Carbon could be the new currency

Big city carbon emissions

Carbon could be the new currency

“To reach economic stability, emerging markets in Asia, including Thailand, need to concentrate on consumer-led growth by increasing domestic demand and investment while fixing income inequality and the imbalance in resource distribution, according to academics and economists,” an African newspaper commented recently.

Cut and paste, replace Asia with Africa and it sounds like a cure-all for Africa’s, or even just South Africa’s, ills. (South Africa has the highest carbon intensity of all G20 countries according to a 2019 PWC carbon index.)

What interests me is the focal ‘consumer-led’ hook of this statement. Today it is the consumer who is all powerful and his/her individual choices may be as unique as a fingerprint, making consumer profiling that much harder for those who put these findings together in insightful research documents.

Modern consumer

So who is today’s consumer? Let’s, for argument sake, say that consumers of the modern age are health conscious, environmentally aware and morally and socially sensitive. I recently heard Marco Lotz, a sustainability carbon specialist at Nedbank, speak at a Wits lecture and he suggested that the consumer of today is moved by the threat of our carbon footprint. He affirmed the notion that ‘consumers dictate business’ but poked at the collective consciousness when he said there had been a currency conversion.

But he was not talking rand-dollar or pound sterling-yen. Our conversion, he said, was, for an audience as green-attuned as we were, becoming a calorie-to-carbon conversion. Historically our buying decision was based on price and the rand was our currency. When we took a closer look at food products, calories became the determinant of whether or not they would land up in our shopping trolleys.

Maths and science

It won’t be long now, according to Lotz, that consumers and companies will be making purchase and business decisions based on a company’s carbon footprint. That being said, it’s not for everyone. Calculating carbon footprint is not for the faint-hearted and cannot be done without an actuarial science degree or advanced mathematical abilities. And it will be a long time before a consumer can just read it off a product label.

But there’s no denying that movies like God and Climate Change and 2040 and the very real experiences of some horrific weather patterns (the recent heatwave in Johannesburg), are making carbon consciousness much more palatable and a less likely issue to choke over.

Doing business

It follows then that in business-to-business transactions, CEOs, MDs and other decision makers will consider a company’s green status before agreeing to conduct business with it. This is likely to apply to suppliers and partners alike. Much like BEE and then BBBEE, it may become part of the scorecard when awarding tenders.

So if the new consumer – individual or business – is counting carbons (not carbs) we’re all in for a currency conversion.

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