as activities seem very hard to understand and avoid.
Yet, I think we moved to an era when customers value brands who are just honest. That’s why Oatly has done so well, it’s because they have shown the good, the bad and the really ugly side of their business.
In their sustainability report last year, on their front page they mentioned that they were worse than last year. And I think that really shows that consumers, as long as you really vocalise things in a transparent way, won’t criticise you for it. And they will allow you to be bulletproof if you’re just transparent as to where you get your numbers.
In terms of businesses and engagement we have with carbon foot-printing, the reason we have gone from a hundred to 200 hundred employees at The Climate Partner in a space of a year, is because demand is super high. Despite Covid setting things back and the budgets being super low for businesses, budgets for CSR haven’t actually shifted very much. If anything, it has caused the population to really start valuing things like green spaces, health and the climate. And there is definitely pressure from consumers for businesses to finally get on that bandwagon again.
Businesses are coming to us.
Are you finding that those businesses actually want to be better or is it for PR reasons?
I think every business who has come to us has all the right reasons and I think that if there wasn’t PR involved, then businesses could not really vocalise their successes and celebrate with their customers. The need to do the right thing and also PR reasons come together, to simply say: consumers please vote with your wallet, please vote for a product that’s going to reduce climate change, by buying us or taking our services over xyz.
So, if you took the whole PR element out of the climate neutrality labelling, you’ll get a whole lot less businesses because they can’t seem to vocalise what they are doing.
Even if you’re doing it for PR reasons, it’s still a good reason.
It’s a reason to showcase carbon foot-printing, to make it mainstream, to show progress, and to show other businesses the right path.
Have you ever refused to work with a businesses? What about the big polluters?
We work with a range of businesses, polluting and not polluting and we don’t discriminate. I think that is key. We can’t discriminate on the fact that they are very polluting because you have to work with those that need a lot of work to reduce their emissions. If we only worked with sustainable businesses, we would really be getting nowhere. We like working with polluting industries because that gives us the potential to really influence and reduce their footprint.
And lastly: why did you decide to work in this industry?
I guess a lot of people are going into climate related careers. Our generations, the millennials, really want to work with a purpose and I think jobs are no longer about making ends meet and making money. I think people’s values now, being passionate and working for something bigger than themselves. Climate is an amazing field to work in because you’re doing this for the greater good and it’s an amazingly fulfilling career. There is also a sense of urgency, where this is the right place to be at the right time. So much needed to be done and you really feel important and you really feel like you’re making a difference.
Learn more about Climate Partner here: www.climatepartner.com