In our 2021 Impact Report, we proudly announced that we’ve been able to reduce our carbon emissions by 73% and, as a result, become New Zealand’s first carbon-positive clothing brand. And while this is undoubtedly an impressive status, it’s also something that remains difficult to imagine and quantify.
Essentially, carbon needs the same PR-finesse that plastic has received in recent years. When you see a piece of plastic floating in the ocean or an empty water bottle wedged in the sand, it makes you uncomfortable, right? Something in your stomach churns and you want to do something about it. That’s the same mindset we need to be approaching carbon with: It shouldn’t be there, and it’s on us to get rid of it.
Our planet is in a constant balancing act and the more we operate within this space - through upholding environmental standards and engaging in regenerative practices to ensure we aren’t taking more than we give - the more the planet will give back to us and the more both parties will thrive. This is what we mean when we talk about “circularity”.
Today on the Journal, we’ve broken down what effect carbon has on the planet - and on us - and why we’ve used it as such a vital measurement of our business’s success.
1. What exactly is carbon and why should I care?
Carbon is one of the elements that make up life on earth (remember the Periodic Table of Elements?). Due to its special ability to bond in a wide variety of shapes with many other elements (including itself), it is known as the "element of life". One of the molecules it forms is with two oxygen atoms. Carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a colourless, odourless gas that occurs naturally in the earth's atmosphere. In the atmosphere CO2 acts like a gas blanket that traps heat. For millions of years that gas blanket was just the right thickness that planet Earth was the perfect temperature for complex life such as human beings to evolve. However, since the industrial revolution, the levels of CO2 in the earth's atmosphere have exploded due to the burning of fossil fuels, and the destruction of forests, wetlands, and soils.
This gas blanket has now got really, really thick and traps far more heat than ever before in human history. This extra heat causes the planet to warm and the natural systems of the planet, which were in a perfect balance, to fall out of balance. Creating a climate crisis.
It's important to know that there are many other gases that also trap heat in the atmosphere. These are collectively known as Greenhouse Gases (GHGs). When we talk about measuring GHGs we use the term 'carbon dioxide equivalent' (CO2e). CO2e often gets abbreviated to just "carbon".
2. Carbon Neutral/Carbon Zero/Carbon Positive/Carbon Negative - are they all the same thing? What does this mean for Maggie Marilyn?
Carbon neutral and carbon zero is when an organisation, or individual is responsible for taking the same amount of greenhouse gases (aka carbon) out of the atmosphere as they are for releasing into the atmosphere. This can be done through their own actions e.g. planting trees, but it is typically done by paying someone else to do it through buying "carbon credits". Well-known formulas are used by experts to calculate the volume of carbon (aka greenhouse gases) being released by the activities of an organisation or individual (this is called a "carbon footprint") and therefore how many trees need to be planted or renewable energy plants built to balance it out to equal zero, or be "neutral".
To add to the confusion carbon negative and carbon positive are the same thing (we know...blame the marketing people!). These terms mean that a business, organisation, or individual is responsible for taking more carbon (GHGs) out of the atmosphere than they are putting into it.
At Maggie Marilyn, we are aligning with the language our carbon mapping partners, Toitū Envirocare, use - carbon positive.
3. Why can't all brands be carbon zero?
All brands can be if they choose to be. And all brands will need to be, but it does take time, commitment, and money to map and offset your carbon emissions. The business model a brand chooses also has a big impact on how quickly they can, or how costly it is to, become carbon zero. Our decision to stop selling to International Wholesale stores and instead directly to customers allowed us to step away from the intense calendar of the fashion world which demands new seasons at least four times a year. To keep up with these deliveries we were forced to airfreight almost all of our fabrics. Now that we design and produce in our own time we can sea freight almost all of our fabrics which has helped significantly in us achieving our 73% carbon footprint reduction.
4. What does it mean to buy carbon credits?
Buying carbon credits is essentially giving money to an organisation that takes actions to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, or avoid or reduce carbon going into the atmosphere. To pull carbon out of the atmosphere the most common activity is to plant trees. To avoid or reduce carbon going into the atmosphere the activities include paying landowners not to cut down trees, building renewable power plants (so they can stop burning fossil fuels), or using technologies such as efficient cooking stoves that require far less wood to be burnt.
1 carbon credit is equal to one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).
So if a company was responsible for emitting 100 tonnes of CO2e they would have to buy 100 carbon credits to be carbon-zero. Clever scientists have worked out exactly how much CO2e is released from all sorts of activities such as driving a car (they even know exactly how much different cars release), or burning coal, or even how much a cow releases when it burbs. They have also calculated how much carbon different trees pull out of the atmosphere when they grow. So, businesses can now pay other organisations to absorb, reduce, or avoid the same amount of CO2e they are responsible for putting into the atmosphere.
5. How can Maggie Marilyn prove they are carbon positive?
We have worked with Toitū Envirocare who are independent carbon mapping experts.
Toitū have a rigorous process that all their clients have to follow in order for them to certify the size of their carbon footprint.
They even get audited themselves by another independent party (JAS-ANZ). Toitū then work with a range of offsetting organisations that have also been independently audited to ensure the carbon credits they provide are legitimate (and the trees are actually getting planted!)
6. If Maggie Marilyn continues to grow, how can you remain sustainable?
We changed our business model in 2020 so we could reset our course to become a circular business with a regenerative impact. A circular business doesn't keep extracting resources from the planet but uses (or reuses) the resources we already have. This is done by firstly making quality clothes that last, then educating our customers on how to care for and repair them to extend the life of our clothes, providing a take-back scheme for unwanted MM clothes, and finally recycling or composting clothes when they truly are at the end of their life. It is our goal to decouple our financial growth from our use of resources. Also, as we grow larger we are able to better support fiber growers, shift to regenerative agricultural practices, and undertake research and development on new technologies that will aid our mission.
As always, we appreciate your feedback and welcome any questions, comments (or just an open conversation)! Please email us at email@example.com to talk more!
We believe knowledge is power! We are in a constant state of learning and education so wanted to share a few resources that we have found helpful.
Videos / Film
View our impact report here