World Environment Day has prompted us here at Gong to reflect on the issue so many businesses are grappling with at the moment: How to get to Net Zero carbon dioxide emissions using science based methods as fast as we can? In December last year at COP25, alongside 499 other B Corps, Gong pledged to get to Net Zero by 2025 at the very latest. Spurred on by Covid and the imperative to Build Back Better, we are determined to do it this year.

Unlike the growing number of multinational corporations and manufacturing businesses who have pledged, it’s relatively easy for a small service business like ours to figure out our carbon footprint and make the necessary reductions. But there are ‘hidden’ emissions, even for us. We’ve learned for example, from fellow B Corp Wholegrain Digital, about the relative energy intensity of different web site constructions (if the internet was a country, it would be the world’s sixth biggest polluter). So we’ve committed to curb bad digital communications habits along with obvious things like reducing international travel, buying renewable energy and sourcing as much as we can from other Net Zero B Corps.

177 multinational companies, including Nestlé, Unilever and Vodafone signed up to the UN pledge to be Net Zero by 2050. That figure has continued to grow through 2020. Sustainability heads at businesses are working flat out to reduce their own emissions and track those of their suppliers (referred to as different ‘scopes’ 1,2 and 3) but many are facing up to the fact that they will struggle to change their current business practices enough to get to net zero in the time available. And this isn’t an arbitrary date. We have by best estimates, nine years left to act on carbon concentrations before we irreversibly head into warming that exceeds the ‘liveable’ 2°C target set in Paris.

As we have been thinking about this, we’ve started working with a new client which has given us the opportunity to delve further into the carbon removal movement. It’s been an eye opener which is why we want to share it. Human carbon emissions total 40 gigatonnes per year (Gt/y). Earth (forests, soil, oceans) can only absorb 20 Gt/y of this hence the concentration of greenhouse gases keeps increasing. So even though emissions have been lower during lockdown, CO2 concentrations are still rising.

Experts, including The World Resources Institute (WRI) and the UN IPCC are encouraging us to look at carbon dioxide removal (CDR) rather than offsetting. Sustainability expert John Grant explained that when you buy offsets, you are often funding a project that produces or uses energy more efficiently, but emissions still occur. It doesn’t reduce the already too high concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Scientific removal and lock-up of CO2 now, for a minimum of 50 years, will give us time to shift to a less CO2 intensive world and mitigate climate change.

The WRI says ‘2020 could be the year Carbon Dioxide Removal takes off.” UN IPCC (2018) says: “All pathways that limit global warming to 1.5°C with limited or no overshoot project the use of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) of the order of 100–1000 Gt CO2 over the 21st century. CDR would be used to compensate for residual emissions and, in most cases, achieve net negative emissions to return global warming to 1.5°C following a peak.”

This week, another company, Climeworks announced that it had raised $76m to expand its operations to ‘suck’ CO2 out of the air and turn it into products such as gas for carbonating Coca-Cola. While this particular use of CO2 makes it back into the atmosphere, other Climeworks processes do store CO2 permanently. But we are encouraged by a different (and healthier) approach, espoused by our client that supports businesses whose core processes are carbon net negative. In other words, they use carbon dioxide in the manufacture of building materials such as ‘carbstone’ and biochar soil improvers – two sectors – construction and agriculture – that are big enough to be able to scale rapidly to really make a difference.

Craig Sams, one half of the pioneering duo behind the original fairtrade chocolate brand Green and  Black’s, set up biochar company (and B Corp) Carbon Gold. A former Chair of the Soil Association, Sams is an evangelist for the regenerative properties of biochar on soil.

And for anyone who needs the science, here’s a helpful video about CO2 mineralisation of waste materials from steel manufacture in the production of sustainable construction materials.

What’s exciting is that we can remove CO2 now by paying companies like these to scale faster by buying carbon removal certificates through the marketplace. We get to be net negative now, which means that Gong is no longer going to be part of the problem. Of course it still needs the global construction industry to use more of these products and for farmers and cities to use biochar instead of polluting fertilisers. But with the momentum from the Build Back Better movement and the European Green Deal stimulus, it suddenly feels like there is real hope that we can find solutions that are also going to build a new green economy and ecosystem of entrepreneurs.

And that’s good for everyone. Happy World Environment Day.