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Carbon offsetting for fashion brands: how to get to carbon neutral in 5 easy steps

September 13, 2022
Carbon offsetting

Every part of your brand’s operations — from designing on a laptop, to sourcing raw materials, to shipping finished products — leaves behind a carbon footprint. Every time anyone does anything, some amount of carbon dioxide (even a tiny, tiny amount) is released into the atmosphere.

And we know what more carbon in the atmosphere means: a hotter planet, disrupted ecosystems, and an unstable climate. Every organization has a duty to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, but for the small percentage they simply can’t avoid, there’s an antidote — carbon offsetting. In this article, we’ll explore how your sustainable ecommerce fashion brand can use offsetting to mitigate its environmental impact.

1. Understand offsetting (as in, really understand it)

Before you dive into the research and start shopping for offsets, it’s important to get a clear understanding of what carbon offsetting is, and how it works in the fashion industry. Carbon offsetting involves purchasing carbon credits. One carbon credit represents one metric ton of carbon dioxide that is removed or avoided from being released into the atmosphere. But how does that work, exactly?

The carbon market

The carbon market allows companies, governments and individuals to invest in carbon offsetting projects in the form of carbon credits. When you purchase a carbon credit, you’re helping to fund projects, such as wind and solar farms, forestry conservation, or even direct air capture (capturing and storing carbon from the atmosphere), that help to either reduce the amount of carbon emissions that would be released in the future, or remove carbon that currently exists in the atmosphere.

Offsetting helps fund the green energy transition in the developing world, as most carbon offsetting projects are located in the global south. In this way, choosing to offset means you aren’t just neutralizing your own impact, but you’re also helping get much-needed projects off the ground.

What is carbon neutral fashion?

If you purchase a number of carbon credits equivalent to the emissions you release in the production and selling of your product, you can claim that your product is carbon neutral — that is, you’ve avoided or ‘saved’ just as many emissions as it takes to produce the item. You’ve canceled out or neutralized your impact.

2. Acknowledge the limitations of carbon offsetting

But as you’ve probably figured out, it’s not quite that simple. Offsetting is a positive and necessary step to take in the journey to producing more sustainable products, but by itself, it’s not enough to drive your fashion brand’s sustainability strategy.

Necessary, but not sufficient

That’s why we say that carbon offsetting is necessary, but not sufficient. Consumers are highly skeptical of carbon neutrality claims, and rightly so. It’s not enough to simply purchase the equivalent emissions in carbon credits and call it a day; a genuine approach to sustainability involves first reducing your emissions as much as possible, and creating a plan to get those emissions down. You don’t have to wait until that day to start offsetting — in fact, if you’re working towards reducing your emissions but know that it won’t happen soon, offsetting can be a great way to compensate along the way. But offsetting on its own is not enough, and fashion brands need to work towards reductions at the same time.

The problem of unavoidable emissions

But no matter how much work you do to bring down your fashion brand’s emissions and environmental impact, there are a certain amount of carbon emissions that simply can’t be avoided. We call these necessary or unavoidable emissions, and the only way to mitigate their impact is through carbon offsetting. So it’s important to acknowledge the limitations of carbon offsetting before you begin, and communicate this clearly to your team. But once you’ve done that, it’s time for some math.

3. Do the math

If you’re working towards calling your products carbon neutral, you’ll need to do some math. First, you’ll need to calculate the emissions produced during the production and retail of each of your products. At this point, you should be looking for ways to reduce this number as much as possible — but for now, let’s skip to offsets. Then, you’ll need to do your research to understand how many carbon credits you’ll need to purchase to negate your product’s impact, and how much it will cost. Make sure your numbers stack up financially — offsetting is great, but you need to make sure you can afford it. If achieving a carbon neutral product at your current emissions numbers seems too difficult, you have two choices: you can either avoid aiming for carbon neutral just yet (any offsetting is better than none), or work on reducing your product’s emissions (in order to purchase fewer carbon credits to achieve carbon neutral).

Get the right tools

Although the basic formula for carbon neutrality is simple (emissions produced = emissions offset), the math behind it involves heavy amounts of data collection and processing. Trying to handle this manually can quickly consume vast amounts of time and resources within your company, and sometimes you might simply not have the in-house expertise to get the job done.

That’s why working with the right partner and the right tools is a crucial piece of carbon offsetting for fashion brands. For example, Green Story’s Simplizero Ecommerce solution is custom-designed for the fashion industry. It sources data from accredited partners to calculate the carbon footprint of your products through a Global Standard of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). This means you can be sure you’re offsetting the precise footprint of your products, throughout their entire value chain.

4. Choose your offsets

Selecting offsets is the fun part, but it’s not always straightforward. 

Cost vs. quality

Once you start researching your options, you’ll notice considerable price discrepancies available between projects. And although it’s tempting to go for the cheapest option, price and quality tend to go hand in hand in carbon markets. Be sure to do your research to understand what exactly you’re buying into, and how a particular project offers verified carbon credits (that is, how can they assure you that the carbon saved is really ‘saved’?).

Look for offset projects that have been verified and rated by respected carbon credit verification organizations. Our Simplizero Ecommerce solution verifies carbon offset projects through third-parties such as Verra and Gold Standard, which means you can be sure that the carbon you purchase will never be released into the atmosphere.

Align your offsets with your brand values

It’s important to strike a balance between cost and quality, but it’s equally important to look for offsetting projects that align with your brand’s values or have close ties to your company’s operations. Any offsetting project is better than nothing, but these initiatives can become even more meaningful and memorable when they’re closely related to your brand. For example, if you produce activewear, maybe you invest in a project that promotes bicycle usage. Or if key parts of your supply chain occur in a particular community or region, look for offsetting projects in these places to really bring your impact full circle.

5. Tell the world

Offsets at the point of purchase

When we talk about product-level carbon offsetting in fashion, we’re talking about carbon neutrality at the product level rather than the organizational level. This strategy can be effective from a marketing perspective, and the most sophisticated green marketers will work to reduce the distance between offsetting information and product information. Integrate offsets at the point of purchase by putting your offsetting information front and center on your product pages, such as through a solution like Simplizero Ecommerce. This is a powerful way to convey your product’s sustainability benefits and influence consumer behavior as a result.

Dive into the details

Embrace integrating your offsetting projects into your marketing and customer communications. Don’t just limit your communication to a statement as vague as ‘we offset our emissions’. Give details. Talk about the projects you support and your relationships with the project developers. Explain what these projects mean to you, the co-benefits they offer, and the kind of future they’re building towards. Show your passion for the projects, and educate your customers and stakeholders on the kind of difference these offset projects (and therefore, their purchases) are making. This helps your customers feel like active players in your sustainability initiatives, and among a growing population of conscious consumers, can directly influence purchasing behavior.

Engage internal stakeholders

You’re doing the hard work educating your customers, investors and other stakeholders about your sustainability commitments, but don’t forget about your internal stakeholders — that is, your employees! Help your team feel included in your sustainability efforts by letting them contribute to carbon credit choices, sharing details and pictures about the offsetting projects you choose, and if you’re able to, even organizing trips to allow your employees to visit projects in-person, This kind of grassroots contact can help employees develop a real sense of ownership and partnership in your offsetting projects.

Integrate your offsets at every level

The most effective offsetting programs aren’t treated as simple transactions. Go beyond the traditional ‘purchasing’ mindset and instead look to form long-term, collaborative relationships with the developers of your carbon offset projects. Publicize your partnerships and promote what your carbon offset projects are doing. Make your offset partnerships an integral part of your branding and marketing campaigns and a key part of employee engagement.

Offset the right way with Simplizero Ecommerce

Are you a fashion brand looking to measure and improve your environmental impact? Our Simplizero Ecommerce helps you calculate and offset carbon emissions from all stages of your product’s lifecycle. Most importantly, it offers in-depth transparency, so you can be sure your carbon offsets are credible. Our carbon offset pricing is fully transparent, with zero markup. 100% of carbon credit revenues go towards funding your offset projects, each of which are vetted and third-party verified by Verra or Gold Standard. Add the Simplizero widget to your product pages to educate your audience on the exact number of offsets related to their purchase, and showcase the offset projects you invest in together. Get in touch today to learn more about Simplizero Ecommerce!


About Amelia Zimmerman

Amelia Zimmerman is an ESG and sustainability writer. She lives in Toronto with her puppy and her partner, and she is passionate about using storytelling techniques to help people understand and act on climate change.