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Social responsibility or green washing? Here's what's behind the 'carbon neutral' label


Is it really possible that a worldwide transport company does not have the slightest impact?The Malaga Film Festival presents next week The Secret of Ibosim, a work that has an interesting appeal regardless of its cinematographic quality: it has been presented as the first to have left a carbon neutral footprint. The announcement is in addition to the one made by the Film Academy last January, when it explained that the Goya Gala would be carbon neutral, and it is not that Spanish cinema...

The Malaga Film Festival presents next week The Secret of Ibosim, a work that has an interesting appeal regardless of its cinematographic quality: it has been presented as the first to have left a carbon neutral footprint. The announcement is in addition to the one made by the Film Academy last January, when it explained that the Goya Gala would be carbon neutral, and it is not that Spanish cinema is setting a trend. It is the same concept that in recent times companies as diverse as Bankia, Cabify, Starbucks, Acciona and Amazon have used. There are also brands of beverages, food and hygiene products, even public administrations such as the Region of Murcia that have a similar certification. Even Europe has set itself carbon neutral by 2050. But what is being carbon neutral? What does it mean to have this label? Is the process by which it is obtained reliable? What guarantee does the consumer have that what is advertised as carbon neutral is truly better for the consumer?environment ?

At first glance, the concept seems straightforward. As explained in the European Parliament, carbon neutrality is achieved when the same volume of carbon dioxide (CO₂) is emitted as that which is removed from the atmosphere. At this point, the origin of these polluting emissions is quite clear: vehicles, livestock, industry ... How the greenhouse gas is withdrawn from circulation is the most complex question in the equation, but it can be summarized in two main ways: Renewable energy projects to replace pollutants and the planting of forests , which due to the biological activity of the plants act as sinks of pollution ( 750 trees were planted in Murcia for filming The Secret of Ibosim ). This balance can be applied to almost anything one can imagine: services, products, organizations, transportation, buildings, events ... even a family can be carbon neutral if applied.

So said, it sounds like accounting for beginners; what goes in for what goes out, or vice versa. So much gives. No more. An easy calculation, but one that gives a lot of play, considering that the carbon neutral seal is only one of many linked to the climate and the emissions of polluting gases. From Greenpeace they calculate that the list of labels reaches about 400 different ones , among which others stand out such as negative carbon, which serves to positively mark those who reduce more CO₂ than they emit. Is such a plethora of labels really necessary? Perhaps it is not such a simple accounting ... "At bottom it is all a hoax, it is a green wash and unsustainable", states Reyes Tirado, PhD in Biology and researcher at the Greenpeace International Laboratory at the University of Exeter, in UK.

The specialist defines these stamps as "a labyrinth of confusion used by companies to deceive people", and ensures that they are nonsense. In his interpretation, these distinctions allow a highly polluting company to appear green — take the example of an airline that affixes a green carbon-neutral label to the door of all its aircraft. " There is no space on the planet to plant as many forests as would be necessary to curb CO₂ emissions , so the important thing is to reduce and change the system", argues Tirado. And it sentence: "The key is not to compensate, but to reduce emissions and demonstrate commitments both in the abandonment of fossil fuels and in that the activity of the company does not destroy ecosystems, does not promote deforestation or pollute the oceans."

The volatile puzzle of the real carbon footprint

Tirado's words sound credible because, after all, all the consumer is going to see in the effort to erase the company's carbon footprint is a nice label. And it is hard to imagine that companies like freight transport can not leave the slightest carbon footprint. How to distinguish if one is facing the umpteenth 'marketing' operation? "At first glance it is very difficult to know if what they are telling us is true", admits Javier Pedraza, responsible for the carbon footprint and climate change projects at Green Globe, where they offer environmental consulting. Pedraza recalls that there are companies that have tried to wash their image by saying that their products are sustainable and more respectful of the environment than they really are: “That is why a seal or a label does not always mean something: the important thing is the verification entities independent, that use standardized protocols and are totally reliable ”.

These entities are the safeguard of trust, but their job is not easy. One of the complaints of the specialists is the complexity to calculate exactly the carbon footprint of any activity, since there are infinite ways to generate CO₂. "It is about identifying the sources of emissions and their intensity", underlines José Magro, manager of sustainability and corporate social responsibility of AENOR, where they carry out an external and objective certification of carbon neutrality. But variables as varied as the use of the car, the consumption of plastics and food come into play, and they are not always directly related to the activity of the company or the manufacture of a product; indirect environmental costs are very difficult to calculate.

Continuing with the example of the last Goya gala, direct emissions were those of the machinery used for setting up the stage, which consume diesel; generator sets to service television equipment and natural gas for air conditioning. The indirect emissions chapter includes everything from electricity consumption to the transport of the 750 people who worked at the event, travel and accommodation of guests, waste management, catering , water consumption, security. .. Furthermore, it had to be taken into account that the Malaga City Council, Spanish Television, the Film Academy and different private companies participated in the organization, which adds considerable doses of complexity. In theory, the tangle of indirect emissions also fuels accounting creativity, which can only be constrained through the globally recognized methodologies that have been developed. They are processes that can be verified by a third party , and that is what makes them the most reliable.

Trusting that they have been carried out correctly means that they are audited by verifying entities such as AENOR. In the case of the Goya gala in Malaga, Green Globe carried out the calculations and, later, AENOR verified them by granting their certification. The event report indicates that it emitted 199.57 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, of which a third corresponded to transport, despite the fact that the most sustainable means, the train, was promoted. 90% of those who traveled to Malaga went up to one, but the carbon cost of the 10% who did it by plane was the same as that of that 90% because aviation is more polluting and their journeys were longer. To offset these emissions, the Spanish Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences bought emissions worth around 1,000 euros in the market that the UN makes available to anyone, where there are projects that reduce emissions in countries on the way. developmental. In his case, the money went to an initiative of a hydroelectric plant in Brazil and two wind farms in India.

The Ministry of Ecological Transition also has a registry of CO₂ absorption projects on its website. It is for public consultation and currently includes more than fifty initiatives. Most of them have to do with forest lands, but more and more possibilities are emerging, such as sponsoring Posidonia meadows under the Mediterranean at the initiative of the Consell de Formentera —Red Eléctrica Española also has a similar initiative, open to individuals and companies— and many other projects that, like for example AlveLal, seek to reforest spaces without trees. But none of them erase the skepticism of Greenpeace researcher Reyes Tirado, who insists that these types of plans and labels are nothing more than “ a distraction and a deception, delaying action and anesthetizing consumers to continue consuming polluting products simply because they carry a green label ”. Sources from the Film Academy do not assure that the carbon neutrality initiative will be maintained in future editions.

Active consumers in the face of environmental 'marketing'

Juanjo Amate, director of the social innovation consultancy Sustainability tailored, sees clear the limitations of this type of label: "Compensation should not be the ultimate goal: the goal should be to reduce." Javier Pedraza, from Green Globe, prefers to look at the advantages of the process. "It is important to take the first step and have your emissions identified: from there you know where you can reduce," he insists. Between both positions, and the ignorance and absence of clear policies, the reality is that most of those who calculate their carbon footprint tend to stay at that : they know their emissions figures and do nothing more to correct them.

Only some entities take a first step reducing and few get to take one more towards compensation. At least, this is reflected in the registry of the Ministry of Ecological Transition to grant certification stamps, which, at the beginning of August, had 1,195 organizations that have registered 2,733 carbon footprints (some have been able to register data from several years). Almost 2,300 footprints had been calculated, but only 366 added gas reduction to the plan and only 50 completed the cycle, balancing what was emitted.

"There has been, and is, a lot of 'marketing' in all this, but there are increasingly more reliable records and certificates about companies that measure their greenhouse gas emissions, and that reduce or offset them," adds the head of Sustainability to measure. Amate believes that companies and organizations that comply with the processes correctly, those that strive to reduce their emissions, should communicate it publicly "without any fear that it seems only 'marketing". Reputation is everything. Meanwhile, the consumer has to remain active to discern which labels are really reliable or which are just a way to distract them and make them think that they consume in a sustainable way. "Consumers should look for signs", warn from The Carbon Turst, an organization that since 2001 has been advising the public and private sectors on how to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable world and measures and certifies the environmental footprint.

Source: elparis

All news articles on 2020-08-22

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