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From left to right: Paul Brady, Dave Rouse, and Jan Czaplicki
From left to right: Paul Brady, Dave Rouse, and Jan Czaplicki

BusinessNovember 13, 2019

The Auckland-based startup looking to disrupt how we offset emissions

From left to right: Paul Brady, Dave Rouse, and Jan Czaplicki
From left to right: Paul Brady, Dave Rouse, and Jan Czaplicki

Newly launched carbon offsetting company CarbonClick want to make it easier for businesses and consumers to save the planet. CEO Dave Rouse and CPO Jan Czaplicki explain that while carbon offsetting isn’t the solution to global warming, it’s necessary.

We have pumped our skies full of greenhouse gases for over 200 years, resulting in an exponentially growing increase in global temperatures. Since 1880, the global temperature has risen by 0.8 degrees. Most of that has happened since 1975, and in that time, temperatures have been rising by 0.15-0.25 degrees each year. 

We need to treat the cause of warming (rampant burning of fossil fuels, intensive agriculture etc.) but we also need to heal the wound. Capturing carbon from the atmosphere is one way to soothe the inflamed Earth, which is where carbon offsetting comes in.

Individual businesses have tried to do carbon offsetting for over a decade, including our own Air New Zealand. But for many, they find it is just too hard to do.

“Businesses said ‘yeah, it’s a great idea, we’re all in – oh, it’s too hard,” said Dave Rouse, CEO of new carbon offsetting company CarbonClick, adding that the reason why Air New Zealand can do it is because they can afford the manpower. “They need full-time staff to monitor measure orders and external consultancies that everyday businesses just [can’t] afford to implement. So it sort of rules offsetting out of the reality [for most businesses].”

For a long time, carbon offsetting companies targeted individual consumers who paid a lump sum each year. “[But] that just doesn’t appeal to people,” said chief product officer Jan Czaplicki. Instead, CarbonClick is disrupting the mechanism by which people offset by making it a one-time, add-on purchase. “It’s a very small amount [of money]. The barrier to say ‘yes’ is much lower than, you know, $200 for your whole year.”

Since its launch in early November, CarbonClick’s flagship customers include Karma Cola, AA SmartFuel and MightyApe. When purchasing from an e-commerce partner like MightyApe or Shopify, customers can simply click a little green button to add on, for example, a $3 offset.

“You’ll get an email with a track and trace number,” explained Czaplicki. “You can click through and then you get the full traceability of the offset.”

The traceability of offsets is very new, and they’ve chosen to do it because there is public distrust of offsetting. To some, it seems like a cop-out; you’re buying your way out of taking real action. To others, there’s fear that offsetting companies will plant a tree, cut it down, and plant it again – double-selling a carbon offset to make money.

CarbonClick has ensured there is no way for it to double count and that customers can check that. “We have to use suppliers that only issue permanent native regeneration forestry or permanent planting,” said Rouse. “So there can be no double counting.”

If you buy a product in New Zealand, the website you’re using will pick up that you’re a Kiwi, so at least 50% of the offsets you’ve purchased will be local. If you’re in the US then at least 50% will go towards American indigenous planting projects, and so on. This will expand as the company reaches agreements with the countries it operates in.

CarbonClick has chosen to offer these “blended baskets” because purchasing offsets overseas can often be cheaper – it’s more trees for your dollar, which is ultimately better for the planet. The business isn’t limited to tree planting, either. Internationally, they use solar water heaters and wind power projects.

With regard to the first issue – that many perceive offsetting as greenwashing – the duo will be the first to tell you it’s real. “We have to be careful [with] who we deal with,” said Czaplicki. “We have to be careful with greenwashing because there are people out there who want to do this.”

“Carbon-offsetting will definitely be an industry to watch,” said 350 Aotearoa spokesperson Erica Finnie, especially in the context of the recently passed Zero Carbon Act. She also warned that offsetting cannot be the sole solution to the climate crisis. 

“Carbon offsetting schemes can play a useful role in enabling businesses and governments to meet emissions reductions targets, but first and foremost businesses should focus their efforts on cutting their emissions instead of relying on carbon offsets.”

When it comes to partnering with businesses, CarbonClick will only work with people who are dedicated to reducing their footprint. “Multiple projects have to be implemented, and CarbonClick can only be one of those,” said Czaplicki. “We wouldn’t work with a business where we’re the only thing that business [has going]. That’s just not right. You’ve got your priorities wrong.”

“You cannot be doing nothing and offload this to your customers, because that is greenwashing. They see that,” added Rouse. 

CarbonClick also has its sights on international success. Carbon is, for most people, an intangible resource, but it is one that is growing in value every day. “There’s a tipping point where businesses will realise they’re going to get called out, and they’re not going to exist in five-to-10 years,” said Czaplicki.

World governments might not mandate eco-friendly business practices, but consumers are demanding it. “The Paris Agreement is based on curbing global warming to three degrees, which is catastrophic,” said Rouse. “We need it to be 1.5 degrees. We have to rely on world leaders to stand up and make these changes.” 

But world leaders are not standing up. The Paris Agreement is a low bar and countries are pulling out of it anyway. Here in New Zealand, many – including Rouse and Czaplicki – are saying our carbon neutral goal date of 2040 isn’t good enough.

“We’re in such debt that even if everything became carbon neutral straight away, it doesn’t matter,” said Czaplicki. “We have so much to take out because we put so much in.”

Rouse agreed, pointing out that companies like CarbonClick, which make offsetting easier, will keep popping up for decades to come. “We’ve got to reduce, and we’ve got to offset the balance. Someone’s got to do it. Everyone’s got to do it.”

Keep going!