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The WGSN Sustainability Glossary: What is carbon negative and regenerative?

Hand holding a sprouting plant
Akil Mazumder/Pexels
Feb 08, 2023 By WGSN Insider

The WGSN Sustainability Glossary provides definitions for key concepts and terminology related to environmental, social and economical sustainability throughout the whole supply chain.

In this second post of the blog series, WGSN explains what carbon negative and regenerative mean, why they are the terms to watch today and how you could action them.

What is carbon negative?

Consumers looking to do their bit for the planet are increasingly seeking products that are low carbon, carbon neutral or carbon negative.

Also known as climate positive, carbon negative refers to the net effect of removing carbon dioxide from the environment, rather than adding to it or being neutral (having no impact). Some carbon negative pledges include carbon offsetting – compensating for carbon emissions by investing in initiatives such as tree planting, which sequesters carbon.

Glossary production cycle
Carbon negative actions and regenerative processes should be considered at most stages in the production cycle, including sourcing, design, manufacturing and distribution/WGSN Original Image

In the US, Low Carbon Beef is an independent certification programme based on net total GHG emissions, with a lifecycle approach. It was approved by the USDA in 2022. In order to qualify for certification, producers must prove their cattle are raised in a way that emits 10% less gas than an industry baseline, a benchmark set by Low Carbon Beef based on the company’s proprietary modelling.

How you can action this: as awareness of the environmental impacts of our food choices rises, consumer demand for labelling is growing. Be transparent and open about the process, which may be imperfect.

What is regenerative?

Regenerative processes are actions that restore, renew or revitalise their own systems of energy and materials. 

In beauty, regenerative packaging and zero waste solutions will become increasingly important, as consumers prioritise cutting the amount of unnecessary waste from the products they use.

Lip balms with regenerative packaging
Instagram, @akkulaph

Filipino brand Akkula uses regenerative packaging for all its products, including lip balms. The 100% paper packaging is infused with seeds which can be planted in soil, leaving no waste.

How you can action this: look for active compostable materials that also improve the soil. 

Regenerative food and drink: social buzz

The term “regenerative” is increasingly being linked with food and drink, as well as “farming” and “agriculture”. Stories around farming practices are being shared on social media, alongside the brands and products that use ingredients sourced from these businesses.

Instagram, @theethicalbutcher

UK-based The Ethical Butcher first started a campaign in January 2020 called #Regenuary at the same time as Veganuary, arguing that regeneratively farmed meats can be positive to the environment. The campaign continued into 2023 and garnered over 1m Facebook views.

How you can action this: consider timing around your regenerative messaging. Be consistent with your message, but in order to gain traction, plug into wider campaigns through the year.

WGSN subscribers can discover more key terms in our Sustainability Glossary. WGSN subscribers can discover more circular innovations in our Fashion, Beauty, Food & Drink, Interiors and City by City Feeds

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