Carbon removal and the next frontier of corporate climate action: early opportunities (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second post in a two-part blog series on carbon removal and corporate climate action. Part 1 explored the responsibility of businesses to clean up CO2 from the atmosphere; this post explores the business case for action on carbon removal today.

In the future, carbon removal solutions will play a critical role in corporate climate action strategies. However, without a clear and widely-accepted accounting standard for cleaning up CO2 from the atmosphere, it is likely premature for companies to set and manage what can be thought of as “negative emissions” climate goals.

While carbon removal might be a long game for corporations, there is a strong business case to be made for targeted near-term action around carbon removal, as evidenced by the corporate leaders who have already begun to emerge in this space. In particular, early movers on carbon removal will position themselves to:

  • Capitalize on growth opportunities in emerging carbon-negative products and services.

  • Find opportunities to improve supply chain efficiency: utilizing CO2 as an asset rather than a costly waste.

  • Gain insight into leading carbon removal solution providers to maximize the success of potential future partnerships and/or acquisitions in this space.

  • Have a seat at the table in developing industry standards around carbon removal.

  • Enhance their brand among employees and customers as sustainability leaders on the vanguard of climate action.

Above: Interface’s “Climate Take Back” initiative is one example of corporate leadership engaging in carbon removal today. Photo source: Interface

Above: Interface’s “Climate Take Back” initiative is one example of corporate leadership engaging in carbon removal today. Photo source: Interface

So what types of tactical initiatives can corporate sustainability offices engage in today to help spur the development of carbon removal solutions? Here are a few strategies for that can generate the greatest returns for companies today:

1. Start assessing supply chain and market growth opportunities offered by carbon removal solutions. Investigating how to incorporate carbon-negative products into relevant supply chains is a critical first step. A wide range of products that companies use in their supply chain can be carbon-negative, including materials used to build corporate offices, the fibers used to manufacture clothing and textiles, agricultural inputs for food production, and the plastics used to build accessories for electronics (like the “AirCarbon” phone cases that Sprint sells), to name just a few. Mapping organizational expertise to carbon removal opportunities is a good first step to becoming an effective first customer and/or solution provider for carbon removal solutions.

Above: The Perennial SF restaurant works to incorporate carbon-removing products into their supply chain by sourcing the flour they use in their breads from wheat developed at The Land Institute. Photo Source: The Perennial SF

Above: The Perennial SF restaurant works to incorporate carbon-removing products into their supply chain by sourcing the flour they use in their breads from wheat developed at The Land Institute. Photo Source: The Perennial SF

2. Build internal capacities related to carbon removal through investments in “pathway” approaches. Many components of carbon removal systems can be used for related purposes that offer a smaller carbon sequestration benefit, but a potentially bigger financial upside in the near term. For example, direct air capture companies like Climeworks are targeting greenhouses as early customers -- while lettuce grown with air-captured CO2 won’t sequester carbon, it can displace fossil fuels and give companies that support projects like these key insights as the direct air capture field matures. Smart investments in bioenergy, carbon capture utilization and storage (“CCUS”), and sustainable forestry and agriculture can position organizations to capitalize on related carbon removal opportunities as they emerge.

3. Elevate the issue and find collaborators. Companies can gain real leverage in their early carbon removal activities by increasing awareness and dialogue on the topic in corporate climate discussions. The business of carbon removal will have many non-rival aspects in the short-term, as all companies in the space will gain from efforts to create robust accounting standards, to address shared research questions, and to advocate for governments to create markets that enable carbon removal solutions to flourish. Early corporate carbon removal efforts can go much further and faster as part of broad coalitions, such as existing efforts like the We Mean Business coalition and/or new partnerships with NGOs and academia.

While these early corporate initiatives into carbon removal won’t necessarily result in large-scale sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere in the short run, they can provide invaluable experience and development efforts that pave the way for future carbon removal projects.

Want to join the conversation on carbon removal? Make sure to check out the following events: