Climate Neutral Group

Climate Neutral Group’s formula for maximum impact

This interview is part of The Terrace’s ‘1.5-degree society campaign’. In this series we ask professionals: how is your organization contributing to the 1.5-degree society? And – most importantly – what can other organizations learn from your experiences? We hope to inform and inspire other businesses to do even more and accelerate their impact. 

When Climate Neutral Group (CNG) was founded in 2002, they were one of the first organizations to fully focus on climate neutrality. Their mission is to accelerate the transition to a 'net-zero carbon' economy. CNG offers its clients advice on how they can reduce their climate impact and at the same time strengthen their business strategies. We spoke to Arjen Struijk, director NL, on how to strive for maximum impact.

What does positive change mean to you and what is your biggest, most important motive for investing in a sustainable future?
Positive change for me is about balance. Balance in what we use and what we give. For example, the balance in our use of natural resources and the diversity in our organisations. I believe that balance comes from being in open contact with yourself, others and the environment you work in. It allows you to receive feedback and with the intention of balance you can realise positive change. At Climate Neutral Group, balance is about aiming for zero emissions. Or even less, to balance others’ emissions.

How do you stay focused on your sustainability targets when so many things are changing in society, among which Covid-19, which influences nearly every cornerstone of the world?
When Covid-19 initially hit, our team went into survival mode. We feared the world would stop thinking about climate change all together. That feeling lasted for two weeks. Then, slowly but surely, some of our existing clients picked up the phone again, saying they wanted to continue the work we started.”

This kept us going. And then new clients also started calling: companies like WeTransfer, Exact software, BloomOn and an Italian coffee brewer wanted help with their transition to net-zero emissions. Of course, we do see some of our clients being hit hard by the virus. Especially those in the travel industry. But for many companies, climate change is now a topic they want to address, more than even before. I really hope that other B Corp companies have the same experience and see that their stakeholders and particularly their customers continue to choose sustainable.

What do you see as the biggest sustainability challenge for CNG at the moment and in the future?
We need all organisations on board, to reduce their CO2-emissions. But for now, we are still mostly working with innovators and early adopters. This is our balancing act. We want momentum to continue with the innovators as they are a source of inspiration but should not become so advanced in our advice and Climate Neutral certification that we become irrelevant for the rest. To make a maximum impact, we need to grow as an organisation and also work with organisations who are not in the frontline (yet).

What message would you like to pass on to other companies that are striving to create sustainable and social impact?
Strive to maximise your impact at all times. Look further than the boundaries of your own business model and be fearless! The formula for maximum impact is: ‘difference made’ x ‘volume’. Be critical of the role you can play in this and where you need others to maximize positive change.

Curious about the other articles of our '1.5 degree society campaign'? Last time we spoke with Bibianne Roetert from Lipton on how they are closing the loop on plastic waste.

Call it by its name: A plea to cherish the brave brands that accelerate the plant protein transition

It’s Dutch Food Week this week. This means all eyes are on (innovation) in the Dutch food sector for 7 days straight. One area where our global food sector is heading up against is the shift to a more plant-based diet. This shift is urgently needed to reach the climate goals we have set. Luckily, more and more brands take up the challenge to steer the transition, by enabling the mainstream consumer to switch their loved, known, products to more sustainable, also loved alternatives. Yet, while there is little time to lose when it comes to increase sustainable diets, somehow, we got stuck discussing the naming of these food products are allowed to have. I completely agree to provide consumers with more clarity and transparency, but it seems to me that we are losing focus on what really matters here.

Plant-based naming and labelling under pressure The plant-based food market is booming in Europe and predicted to grow further in the coming years. The market is expected to increase to 2.4bn euros in 2025, from 1.5bn euros in 2018.

On the 20th of October the European Parliament will vote on the proposed ban on the use of ‘meatish’ and ‘dairyish’ names for plant-based products. This could ban the widely accepted and commonly used terms, such as ‘veggie burger,’ or ‘plant-based steak’. This while a recent survey by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) demonstrates that EU consumers are overwhelmingly in favor of the use of meat-related terms for plant-based foods. The report shows that more than 68% of consumers support 'meaty' names for plant-based food products, as long as the products are transparently clearly labelled as plant-based or vegetarian. This because they then recognize the product they are looking for.

Brands respond bravely Just as bravely as plant-based brands are picking up the challenge to lead the protein transition, they are responding to this news. When Abbot Kinney's received a letter that they should not label their product as word yoghurt, they quickly responded that they themselves don’t want to carry that label either. They stated:

“The name yoghurt does not suit us. As our yog does not hurt.  Because, we care about our environment, health, climate agreement, agricultural land, gut, animal welfare, rain forests and planet. So, we keep the yog, and skip the 'hurt'.”

The Vegetarische Slager responded this week stating that products have all types of names that are not to be taken literally in general. Think ‘chicken fingers’ and the Dutch dish ‘Slavink’. Online people supported the brands’ message by sharing an Instagram message with ‘I am not confused’ and tagging the European Parliament.

What's in a name: for better labeling let’s focus on health and sustainability. The thing about this discussion is that it focuses on providing clarity where consumers are not lacking any. Not the name of a product and where it is located in the supermarket isles is confusing for consumers, but what the product consists of, how and by whom it is made and what nutritional quality of food is. Much is happening here, with the Nutri-score for instance, but at a brand level there are more and endless opportunities to communicate better and more transparently on food products. I believe this is what we should all focus on. Not just for plant-based brands but all food brands in general.

My hope is that we can provide space for innovative brands to challenge the status quo and move away from having semantic discussions on the naming of products. I cannot help but think what would be next: alcohol free beer becomes a hop-drink? I hope we will focus on what really matters: providing consumers with transparent, healthy and sustainable food products. I would love to hear: what do you think?