East Fork has measured the environmental impact of our business. We have implemented better practices and identified where we still need to improve. These commitments helped us become B Corp and Climate Neutral certified. But this is just the beginning.
East Fork is committed to addressing, ameliorating and perhaps even—in time—undoing the environmental harm caused by manufacturing our pottery, shipping our goods to customers and everything else we do in the process of operating our company.
Obviously, this pursuit is beyond our in-house expertise, so we have chosen to work with Climate Neutral, a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to decrease global carbon emissions by creating a trusted net-zero certification for consumer brands. We have committed to measure, offset and reduce carbon emission.
Climate Neutral will help us with every step of the process. On April 15, 2021, East Fork received the designation Climate Neutral Certified, the standard earned by companies that offset and reduce all of their greenhouse gas emission, as determined by Climate Neutral. This work is a product of the soul-searching we did as we sought and secured B Corp certification. Raising our company-wide minimum wage to $22 an hour is another.
We feel excited and proud as we announce our commitment to addressing the environmental effects caused by our business, though these feelings are appropriately tempered by the work that lies ahead.
In this space, we’d like to share the steps we’ve taken and those still to come in an effort to inform our customers and inspire other companies that are motivated to address environmental consequences but are perhaps unsure of where to start. We’d also like to share where we are right now in the process, starting with what we see as our biggest challenge.
East Fork fires large industrial gas kilns every single day. Indeed, right now there is no other way to transform clay to the durable pots that we sell. Not only that, as we bring our production to a new scale later this year, we’ll have even more kilns in use. When we contemplate the environmental effects of our business, we realize that in our case, our reckoning will not be easily offset by practices we already have in place, things like using 100% recyclable shipping materials and offering professionally prepared lunches made on-site to minimize the number of people driving their cars to pick up food that likely will come in single-serving containers. In short, it’s imperative we do more.
The Road to Carbon Neutral
We set out to know exactly what it would take to make East Fork a carbon neutral company. And beyond that, what would it take to become carbon negative. We knew we needed the expertise of a carbon management firm to help us measure our emissions, consult with us and, ideally, certify our efforts when we reached carbon neutrality.
Before going any further, both in our process and in this writing, we can’t dismiss the specter of greenwashing, a marketing ploy that misleads the public into believing a company employs sound environment practices when it does not, or not to the degree it claims. Greenwashing sometimes isn’t intentionally sinister: it can happen when a company with good intentions doesn’t do its due diligence and ends up investing in a shell game-like system in which emissions still occur but get a different name amid all the self-congratulatory rhetoric: the quick fix that seems too good to be true because it is too good to be true. Is it too obvious to say that East Fork stands against greenwashing?
Still, we know that with each passing day, the climate crisis worsens. We know it will take time to ensure that we find offsets that will create a financial market that will fund activities that slow or reverse climate change. And we wanted to start as soon as we could.
Consulting an Expert
East Fork co-founder and CFO John Vigeland worked with Laura Lengnick, founder and principal consultant at Cultivating Resilience, LLC, an Asheville-based firm that works with organizations of all kinds to integrate climate solutions into operations and strategic planning. Dr. Lengnick is our dream consultant because of her expertise in carbon management and climate resilience planning gained through more than two decades of research, development and education work devoted to tailoring climate-friendly adaptive management strategies to the needs of Carolina-based businesses and government programs.
After analyzing our carbon emissions inventory, Dr. Lengnick developed a 5-year adaptive carbon management plan for us that involves three steps. First, we must work to reduce emissions in our company operations. Then we must work with our suppliers and distributors to reduce emissions in our supply chain. Finally, only after we’ve done this important work to directly reduce the emissions associated with our company activities, we will embark on buying high-quality carbon offsets, which we plan to obtain from urban forestry projects here in North Carolina. This is where our work with Climate Neutral begins.
Reaching Climate Neutral Certification
Climate Neutral helped us measure our carbon footprint, which we will offset in its entirety by purchasing quality carbon credits and reducing emissions.
Let’s take a moment to explain what a carbon credit is, and what it does. Climate Neutral states, “One carbon credit is a certificate generated when someone takes an action to eliminate or avoid the emission of one metric ton of greenhouse gas emissions. Entities that develop carbon eliminating or avoiding projects can produce carbon credits, which are then verified by a third-party.”
There are rigorous certification standards that help companies accurately estimate their greenhouse gas footprint, identify credible carbon offsets and prioritize measures to reduce emissions. Having met the standards, East Fork has begun using the Climate Neutral Certified label on the website. The label is a symbol of East Fork’s commitment to taking immediate steps on climate action.
Steps to Sustainability
Step 1: Measure
We began by getting a comprehensive understanding of our current total carbon footprint. We measured our “scope 1 and scope 2” emissions—CO₂ that comes from burning natural gas to fire our kilns, or from the power plant down the road that supplies our electricity. We also measured our “scope 3” emissions—the footprint of our upstream and downstream supply chain. While we “see” our scope 1 and 2 emissions everyday as we work next to our big kilns at the factory, our measurement study revealed that the vast majority of our emissions are embedded in our scope 3 space: outside the walls of the factory. This information will play a key role in how we shape our 5-year carbon plan.
Step 2: Offset
Through Climate Neutral, we have purchased carbon offsets that will fully address East Fork’s carbon footprint for the year 2020 and will continue to do so going forward, completely offsetting our emissions, scaling up our credits to match East Fork’s expanded production over time.
Step 3: Reduce
We have committed to finding ways to be less reliant on fossil fuel, working with Climate Neutral and any advisors they connect us with to actually reduce our own emissions. As part of our certification with Climate Neutral, we have made two reduction commitments that we can focus on and execute in the short term—within 24 months:
- We plan to become at least 10% more efficient in our use of natural gas and electricity to fire our pots. To do this, we will increase the yields of our kilns and reduce our seconds rate so that we can reach our revenue goals by making fewer pieces, thereby lowering emissions, as well as reducing the amount of unsalable pots that end up in the landfill.
- We will also, under Climate Neutral’s advisement, buy 100% clean energy from our utility provider in North Carolina for all of our facilities. This purchasing initiative will support NC Green Power, a nonprofit that installs solar installations on public school campuses.
Our longer-term aspirations are grander: we want to thoughtfully address the emissions associated with our upstream and downstream supply chains. And here at home, we want to research and implement firing technology that is fossil fuel free. These are big projects, but you can expect updates here as we move into these next frontiers.
So when you see the Climate Neutral logo here on the East Fork website, we hope you see it as a symbol of our commitment to the deliberate and necessary steps that must be and will be taken.
A Certified B Corporation
East Fork has become a certified B Corporation, joining nearly 4,000 mission-driven companies here in the United States and around the world that have made a commitment to making decisions that lead to positive impacts on their employees, customers, suppliers, community and the environment.