“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb
Just 5 years ago, being “carbon neutral” was not a front burner mandate for most corporations. The past couple years has seen a flood of commitments for companies to be carbon neutral by a target date, usually between 2025 and 2040. There is no precise standard for being carbon neutral and there could be days in the future when a company is called to defend these claims.
The path by which a company reaches carbon neutrality can take different routes, but it usually starts with efficiency; using less energy and streamlining operations. Where an organization goes from here, depends on their emissions and energy profile. Most of an airline’s carbon release comes from the burning of jet fuel, so installing rooftop solar at the HQ won’t get them far. A fast food chain with thousands of locations, would have an extremely difficult challenge trying to procure renewable energy from dozens of utilities across 50 states. Thankfully, the trend is very strong for corporate carbon neutrality commitments of all kinds.
Our planet has a combination of trends; an increasing global population, deforestation, human longevity and per capita carbon intensity as more people rise out of poverty. Combine these dynamics with the atmospheric carbon we’ve already secured and it doesn’t seem like shooting for organizational carbon neutrality gets us to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
There are carbon “net zero” goals established as well. For net zero, a company is removing as much carbon as it is emitting. Given the previously stated population and consumption trends, we will still need more.
As a global society, we need to set a path for “carbon negative”. Early in the previous decade a corporate carbon neutral standard would have seemed very far fetched, it is not now. Today a corporate standard of carbon negative feels the same way, but that’s what we need. At the beginning of 2020, Microsoft made that commitment
“By 2030 Microsoft will be carbon negative, and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.”
Committing to carbon negative will require a complete defense and offense approach, which will include new GHG sequestration methods and programs. New carbon capture technologies are in the works, but can’t sequester at the needed scale yet.
So, how do we get there? Trees!
Trees — New plantings, restoration of degraded forests and conservation of existing properly forested lands. 1t is a new platform from the World Economic Forum that will globally restore and conserve 1 trillion trees by 2030.
To make this work, companies, governments, NGOs and citizens must function in new transformative partnerships. Science, policy makers, corporate C suites and everyday volunteers can help each other to plant and save 1,000,000,000,000 trees in the next 10 years. New and existing environmental market financing mechanisms, artificial intelligence, private sector initiatives, forestry job and volunteer creation, satellite imaging, nonprofit programs, better project verification and tracking, tax incentives and investment vehicles must all be employed together.
The nature based solution co-benefits of trees will need to be understood by the whole community of stakeholders. The benefits of cleaner water, higher air quality, better public heath, biodiversity conservation, lower power bills, forestry income and environmental justice can all come from more trees. This is in additional to their carbon sequestration value.
Like Microsoft, corporate leaders now have the opportunity to separate their companies from the carbon neutral pack by going negative with trees.
“The best time to commit to carbon negative was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” — Future Proverb