Do Carbon Offsets Matter This Holiday Season? (Or Ever?)

Do Carbon Offsets Matter This Holiday Season? (Or Ever?)

This is part of our ongoing series, called DTL (that stands for Down to Learn), where we take deep dives into the odd, nuanced and mysterious world of sustainability. Each article in our series should give you a good icebreaker for your next Zoom, or perhaps even inspire you.

The good news: Shopify has announced they'll be offsetting carbon emissions associated with all holiday season gifting, shipping and shopping. That's great news since this season generates a whole lotta waste and emissions. (Fun fact: if you check out on a Shopify hosted site and use "ShopPay", those emissions will be offset year around and not just from now through New Year's.) Also good news: Goldune offsets emissions from all our orders.

That said, we've got mixed feelings about carbon offsets, mainly that they're a bandaid slapped onto our bigger problems— we've got a consumption addiction that pretty much wrecks the Earth. It's complicated to unpack, and the irony of being a retailer giving a stern lecture about consumption, when we very well would like you to shop our sustainable goods, is not lost on us. But we've said it before and we'll say it again— we don't think it's totally realistic to ask people to never shop again, cold turkey, and implying that it is is the opposite inclusive. (If you have questions about our sustainability goals, or why we do what we do how we do it, you can read more about it here.)

Let's get one thing super straight: we're not questioning whether or not folks should offset carbon emissions. It's an absolute "yes" to that from us. But we do think that slapping a carbon offset banner on the top of a website doesn't really address the true problem— and it leaves a lot of questions unanswered and stones unturned for customers who haven't had time or bandwidth to dive deep into the logistics of carbon offsetting. Here, we aim to dislodge a few of those stones so you can form an opinion of your own.

Q: What are the different kinds of carbon offsets?

A: There are two kinds of carbon offsets— voluntary and compliance based offsets. The former are the ones Goldune and other retailers make, and the latter are the kinds that are legally required by governments or the EU. Both are markets of their own in some day— according to Vox and Ecosystem Marketplace, "the market for voluntary offsets came close to $200 million and traded almost 100M metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2018," while "estimates of the size of the global carbon compliance offset market range between $40B and $120B."

Q: What companies have pledged to become carbon neutral?

A: Well, over 177 companies have pledged to go neutral by 2050 (a little late, in our opinion, given the timeline of the Paris Agreement). Those 177 companies alone have the same carbon footprint as the country of France, so that pledge isn't small potatoes.

Looking for American brands that offset carbon emissions or are carbon neutral? In the food world, Good Eggs limits its carbon footprint, and Stonyfield Organic is lowering emissions by 30% this decade. John Deere, which is tangentially related to food as a farming equipment company, has pledged to recycled 85% of materials and reduce emissions on 90% of new products, according to Forbes.

Climate Neutral is a nonprofit that can tell you if a company is truly carbon neutral. It's an awesome resource, but it's also good to remember a lot of small, new, woman or BIPOC owned brands don't have the resources to get certifications like this or other "sustainable" stamps of approval— that includes Goldune. In order to be considered as "officially" climate neutral, a company must be in operation for at least one year. We launched on 10/20, less than a month ago at time of writing, so we've got a long ways to go until we can get an official climate neutral seal. Reminder to support small brands that work towards sustainability because your orders are what help them get there!

Some carbon-neutral brands you might recognize on the Climate Neutral list? Goldune's favorite toothpaste and toothbrush hookup, Goodwell, is front and center. Some of our other faves, like Cha Cha Matcha, Rumpl, Necessaire and Sunski make the list too.

Ready for a random fun fact? Disney has a zero waste policy at all of its parks, shockingly, and has zero net direct emissions at its parks too.

Q: Does offsetting carbon emissions make a company sustainable?

A: Ahh, you've asked us the money question. "Sustainable" is such a loaded word on its own. We're comfortable saying offsetting carbon emissions makes a company more climate friendly. Not to be super picky, but if a fast fashion company is offsetting all carbon emissions associated with doing business, that doesn't really stop their cheap, ill-fitting, sweatshop-made pants from hitting the landfill after you've worn them three times. We suggest you use your best judgment and be a little tougher on industries where single-use or trend driven products dominate the space.

Q: When should I buy a carbon offset?

A: Some companies will sell you an offset with your purchase instead of paying for it themselves. That's fine, and different people have different schools of thought when it comes to who is responsible for us. We feel responsible for it the same way we feel responsible for the end of life and how you dispose of your products. If we're selling you stuff, it's our responsibility to be, well, responsible, for longer than it takes for the ink on your receipt to dry.

There are a few situations where you may need to consider buying a carbon offset of your own, and air travel is the number one. Flying by plane is really, really bad for the environment. If you're a jetsetter, and you had cash to throw down on a recreational ticket, you should fork up cash to offset that flight. It's not too expensive, and in general, we should get in the habit of thinking about what our recreation or relaxation might cost the planet. If you're a business traveler, suggest having the company offset travel— it's a great way to get your leadership team involved and to put their money where their mouth is. These are all moot points now, of course. We would love it if you didn't get on a plane at all in 2020.

Q: What's the most carbon friendly way to shop this holiday season?

A: Well, Shopify has simplified that by a long shot now that they've essentially made all Shopify merchants carbon neutral. Any store that's on Shopify's platform is carbon neutral, but we'd urge you to dig a little deeper and think about product, community and how you want to vote with your dollars. Could you commit to gifting 75% of your holiday shopping from a Black owned business? What if at least half of your self-care splurges over the next few months came from WOC lead brands? We made a guide to shopping woman-owned, BIPOC-owned, recycled and zero-waste gifts on our site, but the world is really your oyster. We really love brands like Klur and Diaspora Co, if you're looking to stray beyond Goldune's home base.

Q: If a brand doesn't carbon offset, does that mean I shouldn't shop there?

A: You should do whatever is sustainable for you! Sustainability is a spectrum, like a lot of other things. What's most sustainable is holding yourself to realistic standards that don't feel like a crash-diet you're about to binge after. Be thoughtful, kind, and do what you can.

Hint: If you're looking for a carbon and environment-friendly version of a product and you can't find it, email or DM us. That's literally our full time job. We keep a running list of what we haven't been able to find so that as we grow, we can explore sustainably manufacturing products that don't have any representation in the clean and green markets.

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