Being carbon neutral and living a completely sustainable life are goals for those of us that strive to do better that often feel insurmountable.
The reality is for most of us we live in a modern world that is driven by technology, and access to the world's goods and services at the click of a button. Just that simple act of clicking itself is generating CO2e despite more and more corporate companies doing the work to become more sustainable and carbon neutral.
Finding balance for us has been the answer to making sense of how we can do our corporate diligence and tread as lightly as possible.
The process for an online retail company is massive. Just when you think you have found a solution to curb one way that you as a brand are contributing to global emissions another challenge is waiting. For us the only way around this is to be transparent, admit we are not perfect, and continue to educate ourselves on how we can do better.
From the very beginning, we invested in packaging that was as eco-friendly as possible. We primarily use The Better Packaging Co. mailers made from corn that are 100% compostable at home. Whenever possible our products are package free and we use organic materials without chemical dyes or bleaches so even our products themselves are biodegradable at the end of their lifecycle. But there is so much more to do, especially when it comes to being an online retailer.
Striving to be carbon neutral may sound amazing, but the reality is it still isn't awesome - But, it's a start! Offsets are not a perfect solution - but they’re a needed tool until we develop better technology to mitigate emissions.
So what exactly do we mean by our carbon footprint? It's complicated, but in a nutshell - A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, service, or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent.
A carbon offset reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere so that increased greenhouse gases elsewhere have a net impact of 0. For example, suppose a truck releases 150 g of CO2 in one mile and actions to preserve a forest removes 150 g of CO2 from the atmosphere. If you purchase one carbon offset that supports forest preservation for each mile that a truck travels, then the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere remain the same.
People, businesses, and governments can calculate how much carbon they’ve emitted from things like daily life and business operations and then pay to capture or prevent emissions for that amount of CO2. Offsets are sold per metric ton of CO2, and the price range is massive, from a few dollars per metric ton to hundreds of dollars. It all depends on the size of the offset project, the technology used, and the country where it’s implemented.
You’ve likely heard criticisms of offsets, like:
- “They only absolve people of their guilt and don’t actually curb emission-causing behaviour.”
- “It’s hard to validate and quantify the impact of a carbon offset.”
- “There are ‘bad actors’ who exploit the system, creating more greenhouse gas emissions than they otherwise would have, just to make money from curbing them.”
- “There are a wide range of prices for various carbon offsets but many of them are very expensive (making them an unrealistic option) or very cheap (and can they really be doing good for such a low price?).”
But our take on this would be that doing Better is far superior to doing nothing!
What We're Doing
To help offset some of our carbon emissions we have installed Shopify's Offset app. It essentially allows us to offset the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the shipments that we deliver. Offset uses industry models to determine the amount of CO2 that is released into the atmosphere for each shipment and then charges us an amount per shipment to offset those emissions.
For every package shipped, roughly one kilogram of carbon is emitted into the atmosphere. This calculation isn’t an exact science, but Shopify's data team came to this estimate based on factors like average travel distance, travel method, and package weight.
What does this mean? One kilogram of carbon is the equivalent of leaving a 43-watt lightbulb on for a day and a half. When you combine this with our scale, it’s a problem. Over one billion shipments turning on one billion light bulbs every single year.
The cost to offset our emissions is charged to us through our monthly Shopify invoice. The funds are used to purchase carbon credits, which offset our emissions through deforestation protection projects.
How It Works
It's essentially a community partnership of entrepreneurs and technology coming together to sell offsets, purchase offsets, and in turn reinvest them into reforesting and protecting existing forests.
When you make a purchase, we will offset the shipment of your package via the Brazil Nut Concession Forest Conservation Project, which protects more than 291,566 hectares of tropical forest in Peru and will prevent 14.5 million tons of CO2 emissions. This project is made up of 143 parcels of land operated by 377 Brazil nut farmers. To be clear, offsets are not a replacement for taking actions to reduce our carbon footprint—they are a last resort to compensate for emissions we can’t currently avoid.
There are so many different types of carbon offsets out there, using all kinds of different methods and technologies. It’s overwhelming. Offsets can include projects that store carbon in long-term reservoirs, like trees, soil, or wetlands. They can involve projects that reduce emissions from places like landfills, farms, or manufacturing plants.
There were some key values that needed to take place in this initiative and Pachama met the mark for this partnership with Shopify and we support it 100%.
Trees aren’t a perfect solution. They can be burned, razed, or infested by pests. There’s plenty of room for error when calculating the total number of trees in a protected area. There are even studies showing that forests are losing their ability to absorb carbon because of droughts and higher temperatures.
But there’s no denying that maintaining our existing forests and adding more trees is good for our planet. They support farmers and landowners around the world and ensure that all the creatures within them retain their homes.
This is a verified Carbon Standard certified project that will be monitored by Pachama using their machine learning, satellite imaging, and remote monitoring technology. The price per ton covers the project costs to protect the existing forest, increase the biomass through improved forest management practices, and verify the project’s progress.
Like we have said this isn't a perfect solution, but it is the best stepping stone we have currently available. The more businesses that step up and do their part to join forces to help offset the better position we will all be in when there is ultimately a solution to end emissions. Learn more here about how your Shopify business can start offsetting. Not a Shopify business? That's OK, visit Pachama for information on how you can get involved.
*Information in this article has been gleaned from both Shopify and Pachama.