With a sturdy and growing group of committed brands acting as fulcrum, CEO Austin Witman shares how Climate Neutral is now poised to begin pulling on the largest climate lever: Consumer Purchasing Power.
The non‐profit Climate Neutral has one goal: help get us to a zero net carbon emissions future. Its certification process acts as a guideline for brands to measure, offset and reduce their total emissions, while giving consumers the power of an informed purchasing choice. Suston talks to CEO Austin Whitman about brand and consumer responsibility.
Suston: Climate Neutral was born out of a need to change private industry’s impact on climate change. Is that what attracted you to the project?
I’ve spent most of my career working on energy and climate change. I moved from working in early carbon markets in 2006‐2009, to working in finance and policy all around energy and the environment. I decided to join forces with our co‐founders [BioLite and Peak Design] to launch Climate Neutral because it seemed like an amazing chance to accelerate consumer involvement in the push toward progress in the climate challenge.
It has been challenging to start an organization, and we are still working on building something capable of scaling and sustaining itself over the long term. Despite this, our brand has been well received. We have grown far faster than we anticipated, with more than 300 companies working with us in just over two years.
Suston: A Climate Neutral certification signals that a brand has offset its total emissions for one year. What have these brands’ efforts amounted to in terms of actual emissions reduction and offsets?
Since 2020, we have certified 150 companies, with 205,000 tonnes of emissions. We will certify about 300 companies this year (150 recertifying, plus 150 others) with a total of about 1 million tonnes of emissions. In addition to these emissions being offset, all brands must make emission reduction plans. Certified projects are subject to the permanence requirements that are written into the third‐party verifications that they receive, but generally the effects of the offsets used have an immediate impact that will last for many decades.
Suston: Climate Neutral is also aiming to inform and empower conscious consumers, going beyond brand certification to focus on a consumer‐facing product tag. What has been the response so far?
The response is incredible. We see tremendous engagement directly on social media, and brands generally feel that the label gives them a great opportunity to communicate with consumers about climate change.
Consumers are often reminded of their responsibility to heat their homes with electricity, not fossil fuels, drive electric cars, eat plants not meat, and recycle. All of those things remain important. We are working on something consumers are rarely told about: the climate impacts of their consumption. We want to shift as much consumer spending as possible toward companies that measure, offset, and reduce their emissions. This, among the many other necessary actions, will make it possible for consumers to be the reason businesses decarbonize.
Suston: You urge industry and consumers alike to take responsibility. How far do you think voluntary actions will get us, and what’s the role of government regulation and state carbon markets in shaping emission reductions?
Regulation and policy are essential, but they aren’t written overnight. They don’t ever take effect immediately, and they aren’t guaranteed to reduce emissions immediately. A company could face a carbon tax designed to shift investment away from fossil fuels, and that company will still be creating climate pollution. Ultimately, the role of regulation and policy is to drive longer‐term transformation.
In the meantime, voluntary action will drive more focused progress. After all, two‐thirds of the world’s economy is powered by consumer spending. We’ve seen huge success in shifting consumer norms against sweatshops and animal cruelty, and there are already high levels of existing concern among consumers regarding mitigating emissions. I’m hoping this concern will get us impact in the billions of tonnes.
Suston: More and more companies are making net zero commitments – including Suston’s producer NORR Agency. How do you plan to build on this momentum in the future?
Our core focus is to try to build the recognition of the consumer label, because that’s the ultimate source of growth for this movement. And we’re hoping to work with more retailers in addition to the ones we have already certified. Eventually, we’ll shift more toward suppliers so that brands can share more of the burden.
If all of a brand’s suppliers are driving hard toward carbon neutrality, the brand has a lighter load, and shared responsibility is a good thing. It’s just that most companies are taking no responsibility at the moment – except, of course, for the 300 that we work with. By the end of this year, we’re hoping for that number to be over 500, and to hit 1,000 next year equaling tens of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases’ worth of impact.
About Climate Neutral
Climate Neutral works to decrease global carbon emissions by getting brands to measure, offset, and reduce the carbon they emit.
Climate Neutral offers a simple set of tools and a certification that makes carbon footprinting more accessible, sets clear guidelines for carbon offsetting, and inspires brands to work on reducing emissions directly.
When a brand gets certified, it achieves zero net carbon emissions for all of the carbon it creates while making and delivering its products or services for a year. The Climate Neutral Certified label makes it easy for consumers to find certified brands.
Climate Neutral envisions a world where all consumers have the ability to choose brands that take responsibility for their carbon emissions, and all brands have the tools to do so.
Photos: Climate Neutral