What are carbon emissions and how do they contribute to climate change?
Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) - often called carbon emissions - are a form of air pollution. GHGs change the earth’s climate by trapping heat. As humans put more GHGs into the atmosphere, the planet’s atmospheric insulation changes from a nice, breathable summer quilt to a dangerous layer of bubble wrap that changes living conditions for virtually everything on Earth. If you want to learn more, check out this explainer video.
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced by something or someone. Companies and countries have carbon footprints, and so do you. A carbon footprint includes many different kinds of emissions, including things you probably wouldn’t think of, like raw material extraction and freight shipping. To learn more about what’s included in a company’s carbon footprint, check out our How It Works page.
How much does the world need to reduce its total carbon footprint?
A lot! And quickly. Recent estimates show the planet’s emissions reached a record high of 55.5 BILLION tCO2e in 2018. There is more CO2 collected in the atmosphere now than ever before. In order to avoid continuing on this path and facing the tragic impacts of climate change, like more frequent and intense incidents of extreme weather, we need to reduce global greenhouse gases way below current levels, starting immediately. Find out more about the need for global emission reductions here.
Why is this important now?
People have been talking about climate change for decades and doing very little about it, so the issue is more than ever. All of the recent science suggests that we're approaching a point of no return on climate change - and political, economic, and social systems are not responding quickly enough. Humanity's decisions in the next 10 years will determine, more than ever before, how our climate changes and the extent of its impacts over the next century and beyond.If you want to dig deeper, we suggest checking out Vox’s breakdown of the situation. Or, if you have some time to dive in, peruse this authoritative (700 page) report.
What does tCO2e mean?
There are six main GHGs, so it's helpful to count them with a single unit: tCO2e. tCO2e stands for tonnes (t) of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent (e). "Tonne" is a fancy way of writing metric ton, or 2,200 pounds. “Carbon dioxide equivalent” is a standard unit for counting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions regardless of whether they’re from carbon dioxide or another gas, such as methane.
How are carbon credits created?
Carbon credits are created when someone does a project to eliminate a metric tonne of greenhouse gas emissions. The project might be a reforestation initiative that sequesters (sucks up) CO2, or a project that replaces coal-fired electricity with solar electricity. The project developer can sell the carbon benefits of the project in the form of carbon credits. There are hundreds of ways to create carbon credits, and the list is growing steadily. Find out more about different types of carbon projects here.
What does carbon neutral mean?
Carbon neutrality means achieving a balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.
Achieving carbon neutrality, or climate neutrality - which counts other greenhouse gases in addition to carbon dioxide - can help accelerate the world on its path to net-zero by 2050. That's the target year for getting all of human civilization to a point where our emissions have been reduced below the amount that is absorbed through natural and man-made carbon sinks.
This is why TCCP is working to encourage companies to take the lead by achieving climate neutrality today.
How does a carbon credit help fight climate change?
Carbon credits are away to put money into climate change solutions. Solutions such as tree planting involve increasing the global uptake of carbon. Solutions such as clean energy involve transitioning electric power generation away from fossil fuels. We need them all, and we need them all very soon.
Carbon credits are especially useful to accelerate investment in GHG reductions when emissions can’t otherwise be avoided. Some reduction projects are complex and take many years. Some projects don't yet have technologies ready yet. Many economic processes in our world don’t have zero-carbon options yet. For an example, let’s take a look at flying on airplanes. It’s possible to limit your flying, but air travel is a part of daily life. Until we have all-electric planes charged with zero-carbon electricity, we need to rely on carbon credits and support the development of sustainable aviation fuels.
How do you know if carbon credits work?
The voluntary market for carbon credits has evolved continuously since it was created more than twenty years ago. The quality in the market is overseen by third-party standard-setting bodies, which create quality criteria for projects. Increasingly, carbon credits are also subject to scrutiny by ratings firms with their own quality criteria.
To be considered 'verified' under our standards, credits must be retired from one of these third-party registries:
Our standard relies on this system of registries, and includes additional criteria to help provide certified companies with additional guidance in the selection process. Our goal is to recognize only those carbon credits that deliver the benefits they are supposed to. Our standards require that credits be 'eligible' using the carbon credit selection criteria that we maintain with the input of an external advisory group. Our eligibility criteria help provide an additional filter against projects that don't meet the 'big six' requirements: real, permanent, quantifiable, verifiable, enforceable, and additional.
Where can I read more about carbon markets?
See this article from Forest Trends.
What’s the link between race, racism, poverty, and climate change?
Climate change is a massively overriding environmental issue that has disproportionate effects on minorities and disadvantaged communities. People of color in America suffer more from climate change. People of color also care more about it. And while race and racism are top of mind in America right now, it’s also important to remember that the people most affected by climate change globally are also among the poorest. Solving climate change doesn’t solve racism or poverty, but we cannot solve climate change or poverty without solutions that recognize the rights and wellbeing of every person. For further reading, we recommend checking out:
About The Change Climate Project
What does it mean when I see the Climate Neutral Certified label?
When you see the label, you know that a brand has achieved climate neutrality by cleaning up its historical emissions, and is on a journey to limit carbon emissions from its operations.
Let’s use our favorite fictional example, a company called InTents. The label on InTents products means that the company has counted up the carbon emissions it’s responsible for, offset all of those emissions, and implemented plans to reduce emissions. It includes all of the carbon emitted over the course of one year making and delivering products or services to customers.
Say you’re shopping for a tent, and see our label on the InTents website. You check out InTents’ brand profile page and see that InTents certified by measuring 67,145 tonnes of 2022 emissions. You also see that InTents offset them by investing in a forestry project, and plans to change its aluminum tent poles to recycled aluminum to reduce carbon emissions of future tents.
You’ll find the Climate Neutral Certified label on product packaging, websites, and social media.
What is the end goal of your organization?
The Change Climate Project is creating the Climate Neutral Certified label and the BEE platform as a trusted set of tools and frameworks to motivate people around the world, and take away the excuses for not achieving net-zero. Our goal is for our platform and label to become ubiquitous and drive large scale decarbonization around the world.
Who is behind your organization?
TCCP is an independent nonprofit, led by its own team and overseen by its board of directors. Our work is funded through the generous support of our donors, as well as through program fees that we charge to users of our tools, and to companies that use our Climate Neutral Certified label.
How do I know you guys are legit?
We have a transparent process and follow industry best practices to ensure good governance practices. Our organization is overseen by a board of directors, advisors, and two separate certification committees (meet our team and advisors here) and maintained through a multi-stakeholder process. Our certification standards are transparently posted, and will be continuously updated as needed from our stakeholder feedback process to make sure they are consistent with the latest approaches to corporate responsibility and the current state of the voluntary carbon market.
How are you different from other pledges and labels?
For starters, we don't sell carbon offsets or consulting services. Most other label providers do, and their certification requirements fit with their incentives to sell more of what they sell. That's not what you'd expect as someone looking for an independent label. You want it to be about the climate outcomes.
So we are committed to creating and maintaining a clear, trusted certification and climate label.
This carries across to how we approach our work with companies. Think of us as providing a friendly but firm hand to companies: we tell them what they need to do in order to have a credible climate initiative. We want them to feel empowered, but we want them to understand that there is a bar they must clear.
Otherwise, we shun overhead costs, we're scrappy and tech-savvy, we're passionate, and we believe that the less we take, the more is left over for actually reducing climate pollution across companies' value chains.
Why just focus on greenhouse gas emissions when the world has so many sustainability problems?
Greenhouse gas emissions are the single most globally damaging form of pollution, and yet, they are mostly unregulated. Every sustainability goal is worthy, but most are irrelevant in a world made uninhabitable by carbon pollution.
Furthermore, efforts to reduce carbon emissions are often aligned with other environmental priorities. For example, recycled metals are typically less carbon intensive, and carbon offsets typically support biodiversity and provide other environmental benefits.
Why are you asking businesses to do something? Isn't this a government thing?
It's everybody's thing. Governments around the world should be regulating emissions, but unfortunately aren't, and we don't have time to spare. Climate change requires immediate action, which is why companies need to take responsibility for their own emissions. We hope this corporate movement will tell policymakers that there is mass public support for carbon regulation, spurring the government to take action.
How will Climate Neutral make its certification recognizable and valuable to my customers?
We make a nice label and you put it on your stuff! We're committed to making Climate Neutral Certified a household name and focusing on both our own marketing strategy and helping our brands communicate their certification to their customers. Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. We’re constantly having conversations with the media, and have a presence at top industry events and conferences.
We work hand-in-hand with our brands to help you promote your commitment and certification. And, our brands love to collaborate, so you’ll have the chance to reach new customers through giveaways and network-wide sales.
I want to bring this to my boss – do you have something I can share to help me make the case?
Sure do - share this website and drop us a line and we'll set you up with what you need to outline the business case!
Why is The Change Climate Project a non-profit?
It's true - we do a lot of things that typical for-profit startups do. We make software, we provide advice to companies, we do marketing, and we even plan and run our organization a lot like a 'regular' startup.
But we're not a regular startup - we're a nonprofit startup. Specifically, a tech nonprofit startup (yes, that's a thing). And because of this, we are free and able to make certain choices in how we approach our work that wouldn't be possible with a for-profit structure. For example:
-- Our programs and pricing are optimized for access and reach, not profitability. A good chunk of our work involves bringing companies to the climate table for the first time, even if they don't think they have the resources or knowledge to become climate leaders. Sure, we could charge more for things, and if we had investors, they'd ask us to. But we don't, so we're able to focus more on impact.
-- We avoid conflicts of interest that for-profit companies often have. We don't want commercial interests to get in the way of our mission. We want you to trust us.
-- We work heavily with volunteers, which is not possible as a for-profit. We end up training hundreds of people in climate work, carbon accounting, and other skills. It's a bona fide win-win, and it's become an integral part of how we approach our work in an open, community-driven way.
Finally - we think a lot of the knowledge we peddle is not all that unique - and should be open source. The future of the global climate depends on how fast people figure out how to eliminate carbon emissions in a gazillion different places. It's imperative that we empower as many people with tools and know-how.
So: our programs optimize for access and scale; our independence builds trust; our programs build knowledge, skills, and capacity for action.
I’m a researcher/ scientist/academic and I have questions – how can I get in touch?
Reach out to us via our Contact Us page. We look forward to talking.
Do you have a product-level certification?
We certify companies at the brand level, which includes all emissions from making and delivering products and services. This is the only way to eliminate enough carbon and halt climate change. Brands consistently find that it costs less than a percent of revenues to compensate for their whole footprint.
But wait...there’s more. Measuring the entire brand-level footprint is also clearer: to consumers trying to understand the label, and to professionals trying to measure, offset, and reduce their carbon. To the consumer at the supermarket, the spaghetti and the rigatoni more or less the same - why should one be Climate Neutral Certified and the other not? To keep everything clear and to enable brands to take more ambitious action, we only certify at the brand level.
Climate Neutral Certified
What's the idea behind “Measure, Reduce, and Compensate"?
Once your footprint has been measured, you need a plan to lower your future emissions. In many instances, there will be low-hanging fruit – energy efficiency improvements, waste management opportunities, more video chats instead of flying cross-country for a short meeting, and so on. These aren't far-off pledges, but reduction plans for the next 12-24 months. The last step is to compensate for all of last year's emissions. Those emissions already happened, and need to be cleaned up if you’re going to call yourself carbon neutral.
In order to effectively mitigate the impacts of climate change, all businesses need to have long-term plans for maximizing their reduction efforts across their corporate value chains. And while taking reduction steps is an important solution path, offsetting what we can’t reduce now is always going to be better than doing nothing at all.
How expensive are carbon credits?
There's no easy answer to this question, since the price of a carbon credit depends on the project, as well as market supply and demand. People are often surprised to learn that some carbon credits can be purchased for as little as $7 USD per metric ton. However, every carbon credit project is different, and quality varies widely. For that reason, it is important to look closely at the underlying project before you buy a carbon credit.
We advise companies to budget 0.5% of revenues to account for cradle-to-customer carbon emissions reductions and contributions toward global net-zero. Considering the magnitude of the climate challenge and the confusion many people feel about what to do about it, it's refreshing to know that something meaningful can be done about it for so little.
My company doesn’t make a physical product – is my footprint zero?
Even if you don't make a physical product, you have greenhouse gas emissions. Everything from the electricity used to light your office and run your computer to employee work travel counts in calculating your carbon footprint.
Is there a size minimum or maximum for certification?
It’s hard to create a carbon footprint for an organization that doesn’t yet exist, or hasn’t completed a full year of operations. We recommend folks in those situations get in touch once they have a year under their belt.
On the other end of the spectrum, we’ll take even the largest companies. In fact, that’s the path to our greatest scale and impact.
What does Scope 1, 2, 3 emissions mean?
Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions represent the entirety of a carbon footprint from a company’s activities.
- Scope 1 signifies direct emissions that come from on-site facilities. This can include the fuel you burn in company vehicles, the natural gas you use to heat your office, or any direct emissions from owned manufacturing plants.
- Scope 2 represents indirect emissions. This is mostly your purchased electricity.
- Scope 3 represents indirect emissions from your supply chain and in most cases makes up the majority of a company’s footprint. Scope 3 represents tCO2 emitted across the entire corporate value chain – that means emissions released from extracting raw materials used for finished products, corporate business travel, employee commuting, shipping and transporting, and more.
To learn more about Scopes 1, 2 and 3, visit World Resource Institute's GHG Protocol homepage.
How do Scope 3 emissions compare to Scope 1 and 2?
It depends on your company, but for many companies, Scope 3 emissions are the biggest chunk. These are emissions from your value chain: all of the activities you engage in as you create and bring your product to market. Quite often, all of the emissions embedded in the raw materials or services you purchase, the airline miles you fly, the commutes of your employees -- these add up to much more than your electric bill (Scope 2).v
Calculating my company’s carbon footprint seems complex – how will I know the measurement is accurate?
There will always be uncertainty in estimating the entirety of a company’s footprint, if Scope 3 is included. Uncertainties stem from imperfect data collection, oversimplifications of reality to translate dollar values into units of tCO2e, and much more. But don’t let perfect be the enemy of good! Estimating your carbon emissions doesn’t have to be an arduous or expensive process. The Change Climate Project has built a tool that combines the power of estimation with the capability to refine with operational data. We need to take action now -- and our tool allows precision where you can muster data and a scientifically sound estimate where you can’t.
How important is the "reduce" part of this?
Essential. We can’t stop the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels unless we all take a good hard look in the mirror and come up with a plan to reduce our own emissions over time. Accordingly, we require that reduction plans are created and implemented on an annual basis and encourage brands to adopt reduction targets that are consistent with the latest climate science, for example by developing a target through the Science-based Targets Initiative.
How are carbon credits selected?
We select carbon credits based on our eligible verified carbon credit requirements which are developed by a continuous review process of the best available standards to ensure companies are utilizing quality credits. Our Standard creates a common baseline for all companies so that Climate Neutral Certified means one thing, and you understand it.
Once I get certified, what happens?
First, give yourself a big pat on the back for this exciting accomplishment! Next, display the Climate Neutral Certified label on your products, website, and marketing materials to share your certification with the world. Continue to work on reducing your emissions and encourage more companies to follow your lead.
How much does it cost to get certified?
Getting certified will have two costs: purchasing carbon credits and a certification fee. The largest of those is your offset purchase. You’ll pay $8-20 per tonne of footprint for offsets, and in total they should cost you less than half a percent of gross revenues.
You’ll also pay us a Brand License Fee, which helps pay for the work we’re doing to build the movement behind our label -- and to help you get certified to use it. You’ll pay us $0.80 per tonne of your footprint, or less (see our full pricing here). The smaller your footprint, the less you pay us. In a perfect world, everyone’s emissions would be zero and our work would be done!
I’m a member of 1% for the Planet. Does my offset purchase count toward my 1% contribution? How about the certification fee I pay to TCCP?
Yes: If you purchase your own credits, we can send you a list of providers that are in the 1% for the Planet network. And yes: Climate Neutral is a 1% for the Planet non-profit partner, so your certification fee counts toward your contribution, along with any carbon credits you purchase through us.
My company already has a plan to measure, reduce, and compensate for our emissions! Can I get Climate Neutral Certified with the work we’re doing?
That's great that you already have a plan - nice work! Now, we just need to make sure it fits our certification requirements. Drop us a line and we'll give you some quick feedback and identify any gaps. You could already be close!