With many of the first-mover companies having met or exceeded their early carbon goals – some, like IKEA and Logitech, are looking at the challenge ahead, moving their companies from solely carbon neutral to one that is carbon negative, too.
Who was a standout at climate week this year?
IKEA. They made their presence known at Climate Week NYC 2023 via its parent company, Ingka Group. They sponsored and hosted panels at the Fast Company Innovation Festival, Climate Week NYC, and their own “Actions Speak Summit,” all taking place the same week. At each event, they reinforced their commitment to being climate-negative by 2030 (or 2050 at the latest). How?
How Have Companies Reached Carbon Negative?
Ingka Group cited their consumption of 100% renewable energy with the help of offshore wind and solar and a commitment to completely reevaluate their footprint at each step of their value chain, starting with its biggest emitter: materials.
IKEA is not alone in its carbon negative by 2030 goal. Microsoft has set an even loftier goal: they’ll be climate-negative by 2030 and remove their carbon legacy by 2050. I expect that in the coming years, we will see other companies follow in Microsoft’s footsteps and create plans to remove their historical carbon emissions, something widely unheard of today.
Although not very present at Climate Week this year, Google claims to have entirely eliminated its historical carbon emissions, all the way back in 2020. Sundar Patchai of Google announced that they were the first major company to eliminate its carbon legacy via a purchase of “high-quality carbon offset projects.” After sifting through their 2020, 2021, and 2022, sustainability reports, the claim does not appear to be substantive, and no further information was included.
Beyond Ingka Group and Microsoft, numerous companies in attendance of all sizes emphasized their commitment to becoming carbon-negative… eventually.
Lisa Conway from Interface (a company midsize company that produces carbon-negative construction products and carpet tiles) sat alongside the COO of Logitech, Prakash Arunkundrum, at a Capgemini-sponsored panel. As first-movers, both of their companies are already carbon neutral. Following a similar strategy to Ingka Group, they’re “baking sustainability into business models.” They do this by evaluating systems focusing on reducing waste and experimenting with materials along the entirety of their value chains.
Watch Microsoft's Explainer on Reaching Carbon Negative:
What's to Come?
Supply Chain Emissions
This isn’t new. To reach carbon negative, companies are reevaluating their scope 2 and 3 emissions, in addition to their direct carbon use (scope 1). But how will business leaders go about encouraging a supply-chain-wide change? As has already been the case, larger companies will bring on initiatives to support their suppliers via incentives and development programs. Projects that, if successful, may be widely adopted by the broader business community.
The circular economy is a business model that challenges the present “take-make-dispose” pattern (linear economy). Take-Make-Dispose is what got us in this mess to begin with, and so – the discussion around a circular economy is inherently connected to the carbon conversation. Companies focused on becoming carbon-negative are already building on strategies to reduce emissions and minimize waste. The next step in the waste overhaul is creating a closed-loop system, where products and materials are reused, repaired, remanufactured, and recycled, thereby reducing the strain on natural resources and minimizing manufacturing emissions.
When I asked the COO of Logitech, Prakash Arunkundrum, about their circularity initiatives, he mentioned their collaboration with Ifixit for self-repairs, which reduces carbon emissions from product disposal and addresses the supply chain challenges of product repairs.
"Carbon is the new Calorie"
Prakash Arunkundrum, Chief Operating Officer, Logitech
Broader GHG Emissions Reduction
Although Carbon remains the dominant driver of long-term climate change, a growing concern for other greenhouse gasses has erupted in the past few years. These other greenhouse gasses include Nitrous Oxide and Methane. Methane is considered to be more potent than carbon dioxide, with 80x more warming power than carbon. Some companies are already taking big steps:
Waste Management is building important infrastructure to convert landfill methane into usable natural gas.
Danone, the french dairy giant, has committed to reduce its methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Achieving this via “holistic regenerative farming approaches” and methane inhibitor technologies.
Mind the Language, Please:
There are many words being thrown around in the climate conversation, and it’s making things complicated. They don’t have to be.
Here’s a rough rundown of the language used this climate week:
- Carbon: Carbon typically refers to carbon dioxide (CO2), a greenhouse gas, which is a contributor to climate change. It can be released into the atmosphere from human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and industrial processes.
- Carbon Legacy: Carbon legacy is the cumulative carbon emissions or carbon footprint associated with past activities, such as historical emissions of a company or organization.
- Greenhouse Gases (GHG): Greenhouse gases are gases in the Earth’s atmosphere that can trap heat and contribute to the greenhouse effect, leading to global warming and climate change. Common greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and water vapor.
- Decarbonization: Decarbonization is the process of reducing or eliminating carbon emissions to mitigate climate change. It involves transitioning to cleaner, low-carbon, or carbon-free energy sources, technologies, and processes.
- Carbon Neutral: When an entity is carbon neutral, it means that any CO2 emissions they release into the atmosphere are balanced by an equivalent amount of CO2 being removed or offset through various measures like reforestation, carbon capture, or purchasing carbon credits.
- Net-Zero Carbon Emissions: Net-zero carbon emissions is the state where an activity releases no more carbon emissions into the atmosphere than it removes or offsets. It aims to balance the emissions and removal of carbon, typically through sustainability measures that focus on abatement rather than offsets.
- Climate Neutral: Achieving climate neutrality means not only reducing all greenhouse gas emissions to zero (including carbon dioxide, methane, and others) but also eliminating all other negative environmental impacts that an organization may cause. It goes beyond carbon neutrality by addressing a broader range of environmental concerns.
- Carbon Negative: A carbon-negative activity or entity goes beyond achieving net-zero carbon emissions by removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This results in a net reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere, creating an environmental benefit.
- Carbon Positive: same as carbon negative. Purely marketing lingo, meant to give a positive spin on the term and can sometimes create confusion.
- Climate Positive: Along similar lines to Carbon Negative. A Climate-positive organization goes beyond achieving carbon neutrality. It means that the entity takes measures to reduce not only carbon emissions (CO2) but also other greenhouse gases, and has a generally positive set of climate initiatives. This term is also marketing lingo, too broad, can create confusion and should be avoided.