CURBON, a SA startup, is taking a bold offset and uplift approach to solving climate change

Curbon makes it easy to make a difference, both from a climate action and community empowerment perspective, says Steffen Burrows, CURBON co-founder and director.

According to billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, it is unrealistic to expect to solve climate change by asking people to live greener lifestyles. Telling people to stop eating meat, drive less, and buy smaller houses is unlikely to be effective, at least not yet. Changing human desires is simply too difficult, and we should look instead to other viable solutions that seek to reduce emissions without demanding people rethink their consumption habits entirely.

Offsetting change

Gates, who has invested hundreds of millions in climate initiatives through his foundations, noted last year that so-called Green Premiums could be an effective method of reducing emissions without expecting too much change from humanity straightaway. Green Premiums essentially give people the ability to consume or do the same things without the emissions, by paying more.

The logic behind carbon offsetting is that it generates a net climate benefit that can be passed from one entity to another. In other words, if you can’t cut out certain carbon outputs, you should do something to counteract them. Negating the emissions of a product or activity can be achieved by investing in climate projects that reduce emissions elsewhere, causing the total emissions to be balanced. Revenue generated from carbon offsetting is invested in climate projects, green innovation and socio-economic development projects that aim to both reverse climate change and  positively impact humanity.

Offsetting consumerism

CURBON provides a way to offset and uplift. Using an e-commerce plug-in, businesses can offer their customers the opportunity to offset the carbon footprint of their purchases. The CURBON API does this by using industry standards to estimate the total emissions of the contents of a cart at checkout and adding this amount to the shopping invoice. In contributing between 1.8 – 5% of cart spend, an individual can offset the carbon impact of the goods they are purchasing, as well as the impact of the delivery of their order.

Accessible and effective

Why should consumers consider carbon offsetting? Everything purchased has already had an impact on the environment in the form of greenhouse gas and carbon dioxide emissions. By offsetting these purchases, shoppers can continue to consume with a largely neutral impact on the environment. While there is a lot that we can do – spend our money only with sustainable brands, change behaviour to reduce our individual carbon footprints – ultimately everything has an environmental impact. This means that as climate-conscious consumers, anything that negates even a portion of our own carbon-producing behaviour is worth adopting.

Focus on the sustainable and achievable

Internationally, such carbon credits benefit reforestation in Panama, a wind farm project in Indonesia as well as Fairtrade ® coffee production in Ethiopia. Locally, we facilitates carbon offsetting that supports South African projects with a big socio-economic reach.

In South Africa, 87% of all recyclable waste ends up in landfill or is dumped illegally. Within 10 years, landfills will account for 10% of South Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions. By supporting the Stellenbosch Community Recycling Project, we are taking steps to address South Africa’s waste problem. The proceeds from carbon credits improve the financial viability of establishing additional waste collection drop-offs while helping 600 waste pickers with the opportunity to earn an income from collecting and recycling waste, which reduces emissions. Having diverted over 14,000 tonnes of solid waste from landfill annually, this project is an exemplary mix of carbon reduction action and socio-economic empowerment.

This serves as proof that when it comes to carbon offsetting, it’s not an either-or choice. The projects that benefit from offsetting don’t have to purely be climate action-oriented. They can (and should) address as many of South Africa’s complex and intertwined issues as possible.

The Kuyasa Project focuses on providing low-carbon housing in Khayelitsha for those in need. Houses were equipped with carbon-conscious solar water heaters and compact fluorescent energy-efficient light bulbs in more than 2000 homes. The first audit conducted in 2014 showed that these efforts had eliminated 23 683 tonnes of CO2.

Through the Wonderbag™ Carbon Investment, consumers have the opportunity to contribute to tackling our climate crisis and the empowerment of women in vulnerable communities through the distribution of heat-retention cooking solutions. A single Wonderbag can in one year cut a household’s fuel usage by 70%, save five trees from being cut down, and reduce carbon emissions by one tonne. In addition to greenhouse gas savings, Wonderbags provide significant upliftment through female empowerment, job creation, and family cost savings.

Making a certifiable difference

The projects that we choose to support undergo a rigorous selection process. There are international verification and credibility standards and oversight regulatory requirements that projects must meet. With CURBON’s chosen global projects, we focus on emission reduction. And with our local projects, we focus on emission reduction and socio-economic development in a way that benefits both the planet and people.

The business of carbon offsetting

For potential e-commerce partners on the fence about carbon offsetting, it’s worth pointing out that there are two available solutions from CURBON. The first is obviously for businesses that already prioritise sustainability and want to take their eco-commitment to the next level. Here, the business can onboard CURBON fully and pay for each of their products to be offset. But then there’s also the zero-cost to the company solution, which is a way for businesses to show they facilitate the customer’s commitment to climate action.

As consumers become more eco-conscious, it will become more important for businesses to facilitate these shifting priorities in a meaningful way. Based on the least-effort principle, this zero-cost solution allows businesses to meet customer demands without spending anything themselves. It is also a great start for businesses in taking that first step on their journey to reducing their impact on the planet.

It’s not greenwashing if it actually works

Ultimately through small, incremental changes that contribute to a greater collective reduction of emissions and community upliftment, it’s clear carbon offsetting is a viable means of climate action that is accessible and effective because it requires little immediate effort from the population. Change that requires the least amount of effort is likely to be the most effective in the short term, giving us time and space to figure out our next steps for averting climate disaster.