How wonderful it was to live at the turn of the twenty-first century! We had the luxury of considering climate change as a possible negative that might happen in the seemingly unimaginable future of “ten or 20 years from now.”
Back in the good ole’ days, we imagined that hurricanes would someday become more destructive. Wildfires would someday threaten more population centers. Droughts would someday become more severe.
These worries may have added a twinge of buzzkill while we were partying like it was 1999. On the bright side — most people figured — the disasters would not come for decades and by then, some lab coat-wearing egghead would have figured out a way to technologize us out of our pickle.
Twenty years later, there is some good (and better) news and some bad (and worse) news.
The bad news is that everything we worried would happen at the turn of the century is happening. The worse news is that the bad news is occurring much more rapidly than scientists thought it would in places like Greenland, the Arctic, and the Antarctic – areas critical to the thermal regulation of our planet.
The good news is that the lab coat (and hard-hat) wearing eggheads at innovative Canadian start-up, Carbon Engineering, have indeed figured out a way to help save our species from itself – “Direct Air Capture” technology that pulls CO2 out of the atmosphere and sequesters it to its original home far below the earth’s surface.
The better news is that Carbon Engineering’s technology is already a commercial reality and is quickly becoming a transformative commercial force. Your correspondent has been amazed over the past few weeks as one press release after another announces new projects between Carbon Engineering and influential organizations in three countries.
Specifically, in the waning weeks of summer 2020, CE revealed that it had sealed a direct deal to provide carbon credits to a $115 billion market cap retailer as well as reaching agreements to license its technology in the US and overseas to well-funded, savvy build-out partners.
Each of the deals is important in its own way, but all of them together signal the emergence of a new industry offering a business model I call “Carbon Sequestration-as-a-Service” (CSaaS). In this article, I look at CSaaS as applied to the Internet retailer.
The retailer news is big: Canadian ecommerce platform giant Shopify announced it would pay Carbon Engineering to use its Squamish research facility to permanently sequester CO2. Shopify would then be able to sell the carbon credits it received from the sequestration onto the voluntary carbon credit markets (discussed in my article here).
For those of you keeping score, Shopify’s shares have increased 137% in value since January 1 of this year (that’s a full seventy percentage points better return than Amazon’sAMZN YTD, by the way). Shopify’s management, to their credit, have translated their stock’s momentum into operational momentum for reducing emissions. And any shift towards reducing corporate carbon footprints translates into business momentum for Carbon Engineering.
With this announcement, Shopify has the distinction of being the only retailer on the planet putting its money where its mouth is to permanently sequester CO2. Consumers have said that lowering carbon footprints is important to them and Shopify is giving their customers what they want.
With this uptake agreement, Carbon Engineering’s Squamish, British Columbia research facility instantly morphs from being a cost center to being a profit center since Shopify will be paying for carbon captured and sequestered there.
From my perspective, this agreement is historic as it marks the initiation of an entirely new industry: Carbon Sequestration-as-a-Service (CSaaS).
Companies using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) products outsource all the complexity of rolling out, maintaining, securing, and updating on-premise software to a variety of specialist firms.
Companies using CSaaS can outsource the process of reducing the carbon footprint of their operations to the only firm that is able to withdraw and sequester carbon at scale: Carbon Engineering.
This “as-a-Service” model is incredibly powerful, which is why boffins in the software industry talk about everything from SaaS to PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) to IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service). In a real sense, Carbon Engineering is the perfect as-a-Service firm: it can operate effectively anywhere in the world, its offering is powered by unique intellectual property, and it solves problems that its clients can’t easily solve for themselves.
Hopefully, those of you reading this will understand the import of what I say. Carbon Engineering is the global leader in a new industry that has the Mother of all Tailwinds behind it. If you can hitch your cart to a horse like that, your grandchildren will thank you for it (for multiple reasons).
I was excited when I heard the news, and wanted to run it by Dr. Rajat Panwar, professor of Sustainable Business at Appalachian State University and an expert on sustainability issues in the Internet Age’s long and complex supply chains.
Professor Panwar thinks the Shopify-Carbon Engineering announcement is vitally important because of the enormous responsibility ecommerce retailers have for the growth in carbon emissions.
He points out that ecommerce-related emissions have so far often gone unnoticed by consumers compared to “dirty” industries like mining or refining. This is probably because ecommerce emissions are hidden within distant supply chains, about which most consumers are only dimly aware.
While Internet shoppers may not be aware of the supply chain-related emissions, you can’t fool Mother Nature.
Panwar’s research shows that one big underlying cause for the increase in emissions shown by the Keeling Curve graph above is complex, multinational supply chains, the carbon footprint of which is not easy for a single company to trace and manage.
Dr. Panwar hopes that Shopify is spreading its big decarbonization news to its clients far and wide. I hope that “carbon free shopping” will soon become as important to consumer buying decisions as “free shipping” is today.
Carbon free shopping might sound crazy, but not too long ago, selecting next week’s groceries in your living room and having them delivered to your front door before the day was out seemed just as insane.
As crazy as it may sound, the only way for our civilization to survive and thrive in the 21st Century is for all of us to radically reconsider how businesses and societies operate and to restructure them with an eye toward sustainability. The world’s newest, best idea to help make that happen is Carbon Sequestration-as-a-Service.