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July 28, 2022

Voices of Impact: Chris Harbourt on how brands can strive for carbon neutrality

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Chris Harbourt is the Chief Sustainability Officer for Indigo Ag, where he drives business strategy across the company, guiding Indigo’s research, external affairs, and strategic partnerships to advance understanding of agriculture’s potential as a climate solution.

With more than 25 years in leadership positions at the intersection of science, agriculture, engineering, and business, Chris leads Indigo’s efforts to leverage science and digital technology to measure and translate the impact of farmers’ sustainability efforts into new profitability opportunities.

A lot of brands are starting to make carbon-neutral or positive commitments. What do brands need to think about in order to make commitments that are achievable?

Yes, many brands are beginning to make carbon-neutral or positive commitments these days — and rightfully so!

We all share this atmosphere, and as a society, we can be really demanding on the planet. So I commend businesses for starting to set carbon-related sustainability goals to remove or reduce carbon as much as possible.

Getting to net zero by 2030 or 2050 is a huge undertaking. I suggest brands begin by focusing on reducing carbon emissions from their entire supply chains as much as possible.

What upcoming trends or regulations should companies with carbon-neutral initiatives be aware of?

Top of mind for any brand with carbon-neutral initiatives should be using standards that are registry-approved. Meaning, that a trusted third-party verifier can offer them an independent stamp of approval and evaluation of their efforts to ensure their carbon account is backed by proper protocols and scientific standards.

The top two registries currently are Verra and Climate Action Reserve. A stamp of approval from either one should help carbon-neutral brands ensure their efforts align with upcoming trends and regulations!

What are the main challenges of carbon accounting, and how can companies work to streamline their efforts?

The main challenge of carbon accounting is that many brands don’t deeply know their supply chains. They only have visibility into the last few stages of production without the initial stages of first contributors (farmers, recyclers, etc.) and factory details. Taking actionable steps toward carbon-neutrality means knowing your entire supply chain – beginning to end – so you can begin to see where your gaps are.

A lot of companies hear this and think “YIKES,” but if we’re going to make changes, we need to know how bad our production processes are so we can identify gaps and find solutions.

So, I recommend brands begin by mapping out their supply chains and making carbon reduction goals and actionable steps accordingly.

Greenwashing (i.e. when brands make unfounded sustainability claims as a marketing ploy) is becoming a hot topic. How does a company like Indigo Ag approach greenwashing concerns from both the company and customer perspectives?

To help companies avoid unfounded or problematic carbon accounting, we ensure that we’re relying on industry standards, i.e. registry-approved carbon credits/accounting.

We also strive to help companies understand and avoid double-counting, which essentially is when two or more companies take credit for the same carbon reduction initiative (ex: the same plot of land where trees are planted).

As the world focuses on carbon and GHG offsets, is there any concern that we might forget the human/farmer impact? If so, what can corporations do to address that?

Absolutely! As we focus on carbon and GHG offsets, we often forget the definite connection between the planet and people.

I suggest that as companies map out their supply chains, they’re becoming familiar with carbon offsets and how individuals contributing to their supply chain are treated, paid, etc.

Pairing environmental data with data on the people making your processes happen, is crucial to approaching sustainable business.

What mistakes does Indigo see companies make as they try to calculate offsets? How do you recommend brands track these metrics to keep data robust?

The biggest mistake we see in carbon accounting is the lack of calculations with a common basis or measurement. Brands will measure or track carbon accounting differently throughout their supply chains and it turns into comparing a bunch of apples to oranges. Robust carbon accounting is founded on metric consistency throughout entire supply chains/systems.

Lastly, no system is going to be perfect right off the bat, so it’s important to track not only carbon emissions and offsets but also the level of uncertainty within your calculations.

Again, registries such as Verra and Climate Action Reserve are a great start to using industry-approved carbon accounting standards.

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