Why carbon neutral is not enough for our planet

Aerial view of green forest

We chat with Roger Cohen, co-founder of C2Zero, about how going carbon neutral sounds good but is not enough to make a real impact.

Contour animation Contour
Contour animation Contour

Roger, hello! Tell us about your career to date and how you landed where you are?

Hi! My background is quite varied. I started life as an aeronautical engineer – working in academia in the ’90s, I wanted to move to the private sector, but jobs in engineering were hard to come by. As a result, I started as an analyst at Macquarie Bank. My first job in finance only lasted around a year, but I learned a lot about finance and where I wanted to work. Several moves later, I ended up running a trading business at Deutsche Bank in London.

Returning to Australia in 2011, I worked for myself and was privileged to be part of the founding team at BetaShares – a leading Australian ETF (Exchange Traded Funds) provider. I’ve almost come full circle in some respects as I now teach a risk management course back in the same engineering department at Sydney University, where I graduated.

Over the last few years, I have been exposed to the carbon economy and the financial products used to address climate change. I think COVID gave me the time to think and to look at the world around me. It was just over a year ago that I saw the opportunity to use the carbon economy as a vehicle to engage consumers and to fight pollution. That was the genesis of C2Zero.

Roger Cohen co-founder of C2Zero

Give us your elevator pitch for C2Zero. Why is this a conversation that matters right now?

I’ll answer the second part first – if we don’t step up our efforts to remediate climate change, we won’t leave a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren.

The elevator pitch is that going carbon neutral sounds good, but it is not enough to make a real impact. For that, we need to go beyond neutral. As a first step, businesses and individuals should minimise their impact directly, with best practices such as recycling and low-energy alternatives. But that will only go so far. Unless we reduce the pollution put out by big polluters, who are responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse emissions, we won’t solve the problem.

C2Zero fights pollution with the very tool Governments and regulators use to control big polluters. (Carbon) Emissions Allowances are permits big polluters in specific markets need to keep on polluting. The pool of these Allowances is finite but still too large to meet climate targets. C2Zero hijacks the system by buying these same Emissions allowances that the big polluters need. Instead of using them to pollute, we lock them away forever. Each Allowance bought by C2Zero means one tonne less of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) available for polluting.

We then work with Companies and Brands to digitally cut these Allowances into pieces and attach them to goods and services – like a cup of coffee, a t-shirt, a haircut or even a home loan. That way, consumers can purchase products bearing the C2Zero mark – meaning they are fighting pollution by locking away the permission slips big polluters need to pollute.

Coffee stand with a sign reading "the little coffee stopping big polluters."Two people wearing sustainable looking at the camerasunglasses

So talk us through the difference between carbon negative, carbon positive and carbon neutral?

Everything we do has a carbon footprint, measured as the amount of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emitted by the respective activity. This makes us and everything we do carbon positive.

Technically, something that is carbon positive adds to the amount of carbon (dioxide) in the atmosphere. If we were carbon neutral, we would either: not exist; or our impact would result in no increase or decrease to the CO2e in the atmosphere. Carbon negative goes even further, where the impact reduces the amount of CO2e in the atmosphere. Mature trees are naturally carbon negative as they absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen.

For all the people in our community who are striving for or have reached carbon neutrality (like Compass…eeep!), why is this not enough, and how can we take the next positive step forward as businesses?

There are two reasons.

Firstly, we have already done so much damage that carbon neutrality will only keep us in a holding pattern. Global targets – if we meet them – still mean 1.5 degrees of warming. That is significant and too much.

Secondly, there are so many things we can’t change, including the polluting habits of those beyond our control. To compensate, we need to do more than just go carbon neutral. We need to become carbon negative. Because we are not trees, one way to do this is by taking away the capacity to pollute from someone who does – the big polluters. C2Zero gives every brand and every person the tools to do this.

What are three things you wish every brand, business, marketer, and creative were doing this year regarding the climate?

Again, there are two things.

One – follow best practices. Reuse, recycle, choose low energy and low polluting alternatives. Choose brands and partners who are trying to make a positive difference and shun those who are not.

Two – go beyond – with initiatives like C2Zero. Brands, businesses, marketers and anyone else now have a tool available to stop polluters polluting. Shout about it. Look for the C2Zero brand mark on your favourite goods and services and ask brands without the brandmark to start C2Zeroing.

Who are three voices in the climate conversation that you are listening to or following right now?

It won’t surprise you.

David Attenborough. He brought the world to us with his documentaries and amazing film scapes. Now he is the voice showing us the damage we have done. But he is also a voice of hope – we are not too late. We can fix this.

Mike Berners-Lee a UK academic and brother of Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web. Through his writing and consulting, he makes carbon and carbon footprinting understandable. I highly recommend his book “How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything”.

And Greta Thunberg – I don’t always agree with her, but she has done more to raise the profile of climate change for everyone – not just for the younger generation.

And taking liberties, I’ll add a fourth. Jan Ahrens. Jan is a guru. He taught me about Emissions Trading and the difference between Carbon Credits and Emissions Allowances. Since their inception, he has been involved in carbon markets, is passionate about using the system to stop pollution, and is a great guy.

And finally, what can we expect next from C2Zero, and how can we follow along?

You can follow our socials on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn and look at and register on our website. We have a number of exciting partners coming soon. Watch this space and watch for the C2Zero brand mark.

BIO 

C2Zero is an ingredient brand, which transforms the purchase of any branded good or service into an opportunity for people to take carbon allowances out of the hands of big polluters. It means they can never be used to ‘offset’ their big-bad doings.

Pollution released from factory into a blue sky

Contour animation Contour
Contour animation Contour