technology vs climate change: how we offset our carbon footprint

May 27, 2021 | sustainability

The climate crisis is happening now, and the tech industry is a big contributor to the carbon emissions that are causing it. The most important thing we can do is lower carbon emissions – but reducing our emissions isn’t enough – there’s too much carbon in the atmosphere and we need to get rid of it. That’s why we offset our carbon footprint, twice over. We’re a carbon negative company, and very proud of it.

carbon negative, it’s a positive thing – we promise

We’re the UK’s only carbon negative mobile network. We offset double the CO2 emissions created by our members’ phones – that includes all the emissions used to manufacture them, charge them, as well as every email, text or selfie you send. We also do this for everything we do at Honest HQ. So we’re carbon negative across our whole business.

We calculate all those emissions then look to reduce and remove that carbon from the air. If you want to read more about what it means to be a carbon negative company read our blog here.

how do we offset our carbon footprint?

As a tech company we want to lead the way in promoting new ways that businesses remove carbon from the air. The most common way of doing this is through planting trees, but there’s more to do beyond that 🌳  Don’t get us wrong – we love trees! They’re great. But there’s only so much land to plant them – so we need to look at other ways to capture carbon. That’s why we work with Klimate to capture all our Honest HQ and members’ emissions – 95% through trees and the other 5% through Direct Air Capture (DAC) and Biochar.

where do you plant trees?

We work with On a Mission to plant trees all over the world, including Madagascar, Brazil and Colombia. Trees are a great way to capture carbon because they’re not as expensive as some other methods. They also provide lots of social benefits and protect the environment because they encourage biodiversity and help stop soil erosion – but they take a pretty long time to grow and don’t capture carbon permanently.

what is Biochar?

We capture 4% of our CO2 emissions using a process called ‘pyrolysis’ to create Biochar. Sorry, we know that’s quite a complicated sentence so let us explain…

Pyrolysis is basically breaking down organic materials using lots of heat. It’s a very technical process in which biomass or green waste (waste products from plants) is exposed to high temperatures in an oxygen-free environment. Biochar – a charcoal-like substance – is produced by this process (which releases only a negligible amount of CO₂ into the air). Besides being a waste product biomass contains large quantities of carbon so where it would normally decompose and release carbon instead you’re left with a kind of porous charcoal, which is durable and made up of 65-80% carbon – it’s awesome because it locks up carbon permanently. 

We work with Carbonfuture to do this – who have a bunch of projects creating Biochar and using it in farming processes across Europe and the US. This can be as direct application to soil, adding it to compost, animal feed, stable bedding or slurry. This technique also produces byproducts – pyrolysis oils or process gases – that can be used to generate energy and heating. But people have also started using it to create paints, building materials, insulation materials, textiles and other high-tech materials. Which is great news because this could replace scarce resources like sand

Biochar is still pretty expensive and the Biochar industry isn’t the only one with an eye on plant waste. The introduction of new technologies, such as Bio-energy or BECCS, could increase the competition for biomass.

what’s direct air capture?

Direct Air Capture (DAC) is the most expensive technology we use to capture carbon from the air. Even though it’s pretty early in its development companies like Honest Mobile are leading the way in its early adoption. As a tech company we think it’s important to invest in new tech that will help stop the climate emergency. Combined with a safe and permanent storage solution, DAC is an incredible form of CO2 removal. 

We work with the Swiss company Climeworks whose DAC technology captures CO2 from the air. The CO2 is then mixed with water and pumped deep underground. Through a process of rapid underground mineralization provided by Climeworks’ partner Carbfix, the captured CO2 is turned into stone and removed from the air safely and permanently for thousands of years. We use Climeworks’ service to remove 1% of our emissions. DAC is well worth the cost because it’s very permanent and it’s easy to trace – and as more people invest in it the cost will go down.

Source: Climeworks

why don’t you offset your carbon footprint more with DAC and biochar?

We agree with the Oxford Offsetting Principle – we need to get creative about how we’re thinking about carbon capture and focus on long-term storage – not short-term. At the moment these new technologies are still expensive so generally it’s pretty hard for companies to remove 100% of their emissions using long term storage – but by starting to use them, we’re trying to prove that there’s an interest in having a variety of offsetting technologies and encourage others to invest in more permanent carbon capture solutions too. We’ve chosen to use a mix of more nature-based and tech-based solutions because they all have different benefits.

Over time we plan to shift our portfolio towards more permanent carbon capture projects – so watch this space 👀

where does the honest forest come into all this?

The Honest Forest is made up of trees we plant beyond our carbon offsetting goals. We work with TreeSisters and 1% for the Planet to celebrate everything trees do beyond offsetting carbon emissions like providing work, promoting biodiversity and stopping soil erosion. We’re on a mission to plant 1 million trees and we’d love your help! Read more about our work with TreeSisters here