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Climate Neutral: How to shop for certified eco-friendly products

Looking to shop for eco-friendly products? Climate Neutral certifies brands to help you navigate the best ones — and help reduce environmental impact.
Image: detail of white smoke in polluted sky
Climate Neutral offers brands certification if they commit to reducing emissions based on its calculator, which is itself based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, a widely-used greenhouse gas accounting standard.kodda / Getty Images

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While the 50th anniversary of Earth Day might not give us too much to celebrate, there are some climate realities that are better than others. For one, consumers are increasingly paying attention to where their purchases come from and their environmental impact, says Daniel Esty, JD, a professor of environmental law and policy at Yale and an expert in corporate sustainability. While some companies have been taking steps to become more environmentally friendly in response, he said, there is no widely-accepted measured standard for brands lessening their ecological footprint.

In this article

  1. Climate Neutral products and brands
  2. How Climate Neutral certifies brands
  3. Should you shop Climate Neutral certified brands?
  4. Best products to shop from Climate Neutral certified brands
  5. Other Climate Neutral certified 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,” Whitman told NBC News. “Before, there was no other way to show customers a company is taking steps to migrate its climate impact.”

On April 22 (marking Earth Day 2020), Climate Neutral confirmed 103 brands had completed its certification process in 2020 — 50 other brands are still in the process. The certified brands, which committed to reducing emissions throughout 2019, include brands from various retail spaces like Avocado, Biolite, Allbirds and others.

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,” explains 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 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 the only American coalition 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, a widely-used greenhouse gas accounting standard). They then report those numbers to Climate Neutral and commit to reducing them. Each year, they repeat this process. 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 told NBC News. Climate Neutral also requires brands to offset all three scopes set out by the GGP. For example, a company like outdoor retailer Ridgeline Outdoors will group its emissions calculation into three categories (or scopes) to include:

  1. Direct emissions like gas from their delivery vehicles
  2. Purchased indirect emissions, which includes electricity for their stores
  3. 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), told NBC News 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 labels that claim a product is environmentally-friendly, regardless of its actual impact. The Climate Neutral label is meant to prevent greenwashing, said Whitman. Shoppers who purchase from a Climate Neutral brand can be sure that that company has been independently reviewed and is actually taking steps to protect the environment. 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, Climate Neutral is the only “consumer-based ratings system that is this user-friendly,” said Ryan McPherson, the chief sustainability officer at the University of Buffalo.

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, noting 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.

“Roughly 25 percent of our carbon footprint is indirect emissions that can be really hard to define or calculate,” said McPherson. “It really struck me how they manage to include these complex calculations and communicate them in a straightforward way.”

Best products to shop from Climate Neutral certified brands (and those currently committed)

Dozens of brands have committed to reducing their 2019 carbon emissions throughout 2020, retroactively paying down past environmental impact. Many of these brands make everyday items, from sneakers to sunglasses or toothbrushes. Here’s a look at some of the products these companies offer.

1. Allbirds: Women's Tree Breezers

These sustainable flats are made of eucalyptus, wool and sugarcane. Allbirds also makes eco-friendly sneakers and socks. Allbirds are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, an independent nonprofit that rates products for sustainability.

2. Reformation: Olince Dress

This breezy dress is made of viscose, a man-made, wood pulp fiber sourced from a sustainably managed forest. Reformation also makes women’s jeans and wedding dresses. Reformation also works with nonprofit group Canopy, which plants and cares for trees.

3. Ministry of Supply: Work From Home Collection

This casual work-wear collection is made of merino wool and can be perfect 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 no new plastic and having zero material waste.

4. Nomad Goods: Rugged Phone case

This phone case is made with leather from the U.S. and comes in different colors. Nomad Goods also makes Airpod cases and wallets. They partner with CarbonFund to ensure their carbon emissions are offset.

5. Forsake: Cascade

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.

6. Peak Design: Everyday Backpack

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.

7. BioLite: Biolite HeadLamp 200

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.

8. Avocado: Green Mattress

The company’s signature mattress is made with organic latex, wool and cotton. Avocado also makes mattress toppers and bed frames, and is a member of 1% For the Planet.

9. Vicerno Watches: The Chrono S

This watch model is water-resistant and made of crystal, marble and Italian leather. Vicerno also makes women’s jewelry and men’s sunglasses. The company sources its own materials and produces its watches in small batches, to conserve materials.

10. Lifestraw: Original

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 their own program that provides students with safe drinking water.

11. Rumpl: Original Puffy Blanket

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.

12. MiiR: Vacuum Insulated Bottle

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.

13. All Good Products: Sport Sunscreen

All Good Products also make lip balms and deodorants. Certification overview/highlight in 1-2 sentences. They are members of 1% For The Planet, and their facilities are run on solar power.

Other Climate Neutral certified brands to consider

  • Sunski makes sunglasses for both men and women, and additionally donated thousands to environmental nonprofits.
  • Western Rise makes functional work apparel and donates one percent of annual revenue to social and environmental nonprofits, as part of the 1% For the Planet membership.
  • Sleep 365 makes 100-percent chemical-free mattresses.
  • Seirus makes cold-weather gear and is also currently donating 10 percent of online sales to No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit dedicated to child hunger.
  • Klean Kanteen makes insulated water bottles and tumblers and isa member of 1% for the Planet and a Certified B Corporation, a coalition of companies that meet certain standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and legal accountability.
  • Naturepedic makes organic mattresses and has a number of additional certifications, including a 1% For the Planet membership and a Certified Organic label.
  • Boyish Jeans makes denim wear for women and is also a member of 1% For the Planet, and has diverted 232 pounds of waste from landfill.
  • Icebug, an outdoor footwear brand, is dedicated to removing more carbon from the atmosphere than they produce.
  • Humangear makes reusable outdoor gear and invites customers to donate their used Humangear products for recycling.
  • Haven makes athletic gear, including gym bags and duffels.
  • Manathreads makes sustainable clothes for women and are members of 1% For the Planet.
  • Himalayan Stove Project is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the Himalayan environment by purchasing fuel efficient stoves and distributing them to families.
  • Chicobag makes compact reusable bags and are dedicated to having zero waste.
  • Morphalogica makes cruelty-free beauty products and is a Certified B Corporation.
  • 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 their supply chain and where they get their materials.
  • 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.
  • Moment makes technology accessories, some of which are fully compostable and eco-friendly.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • To-Goware makes reusable utensils and containers and, in a partnership with Chicobags, has saved an estimated 18 billion single-use items from waste.
  • Kinfield makes personal care products and donates two percent of its profits to environmental organizations.
  • Graphene-x makes weather-resistant jackets.
  • Konftel makes conferencing technology and accessories.

There are many more Climate Neutral certified brands and companies — you can see the full list here.

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