Not sure about you, but as we've gotten older our feelings about the end of year Holiday season seem to be getting more and more......complicated. On one hand, we look forward to catching up with family and friends - enjoying some food or perhaps a drink with them, and maybe even exchanging a couple of gifts.
Where things get more complicated is dealing with the reality that many of the behaviours we indulge in at the end of the year have a significant environmental footprint - be it from flying home, eating and drinking more, or buying more 'stuff' to exchange as gifts. This can lead to a complicated combination of feelings. For us, it's a combination of guilt mixed with a touch of frustration.
It's no secret that we are in the midst of a generation-defining battle against climate change. The actions of every single person on the planet will have an impact not only on the remainder of our own lives, but more significantly, on the lives of those who come after us. The climate crisis is everyone's problem. Although none of us can do everything, all of us can do something about it.
The objective of this blog is to provide some practical tips and advice to help you become a little more 'carbon aware' as you make plans for the end of the year.
The first step in reducing your personal carbon footprint is to understand where it's coming from. For most of us, two types of behaviours have an outsized impact - and they are traveling (especially flying), and your diet. Here's a couple of handy (both free) tools that will help you understand how your personal footprint is being generated.
Clever Carbon | clevercarbon.io | @clever.carbon
Clever Carbon offers a free 2 minute footprint assessment, which asks a few basic questions about how you live, travel and eat. They also have some nicely presented data that shows the carbon footprint of a number of common foods, commuting options, and at-home activities.
Wren | wren.io | @project_wren
Wren offers a slightly more sophisticated personal assessment tool that includes more questions than the Clever Carbon one. The main difference between Clever Carbon and Wren however is that once you complete the assessment with Wren it offers you the opportunity to sign up for a subscription via which you can offset your personal carbon footprint. For those of you flying home for the holidays, they also have a neat flight offset tool where you can enter for 'from', 'to' and 'cabin class' and it will estimate how many tons of carbon emissions your flight home is likely to generate.
Product & Shopping Measurement
Every time you spend money, you are generating a carbon footprint. In fact households influence 65% of global emissions based on the things we buy. Joro connects to your credit or debit card to provide real time insights on how your spending behaviour is contributing to your emissions footprint. From there, it can help users develop what they refer to as 'carbon intuition' - that is develop an understanding of how our individual behaviours and choices can add up. Joro also offers advice and guides on how you can reduce your personal footprint, and for the unavoidable part of your emissions it offers a range of offset options.
Finch | choosefinch.com | @choosefinch
Finch's main product is a Google Chrome extension that helps you make smarter choices while shopping on Amazon.com. It takes into account Climate, Water, Human Well-being, Ecological, Waste and Raw Materials information to make a high level assumption about
At this stage it appears that Finch only has coverage of certain product categories, but we understand they are working to add more. It's also worth pointing out that with any tool or service like this that offers a very 'wide' assessment of products, that you are more than likely sacrificing on quality/accuracy. Without actually having done a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for a product, it is impossible for Finch (or anyone else) to know exactly how sustainable a product is. Their approach therefore relies on a lot of assumptions and 'averages'.
Reduction > Offsets
The best approach any of us can take to dealing with our personal emissions footprint is to re-evaluate our own behaviours, and take actions to act more sustainably. This Urban Leaf blog explains how you might approach this with respect to food-based decisions.
The truth is however that even the most environmentally conscious of us will ever be able to remove our footprint entirely. Therefore, those of us wanting to achieve a 'Net Zero' carbon footprint will also need to purchase offsets.
Carbon Offsets are financial tools that we can use to indirectly influence how much carbon is emitted into the atmosphere. There are two main types:
- Avoidance offsets. This is where you pay someone to avoid a behavior or action that would reasonably be expected to release GHG into the atmosphere. An example could be paying someone to use a clean-fuel stove to cook dinner, instead of
- Removal offsets. This is where you pay someone to remove a unit (generally a ton) of carbon from the atmosphere.
The diagram below from Nori.com summarizes why this difference matters.
Currently, most marketplaces for purchasing carbon credits cater towards business buyers which are looking to offset larger quantities of carbon. Although some of the tools above do offer inbuilt offsetting options of their own, there are a few important concepts you should be aware of to help you make an informed decision about carbon offsetting.
- Additionality describes the incremental benefit of a carbon offset. Consider the simple example of someone threatening to cut a tree down. We could theoretically pay them not to do so, thereby creating an 'avoidance' credit. But how do we know they were actually ever going to chop the tree down in the first place? Clearly the tree that we 'gain' by avoiding chopping one down, is not as valuable from a carbon removal perspective as a new tree that could be planted.
- Durability describes how long a ton of carbon will be removed from the atmosphere for. Back to our tree planting example - we might pay a landowner to rehabilitate a piece of land with natural vegetation and in doing so generate carbon offsets, but what happens in the land owner changes their mind in 3 years and decides to clear the land again? Or what if a wildfire comes through and burns the whole place down? Some types of carbon credits (for example injecting it into concrete or burying it deep below the ground) offer high durability, whereas others are intrinsically shorter term in nature.
- Measurability describes the confidence we can have that carbon is indeed being capture. For industrial projects that are capturing emissions from a manufacturing plant (for example) it's fairly easy to measure the volume of carbon being captured, however for other initiatives such as Regenerative Agriculture it is notoriously difficult - often relying on modelling.
As you may recall, in 2021 Urban Leaf pledged to become the World's First Carbon Negative Gardening Company. The approach we've taken to doing this is conceptually exactly the same as what we describe above. Despite its limitations and challenges around measurability, we chose to purchase Regenerative Agriculture offsets because they are most aligned with our mission as a company, which is to help build a better food system.
We hope you've found this overview Carbon-Conscious Consumer behaviours useful. If you have any questions feel free to drop us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave a comment below.