Why our basics aren't carbon neutral.

Over the years we've done quite some research into making our products carbon neutral. To achieve cradle-to-gate carbon neutrality, we'd first have to calculate the amount of carbon that is emitted to produce our basics and transport them to us in Berlin. Then as a second step, we'd offset these emissions through a company that sells carbon credits.

So yes, theoretically we could make our products climate neutral. But we've encountered major roadblocks with both the calculation of carbon emissions per product and the offsetting that would follow. Taken altogether, we don't believe we can reliably achieve carbon neutrality - and have therefore decided to pause this project, for now.

The first roadblock is that the way carbon emissions are calculated is too vague. For example the calculations that Climate Partner makes are largely based on estimations. The estimations are based on their experience with other brands, estimated weights of products, qualitative product descriptions and data that is provided by factories. By combining these rather vague sources, a number is found that is then "the carbon emission per product X".

Admittedly, we had discussions with them several years ago. Most likely their calculations have improved in the meantime. But in our experience, for example data that factories provide can often be wrong or inaccurate. Not because of any bad intentions, but simply because perhaps the question was misunderstood or the required data is not measured correctly.

Another problem that we've encountered with the carbon-per-product calculations, is that there is no industry consensus on how to calculate and correctly attribute carbon emissions to a brand or even specifically to a product. Example: a factory's carbon emissions have been calculated for a month. In that month, the factory has produced 1.000 hoodies for Brand X, 2.000 t-shirts for Brand Y and 500 hoodies and 500 t-shirts for Honest Basics.

How do we now figure out how much carbon emissions have been made for the Honest Basics production? Do we calculate per piece - but then how to compare hoodies with t-shirts? Or do we calculate based on weight - but then how to compare our basic hoodies with other hoodies that e.g. get very carbon-intensive washing treatments?

As you see there is really no easy answer on how to calculate the carbon emissions for our products. Rather than working with numbers that are most likely wrong. Or investing a lot of time into making our own calculations that would be shaky at best. We decided to not pursue this topic in more detail - for now!

An important side-note: there are different focus areas for becoming carbon neutral. We see many big corporations for example focussing on making their offices carbon neutral. This is often easier (and a lot cheaper), than making the products themselves carbon neutral. We're not judging - every little bit helps. But please keep in mind that if "a company is carbon neutral", this can mean a lot of different things, depending on whom you ask.

After the calculations are made and a number for the carbon emissions per product has been found, the idea behind becoming carbon neutral is to offset these carbon emissions. The offsetting is done through companies or projects that sell carbon credits. In a nutshell we'd for example send money to a carbon company Z, who are then supposed to use this money to plant trees somewhere in the world. The planted trees would (in time) offset the carbon that was emitted to produce our products.

At this point we encounter the second main roadblock: the carbon offsetting market has recently been under a lot of scrutiny. A lot of the projects that have been used to make companies or products "carbon neutral" have turned out to be questionable (or even outright fraudulent).

There's some great journalism on these topics: check for example this investigation by Follow The Money, into one of the largest carbon offsetting companies called South Pole. Or watch this video on Youtube from Fern about greenwashing at Shell.

As a tiny fashion company, we don't have the resources to check if the carbon credits we buy are legit. So on this point we draw the same conclusion as for the shaky calculations: it's better for us to not spend time or money on projects which are potentially false.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, we only want to brand our products as being carbon neutral, if we're sure of what we're doing. At the moment we can't guarantee with a high degree of certainty, that our basics would actually be carbon neutral. There is enough fake sustainability out there - we prefer to stay honest and work towards a real solution!

Does the fact that we're not offsetting mean that we're not working on reducing our carbon footprint? The opposite is true! Reducing the carbon footprint of our production is a major focus point for us. Stay tuned for more information on that topic!

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