Plastic Credits at the checkout? There's a new wave of offset APIs, led by startups like Treepoints.
A new dawn of automation is paving the way for rapid offsets. We asked the Treepoints team our burning questions.
Small businesses and startups are acutely aware that they need to measure their environmental impact. Their question is how. With high consultancy costs eating into limited resources, it’s no secret that keeping up with consumer demand to calculate a carbon footprint can be a stress-inducing balancing act. A wave of services are sprouting up to offer rapid assessments at a fraction of the price, or carbon offsets at the click of a button. We take a look at the new wave of carbon offset APIs, chat with Treepoints about their method and mission, and take a critical look at the movement towards rapid offsets.
Criticised or canonised, carbon offsets allow companies to “cancel” their greenhouse gas emissions by financing global projects typically focusing on renewable energy or carbon sequestration. For example, e-commerce titan Shopify is providing emissions offsets for their customers in partnership with Pachama. With 457 million buyers placing an order with Shopify merchants each year, and Shopify merchants shipping 1.1 billion packages that travelled over one trillion kilometers in 2019, that’s huge. To make the process one step easier, they utilise an API integration to directly purchase those offsets.
API? What’s that?
An Application programming interface (API) is, in simple terms, a set of functions and procedures which allow for collaboration between programmes. They provide a point of access, and can connect two (or more) different programmes - increasing speed, functionality and automation. They’re behind everything - from ticket machines to news feeds - and can be easily embedded into websites via a few lines of code.
The main benefit? APIs allow for brands to process carbon credit orders on scale, as opposed to manually. With the API synced to your sales data, logistics data or other metrics such as your instagram followers, it’s one less transaction for your finance guru to fret over.
A new wave of services offering API integrations are being used to rapidly assess and offset emissions, making it easier than ever for brands to take a step towards a lower carbon footprint - right at the checkout. The API can be embedded in the checkout flow, linking the offsetting service straight to the transaction. Companies like Cloverly, Patch and Treepoints are maximising on the potential for APIs to rapidly automate the offsetting process, hailing a new dawn of impact accounting.
We spoke with Treepoints, a social enterprise offering carbon offsetting services via API as one tool to help businesses track and manage their impact.
Treepoints launched in beta in November 2020, founded by Antony Collias and Jacob Wedderburn-Day. The premise? Treepoints reward you for doing good to the planet. To date, Treepoints have offset 2,161,922 tonnes of CO2 emissions and planted 14,964 trees.
Via one-off payments, subscriptions, APIs, online calculators and more, Treepoints provide a multitude of ways for businesses to start taking greater responsibility, and for individuals to be rewarded via discounts at select environmentally friendly partners. With an initial direct-to-consumer approach which quickly included a business-business offering, to mark Plastic Free July they recently announced that plastic collection is now possible alongside tree planting and carbon offsetting at a company’s checkout flow.
Utilising an API, which Treepoints launched in April 2021, means that ‘independent sellers and international companies have the option for users to offset carbon emissions, or to plant a tree, at the point of purchase’ explains Wedderburn-Day.
We asked the Treepoints team some of our burning questions:
Why did you decide to develop the Treepoints API?
More and more companies are keen to make their operations greener, but lack the resources, time and knowledge to do anything about it. We created the Treepoints API to make it really easy for companies to add tree planting, ocean-bound plastic collection, and/or carbon offsetting into their website flows. Companies can either subsidise this or let customers opt-in to pay. All a company has to do is insert a line of code, and we take care of the rest.
One of the great things about working with companies is that even if an individual isn’t ready to offset their entire carbon footprint, they may well end up supporting climate action through purchasing goods or services with one of our partner companies. Since the customer is already at the point of payment, it is easy to add a positive climate impact to your order, and the conversion rate is high as a result.
Every company using the API gets a public dashboard displaying their impact, which they can share and link to. For companies not quite ready to start adding to their website code, we also offer a more traditional invoicing system. For example, we have one pretty cool podcast partner who offsets 100kg of carbon for every 100 listens.
You leave the decision to the business as to whether they subsidise the cost for their customers, or make it an opt-in option at the checkout. What kind of choices are businesses making so far?
In terms of businesses choosing to subsidise their customers or make it opt-in, it’s pretty much a 50/50 split. What’s really interesting is that when it’s down to the customer to opt-in, often they go well above the minimum amount, for example planting 10 trees rather than just 1. This is a really positive signal that people are keen to contribute to climate action, they just need to be given an easy way to do so, which really goes back to the core of what Treepoints is all about.
Many criticise the calculation of individual or business emissions using (what are seen as) broad-spectrum averages, and call for a more tailored approach each time. From the outside, Treepoints falls into Camp 1. What do you say to these critics?
We’re actually currently in the process of developing an open-source, online tool to help businesses understand in much more detail the contribution they are making to climate change and help them reduce it or offset it. Using accounting data, any company will be able to quickly calculate their overall emissions and access resources to tackle them. This will help us to provide this much more tailored approach that you describe.
However, even with this tool, we will still make sure that companies are offsetting more than their emissions to have a resulting net positive impact.
What clients are already using the Treepoints API?
Since launching the Treepoints API in April, we have a waiting list of interest from companies, and we are currently live with over 20 businesses. Every company has their own showcase page to display their impact and we keep a public leaderboard of our top offsetters and tree planters. Currently heading up the board with our API integration are Big Yellow storage company, Allies of Skin, and Crafty Nectar.
Some of our clients, such as Georganics and Cavalier are already very environmentally conscious, and looking to add a little extra with Treepoints, whereas other businesses we work with are really at the start of their climate journey. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch businesses develop their climate impact, whatever stage they are at.
We also chatted to Treepoints about their recent addition of Plastic collection. With beauty brands like Evolve Beauty, and goods like Ocean Bottle, leading the charge on a journey to be not simply ‘carbon negative’ but also ‘plastic negative’, this addition marks a new phase of brand engagement with global plastic waste.
Adding plastic collection to your offering of tree planting and carbon offsetting is a really exciting step. What prompted it, and why now?
Since the very start of Treepoints, we’ve always received a lot of questions from our community along the lines of “Now we’re offsetting our carbon footprint, what else can we do to fight climate change?”. It’s a really valid question because offsetting your carbon footprint is important to slow down the rate that we’re adding greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. But it’s not enough just to mitigate our impact, we actually need to work on actively reversing some of the damage we’ve done as a species.
This is where the addition of tree planting and plastic collection came from. The idea is to give people and businesses a comprehensive planet positive impact with their subscription. For example with the individual subscription you can offset your entire carbon footprint, plus plant 36 trees and collect 36 plastic bottles.
What kind of plastic collection projects are available via Treepoints to support?
We currently support Plastic Bank who help prevent ocean plastic pollution while improving the lives of collector communities in Haiti, Brazil, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Egypt. Plastic Bank builds ethical recycling ecosystems in coastal communities and reprocesses the collected plastic for reintroduction into the global manufacturing supply chain. Collectors receive a premium for the materials they collect, which helps them provide basic family necessities such as groceries, cooking fuel, school tuition, and health insurance.
We first heard about the amazing work of Plastic Bank through our rewards partner Ocean Bottle who collect 1000 plastic bottles for every bottle sold. We’re open to supporting more plastic collection projects in the future, but we’re very selective about only working with projects that are highly verified and transparent about their work. What’s great about Plastic Bank is that they use a blockchain platform for all their transactions, making the whole process completely transparent and secure.
You mention wanting to ‘actively reverse’ negative environmental impact, with plastic collection being one method. Do you have a long-term goal for your plastic collection efforts?
In terms of numbers, based on our current impact and ambitions, our target is to collect a total 12,300,000 plastic bottles in 2021, increasing to 82,500,000 in 2022 and then 412,500,000 by 2025.
As mentioned above, in the future we may look to work with plastic collection projects in addition to Plastic Bank. One of our longer term goals is to be able to set up and support our own projects directly, but we’re a way off from this yet.
Where do you see Treepoints in 5 years? How do you think your offering, and market niche, will evolve?
In 5 years time, we hope to see Treepoints as the TrustPilot-equivalent stamp of Sustainability. People know the brand and expect to see it on products, services, and companies. Individuals everywhere in the developed world understand what carbon offsetting means and offset their footprint with Treepoints. Our goal is to become a household name for sustainability, being the easiest subscription, API integration and tree planting service for individuals and businesses alike.
We also have ambitions to become a source of funding for green projects, able to finance carbon reduction schemes. As a Social Enterprise, we are committed to reinvesting at least 50% of our profits, and we hope to easily achieve profitability within the next 5 years to be able to start reinvesting in environmental projects, such as carbon capture technology. This will also enable us to have a greater level of personal contact with the projects that we are supporting.
Finally, we also plan to add a green finance plan, helping people to understand the impact of their purchasing habits on the environment. This may include an open banking integration or similar so that people can see the carbon footprint of the products they buy, the journeys they make, and their lifestyle choices.
APIs, and companies like Treepoints, are making offsetting emissions increasingly easy. However, we must think critically.
Ease risks over-simplification of the true actions required to tackle the climate crisis. Some would say that it is the purchase of that product (as an example) which presents the problem, a problem that relies on behaviour change for a solution - not on offsetting the purchased goods’ impact. However, whilst a behavioural shift away from over-consumption is necessary, it’s not immediate. Additionally, whilst this shift gains pace, it is undeniable that in some capacity actions will continue. Consumers will continue to purchase goods, brands will continue to sell them. The goal? For all businesses to reduce their emissions, radically and rapidly. However, even then, methods for accounting for impact (directly or indirectly) are still required.
The answer? There isn’t one. Holding services like Treepoints to high standards on the projects they support and the impact they claim to create is a necessity; one that we believe Treepoints is meeting (see more here). Talking about carbon insetting, mitigation, and other environmental impacts outside of carbon (like water and plastic) in equal measure to the attention around carbon offsets is an equally important step to avoid cutting corners and missing links.
For small businesses, we advocate for seeking expert advice when you can afford it, and still taking steps towards a cleaner climate when you can’t - like connecting with Treepoints. First, we need to all head in the same direction, then we can perfect how exactly we’re doing that.