Why We Need Voluntary Carbon Markets Now More Than Ever

Climate financing is a topic that receives a great deal of attention, often under critical scrutiny. This debate is beneficial, and we appreciate it when our partners from different industries take the issue seriously. In a recent interview with Suston Magazine, which focuses on outdoor brands and related issues, we explored these issues in depth. Gabriel Arthur from Suston Magazine took the time to ask these questions in order to reflect on the issue together. We discussed common misconceptions about carbon offsetting, the evolution of terms like «carbon neutral» and «net zero», and the importance of transparency and quality in climate change projects.

 

Gabriel Arthur: On your website, you list nearly 50 Frequently Asked Questions. Which would you say are the topmost common misconceptions about carbon offsetting – and what are your answers? 

Kai Landwehr: One is actually the terminology. Today, we talk more about voluntary carbon markets and climate protection beyond the value chain, than carbon offsetting. But the main misconception is that companies that use such solutions are indulgent and continue their «bad» business-as-usual approach behind the scenes. 

From our customer base and from recent scientific studies, we know that this conception is simply not true. These companies spend much effort and money on internal greenhouse gas reduction and avoidance strategies. Financing effective climate projects usually comes on top of that. 

It is not a question of «either–or», as in either reducing or financing. Climate protection with impact means «as well as». Do your best and take responsibility for the rest. And that is what the vast majority of these companies do. 

  

Gabriel Arthur:  Are the two concepts «Carbon Neutral» and «Net-Zero» still relevant, from your point of view? Or should we stop using them? 

Kai Landwehr: At myclimate, we have replaced our climate-neutral label with a different claim (myclimate «Engaged for Impact»). Now, with the rules of the Paris Agreement in force, it is no longer possible to count reduction in emissions from projects elsewhere in your balance. That would mean double-counting. Secondly, consumer-rights organizations criticize correctly that those claims are misleading because they draw attention away from the fact that a product causes CO2 emissions. Emissions that don’t disappear even though a company has invested in climate protection projects. That communications change is a big step to move the existing tonne-for-tonne approach to a more honest, more responsible tonne-for-money approach. 

 

«That is the crucial aspect: Today, we still need these voluntary contributions from the corporate sector to fight climate change successfully. The voluntary carbon markets have kicked off and implemented many valuable climate projects with outstanding track records in the past. We have to adjust the communication and stay critical of the quality of projects. Still, we also have to grow this market, not as a “silver bullet” but as an essential measure of global climate action.»

Kai Landwehr, Head of Global Marketing, Co-Managing Director of the myclimate Foundation

  

Gabriel Arthur:  If you look outside myclimate – are there any reliable ways to separate «the good guys» from players that only offer quick fixes and even fraud, among companies and organizations that work with climate protection on behalf of companies? 

Kai Landwehr: First, I think that most people and organizations in this area do their job with good intent. As in any other business, a working market also attracts fraudsters. However, they are the absolute exception. Generally speaking, if a possible partner in climate protection focuses more on quality and sustainable co-benefits than on the cheapest price per tonne, that usually is a good indicator. Also, the level of transparency helps to find a trustworthy partner: How much information is available to the public and how much information is shared with you upon request? Don’t expect every detail of projects and processes to be published because that would be too much information to digest. Still, central figures, a list of partners involved, and information about internal and external due diligence are key. 

  

Gabriel Arthur:  The REDD+ from United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is also often debated. What is your view on REDD+ and the debate? 

Kai Landwehr: Forest protection is of overwhelming importance. We will never reach the Paris goals without a significant contribution from the land-use-and-forest sector. We need to plant trees and protect existing forest ecosystems, whatever it takes. And, if set up and run properly, those projects are beneficial for indigenous people, biodiversity, local weather, etc. 

However, we had long discussions about the effectiveness of projects following the REDD+ guidelines, their methodology, and requirements. As there were still many questions not sufficiently answered, at least from our perspective, we didn’t offer REDD+ projects to our partners. 

That changed with the first REDD+ projects following the Plan Vivo standard, a small but rigorous standard for forestry projects. Perhaps that is how to solve this dilemma: Learn from past failures, set up better projects, and focus on the importance of ecosystem solutions. 

 

Gabriel Arthur: Is there any way for consumers, for instance of outdoor products, to know what to trust in this communication jungle? 

Kai Landwehr: From my perspective, companies in the outdoor industry are forerunners when it comes to climate protection and environmental integrity. Taking care of nature is a cornerstone of this industry. It’s rare to find a company giving out misleading or even wrong information to its customers. But that doesn’t solve the problem of the label jungle. 

With the upcoming EU Green Claims Directive, we will see a political reaction soon that hopefully will help customers find better products. But, there are also initiatives from within the industry like the Sustainability Data Exchange Project (SDEX) from European Outdoor group that have the potential to provide more and better guideline, ultimately also at the point of sale. 

But, we shouldn’t focus solely on the product level. I think there is a large interest among consumers to hear more about what a concrete and strategic direction a company follows in terms of their ESG (environmental, social and governance) goals. Consumers are well aware about the impact a company could have on a broader level when tackling with their issues in logistics, supply chains, and business models. 

Stay informed!