7 mins read | Creating Change

Carbon neutral? It’s not a claim we make. At least not yet.

Carbon Neutral Brand Journal Post

Here’s why.

Carbon neutral is the gold standard of responsible business. It’s a badge every business wants to wear as climate-conscious customers seek to reduce their impacts. But is the carbon neutral claim all its cut out to be? Or is it becoming as much a marketing badge as it is about true climate impact?

At Pala, we’re committed to climate justice but carbon neutral isn’t a badge we currently wear. Let us explain why.

What does it mean to be carbon neutral?

For a company to be carbon neutral it needs to balance any CO2 that it releases into the atmosphere through its activities by removing an equivalent amount of CO2 through other activities. Companies can claim to be carbon neutral by calculating their precise carbon emissions and then compensating for what they have produced via carbon offsetting. It’s big business with carbon footprint calculation tools, offsetting initiatives and innovation driving new developments all the time. This is all good news, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.

pollution entering the atmosphere

So what’s the problem?

Don’t get us wrong, we invest in carbon offsetting projects that do great things for people and the planet in places that are being most impacted by climate change. They’re hugely valuable for mitigating our emissions, but they don’t give us the 100% confidence we need to make bold claims around Pala being carbon neutral, carbon negative or anything else – claims you might see being used by other eyewear companies. Here’s why.

Carbon neutral doesn’t mean carbon free

The term carbon neutral can be misleading, giving customers a false sense of security that a product doesn’t have a climate impact when in fact that isn’t the case. Carbon neutral does not mean carbon free. It also puts the focus on offsetting rather than reducing emissions in the first place by finding better processes, using more sustainable materials or reducing waste. Carbon offsetting doesn’t reduce the root cause of carbon emissions and it only removes a very small fraction of total global CO2 emissions. That fact is global warming is still accelerating despite the huge growth in carbon offsetting.

Carbon emissions in the supply chain

Carbon neutral doesn’t always tell the whole story

A problem we see with the carbon neutral claim is that many companies only apply it to a small part of their emissions. To be carbon neutral, an organisation is required to offset its Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Scope 3 emissions are encouraged but not mandatory. But Scope 3 is nearly always the big one – often by a long way. A study of the global supply chain in 2020 suggested supply chain emissions are, on average, 11.4 times greater than a company’s own operational emissions. For most companies, understanding Scopes 1 and 2 is easy. It’s Scope 3 that really matters – and this is where it gets tricky.

Scope 1 are the direct emissions a company makes through sources it owns or controls, such as heating its buildings and running its vehicles.
Scope 2 are the emissions that are generated when the electricity and energy that a company buys is produced.
Scope 3 covers everything else that goes on up and down a company’s value chain – from producing raw materials to manufacturing by suppliers and what happens to a product at the end of its life.

So how can a company claim to be carbon neutral without including their Scope 3 emissions? Baffled? So are we.

Offsetting is for the privileged few

Climate justice means putting people and equity at the heart of climate action and addressing the widening gap between the global north and south that is being driven by climate change. But it’s the rich who produce most of the world’s carbon, and it’s only the rich who can afford to pay for offsetting. You don’t offset your own carbon emissions when you purchase a carbon offset – you effectively reduce carbon emissions for someone else, somewhere else and attribute it to yourself because you paid to offset it. Does this make offsetting a license for the rich to pollute? We’ll talk more about climate justice in our upcoming Impact Report.

Climate justice

What are we doing about it?

All this confusion doesn’t sit comfortably with us – the potential for greenwashing is high. According UK Competition and Markets Authority, up to 40% of green claims made online could be misleading consumers. This is something we’re keen to avoid at Pala.

Full transparency requires precise carbon accounting and product lifecycle assessments that are financially out of reach for a very small company like us. It’s something we would love to look at in the future as approaches become more accessible and affordable. This is why we don’t claim to be carbon neutral, carbon negative or anything else – but it doesn’t mean we’re not doing a lot of good stuff. We’ve committed to reach net zero by 2030, a timeframe that feels realistic for us to do the due diligence of our supply chain while the carbon measurement landscape continues to evolve.

Bio acetate is more sustainable

We choose sustainable materials.

Our frames are made from plant-based, biodegradable bio-acetate which is composed of mainly renewable resources. New research by Mazzucchelli 1849 (our supplier) and EssilorLuxottica shows its production generates 54% lower CO2 emissions compared with the industry standard acetate.

Person holding old spectacle frames for recycling

We embrace circularity.

From designing glasses that last to offering a take back scheme for old glasses, we support the circular economy. A more circular economy is crucial for reducing global carbon emissions. We’ve prevented 4.72 tonnes of plastic from going to landfill thanks to our recycled cases and recycled 675 old frames from customers and opticians through our partnership with TerraCycle.

We invest in credible offsetting projects.

Offsetting our emissions is important to us. We’ve protected 11,250 rainforest trees through our partnership with One Tribe, equivalent to sequestering 1,891 tonnes of carbon. We’ve also offset 59 tonnes of CO2 offset by funding 115 Wonderbox cookstoves to families in Uganda and Rwanda.

Handmade Italian Sunglasses

We’re always looking for ways to minimise our own emissions.

Our small team works out of an office that is powered by 100% green energy. All of our sunglasses are hand made in Italy by a family-run business and transported to the UK by road. This means fewer emissions compared with the majority of sunglasses which are flown from China.

We’d love to do more. Can you help?

We know we need to be doing more. We all do. That’s why Pala has signed up the five commitments of the Fashion Declares movement.

We’d love to hear from other companies like us – especially eyewear companies – to look at how we can do more to reduce our carbon impacts. These sort of pre-competitive, open conversations are the way forward in our view.

Innovation happens fast and we may be unaware of a process or solution you think we should be looking at. If this is the case, please get in touch – we’re all ears.

Finally, next time you see a company claiming to be carbon neutral, stop and consider what it really means. You could ask them the question. Because companies listen to their customers and this means you have the power to drive change and increase transparency.

Get to know all the people, materials and processes throughout our current supply chain.