The environmental credentials of Leon’s “carbon neutral” burgers have been called into question after it emerged that the fast food chain was using controversial carbon offsets to make the claim.
In January, Leon Announced would become the first UK restaurant chain to serve carbon-free burgers and fries in more than 60 locations by reducing and offsetting the emissions they produce.
In addition to excluding high-carbon meats such as beef from its menu and using more sustainable energy sources, the company committed to neutralizing emissions by purchasing carbon credits from three rainforest conservation plans. and tree planting.
But scientists and carbon market specialists have raised concerns about Leon’s claim and some of the credits they have used to support their publicity.
A rainforest conservation project, the Peruvian Amazon, led by a partnership between two logging companies and a conservation NGO, was featured in a joint Guardian and Unearthed investigation that uncovered serious concerns about the project’s credibility.
The research found that the Redd + carbon credits (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), which are generated by preventing hypothetical deforestation, were unlikely to represent actual emission reductions and that the threats to the forest had been exaggerated.
The findings at the time were harshly criticized by Verra, an American nonprofit that administers the world’s leading carbon credit standard, VCS (Verified Carbon Standard).
Britaldo Soares-Filho, an expert in deforestation modeling and professor at the Institute of Geosciences of the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, whose software was used to model the hypothetical deforestation that the project selected by León was avoiding, warned that they were “ghost credits ”. with little benefit to the climate.
“Be careful what you’re eating – the carbon neutrality of stir-fry burgers with Redd + credits doesn’t digest well,” he said.
León strongly questioned the claim that he was using “ghost credits” and said he was confident that the credits credited by Verra would help “prevent greenhouse gas emissions, protect vital biodiversity and create sustainable livelihoods for forest communities. “.
The company said it was aware of The Guardian’s investigation into the Madre de Dios project, but was confident that the credits were helping protect the threatened rainforest.
Freya Chay, an analyst at CarbonPlan, a US organization that looks at the credibility of climate solutions, said that while she sympathized with Leon, the company was unable to make a rigorous claim using the credits due to outstanding concerns about the project and the VCS standard. commonly used by other companies to make environmental claims.
“A common feature of Leon’s claim that stands out is how much it relies on the presumed reliability of third-party standards to establish the validity of offsets. The credibility of the project relies almost entirely on the third-party VCS seal of approval. This pattern is common and raises questions about who should be in trouble when offset credits turn out to be bad, ”said Chay. “There is no responsibility, even when the problems are clear.”
“In this case, reports have indicated significant concerns about the Madre de Dios project and the VCS standard under which it was accredited, and VCS has apparently changed its methodology since then to address a methodological deficiency present in the Madre de Dios project. But as is the norm in these situations, the VCS methodological changes are prospective and do not affect the credits issued under existing projects ”.
An increasing number of companies are using carbon credits to make environmental claims about their business practices, including airlines offering passengers the opportunity to “fly carbon-free”, either by purchasing credits or doing so on their behalf.
James Dyke, deputy director of the Institute for Global Systems at the University of Exeter, said a hamburger cannot be carbon neutral by virtue of buying offsets.
“First, offset schemes will not reduce atmospheric carbon now. Planting trees to remove carbon from the atmosphere will take years, if not decades. Second, there are no guarantees that carbon will remain locked up in a tree. Someone can come and cut it, or it could get burned during a forest fire, ”he said.
“Third, some compensation schemes are really promises not to be as destructive as we could be otherwise. So it really is about payments to protect existing forests from destruction. That doesn’t remove the carbon, it just tries to prevent more of it from entering the atmosphere. “
In a statement, León said that sustainability was at the heart of his business and that he had committed to being net zero by 2030. Carbon offsetting was just one part of his strategy to address unavoidable emissions, the company said, and the Madre de Dios project was one of many he supported.
Leon added, “Of the 13 burgers we’ve had on our menu this year, six have been vegan, giving our customers a wide range of naturally low-carbon products to choose from.”
He also said that the Madre de Dios project was one of many he supported.
A representative of the Madre de Dios project told The Guardian that they questioned the findings of previous research and were confident that their project was doing important work to prevent deforestation.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism