You’ve probably seen or heard about companies claiming to be “carbon neutral”—or touting their plans to get there. From automakers and airlines to huge retailers and even fossil fuel corporations(!), these days it seems like everybody wants to go carbon neutral and fight climate change.
Good news, right? Unfortunately, recent research has revealed that carbon-neutrality claims are little more than a marketing gimmick.
Brands making carbon-neutral claims mislead consumers into thinking that we can somehow shop our way out of the climate crisis. Well… we can’t. What companies actually need to do is take real action—now.
What Is Carbon Neutrality?
Carbon neutrality is the misguided idea that it’s possible for a company to compensate for, or “offset,” all the greenhouse gas emissions it produces by investing in land-conservation, reforestation, or renewable-energy projects, or other activities that reduce or capture greenhouse gas emissions.
An airline company, for example, might fund the planting of millions of trees to offset the greenhouse gasses they produce. Voila! No impact on the climate! Best of all, this strategy suggests the company can help the climate without having to change a thing about how it does business. It’s like magic!
Sounds great in theory (and advertising), right? Well…
Protecting forests, of course, is critically important for climate and biodiversity, but the truth is that carbon offsets have increasingly come under a great deal of scrutiny for being ineffective in the fight against climate change.
If, contrary to companies’ claims, offsets are not actually reducing emissions, then all they’re doing is giving consumers the misleading impression that the choices we make while shopping can solve the climate crisis. And meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions keep going up and up.
According to studies, more than a third of consumers around the world are willing to pay more for products seen as sustainable or environmentally friendly. That speaks well of people’s desire to help fight climate change. When companies take advantage of consumers’ climate consciousness to make more money, it’s a betrayal not only of people, but also the planet.
Carbon Neutrality = Greenwashing
Offsets and carbon-neutrality claims are no substitute for directly reducing greenhouse gas emissions in your business and supply chain.
Scientists estimate that we only have about a decade to make dramatic changes and keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5˚C (every fraction of a degree higher than that increases the impact and intensity of the climate crisis for millions and millions of people). The time for talk is over. We need action.
Offsets combined with feel-good slogans about carbon neutrality don’t actually make emissions disappear. In fact, the false comfort this kind of greenwashing (an exaggeration of a company’s commitment, or a product’s benefit, to the environment) peddles to consumers is detrimental to the fight against climate change—and it shifts the responsibility for the climate away from corporations, the fossil fuel industry, and government policy and onto the consumer.
A Climate-Action Checklist
So how can you tell if a brand really is working to be part of the solution?
Are they taking direct action by stopping emissions from getting into the atmosphere in the first place?
Are they part of a trade association that’s collectively working on climate solutions? (Or, on the other hand, are they members of trade associations, like the US Chamber of Commerce, that actively opposes climate policy?)
Are they taking steps to ensure climate resilience and justice with their partners and in their supply chain?
Are they proactively advocating for progressive climate policy?
Why Ben & Jerry’s Will Never Make Any Carbon-Neutrality Claims
We have been working internally and with farmers, suppliers, and partners for years to lower our greenhouse gas emissions at every level of our business, while at the same time urging elected officials, as well as other corporations, to take urgent action on the climate.
What We’re Doing to Reduce Our Greenhouse Gas Emissions
We are members of BICEP (Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy), working together with dozens of companies to advance policies at the state and federal level to address the climate crisis.
Our entire product portfolio is Fairtrade certified. Fairtrade fights climate change by helping farmers become more climate resilient.
We are currently campaigning in Australia to protect the southern seas from expanded offshore oil and gas drilling.
Take Real Action on the Climate!
Marketing gimmicks will not save the planet, but action can. Even the cleverest advertising will not stop the earth from warming.
Companies need to take concrete action on the climate right now. Reach out to the ones you love and ask what they’re actually doing to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change.