“Going green” has grown in the past couple of years — think of increasingly popular eco-friendly brands like Girlfriend Collective and Everlane. But the current state of what some call a climate crisis is alarming, especially ahead of the 51st anniversary of Earth Day. While global carbon emissions dropped during the pandemic, a recent report predicted those emissions will bounce back. Much of the attention on carbon emissions revolves around how companies are contributing to climate change. Despite many corporate pledges to become carbon neutral in the near future, it can be difficult to know what “carbon neutral” actually means to different companies. And there’s no widely-accepted measured standard for brands lessening their ecological footprint, explained Daniel Esty, JD, a professor of environmental law and policy at Yale University and an expert in corporate sustainability.
- Carbon neutrality
- How Climate Neutral certifies brands
- Climate Neutral certified brands
- Best products to shop from Climate Neutral certified brands
- Other brands to consider
That’s something energy expert Austin Whitman is hoping to change through Climate Neutral, a nonprofit he started alongside environmentally-minded brands Peak Design and Biolite. The coalition measures and labels consumer brands that are carbon neutral, aiming to become an independently trusted source for sustainable goods. “There’s a real gap we are addressing,” explained Whitman, who is the current CEO of the nonprofit. “Before, there was no other way to show customers a company is taking steps to migrate its climate impact.”
And it seems Climate Neutral is becoming progressively popular with more and more brands. On April 22 (marking Earth Day 2021) Climate Neutral confirmed 230 brands had completed its certification process in 2021 — 150 other brands have committed to becoming certified but are still in the process. It’s an increase from the year before, when 149 were certified. These new certified brands, which committed to reducing emissions throughout 2020, include brands from various retail spaces including Blueland, Reformation and REI. The brands that are committed will be certified in June, according to Climate Neutral, and include Paravel, Prose and Haus.
From last year’s list to this year’s, five small brands — which are defined as making less than $5 million in annual revenue — either shut down or chose not to recertify, citing cost constraints, according to Whitman. Climate Neutral declined to name them but Whitman claimed that the overall renewal rate in the number of brands is 96%.
Climate neutral products and brands: a win-win
Companies that are climate neutral are dedicated to “reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to the greatest extent, and paying for the carbon they are unable to remove,” explained Esty. The combination of reducing emissions and paying for what’s left results in a kind of footprint neutrality, hence the label. “It’s a sign that the company is a corporate leader in environmental sustainability,” said Esty, who also wrote the highly-rated “Green to Gold.” Climate Neutral is not the first coalition to encourage a smaller carbon footprint.
- Climate Neutral Now is a United Nations initiative that invites international brands and organizations to go carbon neutral.
- There are also national environmental coalitions, including 1% for the Planet, whose members promise to donate at least one percent of their sales to environmental charities.
However, Climate Neutral is one of the only American coalitions that specifically labels brands for their work in carbon offsetting. “Retail is important and labels like this could catch on for the growing number of consumers whose buying behavior is pivoting towards sustainability,” said Esty. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a certified organic label for food products that pass rigorous testing on soil quality, animal raising practices and use of additives, for example. The Climate Neutral label follows a similar model, said Esty.
“There’s a double benefit here,” he added. “The company meets the standard, which is good for the environment, and signals to potential customers that they are a good guy company who is committed to taking climate change seriously.”
How Climate Neutral certifies brands
Climate Neutral works with each brand to accurately measure its emissions. Put simply, companies assess their own emissions using the Brand Emissions Estimator (which is itself based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, or GGP, a widely-used greenhouse gas accounting standard). For future certifications, the organization released an updated version of the estimator in January, which figures out a brand’s carbon footprint and “breaks down high-level areas for reduction that can be tackled first and have a meaningful impact,” according to Whitman. And this estimator is available to any brand seeking certification, Whitman added. They then report those numbers to Climate Neutral and commit to reducing them. Each year, the certification lapses and they repeat this process, Whitman explained. While a third party audit isn't always involved in the calculating portion of the process, this is normal in the emissions regulation space, Esty said. Climate Neutral also requires brands to offset all three scopes set out by the GGP. For example, a company will group its emissions calculation into three categories (or scopes) to include:
- Direct emissions like gas from their delivery vehicles
- Purchased indirect emissions, which includes electricity for their stores
- Indirect emissions from creating and delivering the product, from manufacturing to shipping
They’ll then deliver the numbers to Climate Neutral and get to work on reducing them until the following year, when they repeat the whole process. Climate Neutral reviews each company's reporting and, in some cases, will bring in a third-party audit, Whitman explained.
- Brands bringing in less than $5 million a year work with the nonprofit to estimate their greenhouse gas emissions using Climate Neutral’s calculator.
- Those with revenues between $5 million and $100 million collect their own emissions data and, additionally, use Climate Neutral’s calculator to confirm their numbers.
- Lastly, Climate Neutral works with a third-party greenhouse gas consulting firm to confirm greenhouse gas emission data from brands whose revenues exceed $100 million.
“We try to be transparent about what we are doing,” said Whitman. “We hold companies to the same set of standards that are perceivable, so it’s not a black box for the consumers. All the data is available on our website.”
In exchange for meeting these standards, Climate Neutral Certified brands can use the certified label on all packaging, websites and other types of branding. This signals to consumers the company is dedicated to reducing its carbon footprint, as Esty noted above.
Should you shop Climate Neutral certified brands?
In 2018, Climate Neutral certified just four brands, two of which founded the nonprofit: Peak Design and BioLite. Mark Abrials, co-founder of Avocado Green Mattress (one of the four), said he considers the brand’s certification demonstrates “a real, concrete way we are living out that vision.”
A common issue when shopping for eco-friendly goods, however, is greenwashing, or the act of claiming a product is environmentally-friendly regardless of its actual impact. The Climate Neutral label is meant to prevent greenwashing, said Whitman. According to Climate Neutral, when you see the nonprofit’s label, it means the brand has gone through the process to clean up its past emissions and is trying to limit future emissions through self-assessments and consulting a third-party. . By creating “harmonization” across a group of companies, as Whitman puts it, Climate Neutral gives consumers a better understanding of what went into their certification and why they can trust the label.
While there are similar certifications and labels out there, including CarbonFree Certified and the Carbon Reduction Label, Ryan McPherson, the chief sustainability officer at the University of Buffalo, described Climate Neutral as the only “consumer-based ratings system that is this user-friendly” last year.
Most certification labels don’t report their carbon calculations in a clearly defined way, creating a disconnect for the consumer, said McPherson. But Climate Neutral “takes a holistic view of both the carbon footprint and offsetting measures in an easy way for consumers to understand,” he said. He noted another unique feature of Climate Neutral's certification: It uses all three scopes set out by the GGP to calculate a company’s carbon emissions.
Indirect emissions in our carbon footprint can be hard to calculate, noted McPherson. As mentioned above, these kinds of emissions include shipping and delivering a product. “It really struck me how they manage to include these complex calculations and communicate them in a straightforward way,” McPherson added. “It really struck me how they manage to include these complex calculations and communicate them in a straightforward way.”
Climate Neutral brands and their highly rated products
Many brands have committed to reducing their 2020 carbon emissions throughout 2021, retroactively paying down past environmental impact. Many of these brands make everyday items, from sneakers to sunglasses or toothbrushes. The following brands are either currently certified or committed for their 2020 emissions, according to Climate Neutral. Here’s a look at some of the products these companies offer.
This award-winning straw helps filter out bacteria, parasites and microplastics from water, a welcome addition to any camping scenario. Lifestraw also makes water bottles and high-volume water purifiers. The company has its own program that provides students with safe drinking water. While officially certified last year, the brand will be certified again later this year, according to Climate Neutral.
These sustainable flats are made of eucalyptus, wool and sugarcane. Allbirds also makes eco-friendly sneakers and socks for men and women. Allbirds is also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an independent nonprofit that rates products for sustainability.
This durable hiking boot, made with vegan materials and breathable mesh, is perfect for outdoor hiking. Forsake also makes hiking clothes and wallets. Forsake’s carbon credits will support the Envira Amazonia Project in Brazil, which works to preserve nearly 500,000 acres of endangered rainforest. While Forsake’s own site is sold out of many sizes currently, you can find most sizes at Amazon right now.
This short-sleeve henley is made from washable Merino wool and some stretch — it might be another option for your Zoom meetings. Ministry of Supply also makes other types of workwear for men and women. The company says it's dedicated to using recycled materials and having zero material waste.
This water bottle is double-insulated, keeping its contents cold (or warm) for hours. MiiR also makes growlers and tumblers. All products sold fund charity products, which can be tracked live on their website.
This headlamp has four light settings, USB charging capabilities and weighs as little as a golf ball. Biolite, another Climate Neutral founding brand, also makes portable batteries and camping bundles.
This compactable blanket, made for outdoor camping, comes in multiple colors and designs. Rumpl also makes pillowcases and ponchos. Rumpl has up-cycled over five million discarded plastic water bottles and is a member of 1% For the Planet.
A favorite among Shopping editors, this deodorant uses ingredients like kaolin clay to keep you dry throughout the day and lactic acids to control odors. Nécessaire’s line of beauty products includes a body wash, hand cream and more.
10. Paravel: Aviator Carry-On
Paravel uses recycled plastic bottles and upcycled materials in its bags, backpacks and luggage. The Aviator carry-on is designed to be carbon neutral — the brand says it offsets the emissions that come from the production, shipping and delivery to shoppers. Its shell is made from a recycled polycarbonate shell. The brand also carries a larger carry-on that’s also highly rated.
12. Prose: Dry Shampoo
Prose is known for its customized haircare and each product is free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates and more. You can also personalize products to be vegan, gluten- and fragrance-free. One of its newer items is its dry shampoo that’s a translucent powder — you can take a quiz for a tailor-made formula.
This functional backpack has plenty of compartments for organization and easy access. The material is 100-percent recycled. Peak Design, on the Climate Neutral founding brands, also makes tripods and travel bags.
14. Reformation: Dawson Dress
This short dress features a smocked bodice and adjustable tie straps. The dress was designed from a deadstock voile — Reformation says it buys leftover or over-ordered fabric from factories and warehouses.. Reformation also makes women’s jeans and wedding dresses. Reformation also works with nonprofit group Canopy, which plants and cares for trees.
Other Climate Neutral certified and committed brands
These are some of the other currently Climate Neutral certified and committed brands. A few of these brands were certified in 2019 and will be certified again for 2020 later this year, according to Climate Neutral. Some that we previously covered last year are no longer listed as certified or committed on Climate Neutral’s website and no longer appear below.
- Blueland makes sustainable cleaning supplies, with refills for soap and laundry care.
- Sunski makes sunglasses for both men and women, and additionally donated thousands to environmental nonprofits.
- Western Rise makes functional work apparel. The brand was certified for 2019 and will be certified again for 2020 later this year, according to Climate Neutral.
- Glow Recipe makes skin care inspired by different fruits, including watermelon and avocado.
- Klean Kanteen makes insulated water bottles and tumblers. The brand is a member of 1% for the Planet and certified through B Corporation, a coalition of companies that meet certain standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and legal accountability.
- Boyish Jeans makes denim wear for women and is also a member of 1% For the Planet.
- Icebug, an outdoor footwear brand, is dedicated to removing more carbon from the atmosphere than they produce.
- Chico Bag makes compact reusable bags and is dedicated to having zero waste.
- Tread & Butter makes athletic shoes, with soles made from cork.
- Joob Activewear makes men’s athletic clothing and invests one percent of revenue to local environmental initiatives and two percent of revenues in carbon reducing projects.
- Juniper makes bedding and attempts to be fully transparent about its supply chain and where the brand gets its materials. The brand was certified for 2019 and will be certified again for 2020 later this year, according to Climate Neutral.
- Sensi Graves makes women’s swimwear and is a member of 1% For the Planet.
- Ombraz Sunglasses makes sunglasses and is a member of 1% For the Planet. The brand was certified for 2019 and will be certified again for 2020 later this year, according to Climate Neutral.
- Hibear makes outdoors wear and is a member of 1% For the Planet.
- Tashtego makes travel and outdoors gear.
- ReVessel makes food storage containers and donates a portion of their sales to support organic agriculture.
- Unruled makes notebooks made of recycled materials and is a member of 1% For the Planet.
- Thousand makes helmets and gloves, and is a member of 1% For the Planet. The brand was certified for 2019 and will be certified again for 2020 later this year, according to Climate Neutral.
- Fireclay Tile makes tiles, glass and brick and is a Certified B Corporation.
- Kammok makes hammocks, tents and other outdoor gear and is a Certified B Corporation.
- Graphene-X makes weather-resistant jackets.
- Konftel makes conferencing technology and accessories.