Why All Corporations Should Have to Measure Their Carbon
Consider the question, “what does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?” You might say micro-plastics, water use, land conservation, deforestation, or dozens of other issues that are currently impacting our planet. All of those answers are right, and each issue is significant. But this diffuse answer is confusing to people, and reduces the impact of the word ‘sustainability.’ Frankly, I’m confused when I stand over waste bins deciding where to throw something away. It’s exactly this confusion that prevents people from making informed purchasing decisions. Climate change is the existential problem of our lives. And to stand a fighting chance against global warming, we need clarity.
The lack of coherence around what to do, matched with a growing realization that we have to do something (scientists agree that we must cut that number down to net zero by 2050 to avoid catastrophic consequences), has resulted in a disappointing reality – greenwashing. In my journey through the renewable chemicals industry, and more recently since I co-founded Allbirds in 2015, I’ve witnessed countless examples of brands making claims that are imprecise, incorrect, or misleading. This amounts to even more confusion for consumers, who, if it were simple enough, would make the right decision for themselves and the planet. The first step, as with most things, is education.
Without a unified and broadly-adopted metric, we cannot expect consumers to make informed choices. But the good news is that there is a surprisingly simple solution. The solution is to measure and disclose carbon emissions generated in the manufacturing of all products. We already have the tools and standards we need to hold businesses accountable for their share of the climate burden.
This month, Allbirds announced that we will do something revolutionary for the fashion and footwear industry – we are going to label all of our products with their carbon footprint. We see these labels as a singular and simple scorecard, the same way nutritional labels have given clarity to make healthy dietary choices. If you don’t know, you can’t choose. Now you can choose “better.”
Climate change is the existential problem of our lives. And to stand a fighting chance against global warming, we need clarity.
The singular metric of carbon is powerful; if every piece of clothing and trip on an airplane was labeled with its footprint, consumers could understand their environmental impact, and could make more informed choices. People want to do the right thing, but right now they simply don’t know what to look for.
We considered whether we should launch this initiative now, given the overwhelming mindshare that the COVID-19 pandemic consumes. But we realized that there is no better time. This April marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and the globe is warmer than it ever has been in human history – this is a problem that cannot continue to wait. When we emerge from the “Great Pause,” let’s consume smarter. In the midst of a dark time, I see collective action tackling big problems, and now is the time to turn back the clock on climate change.
Joey Zwillinger is a CEO and Co-Founder of Allbirds. He has long been passionate about making things from renewable resources, which led him to start Allbirds and begin tackling sustainability issues in the footwear industry. Prior to co-founding Allbirds, he spent six years at biotech firm Terravia (formerly Solazyme, Inc.) leading its renewable chemical business, developing and selling high performance algae-based chemicals into various industries such as CPG, personal care, and industrials.