500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

Look, no footprint – inspiration from New Scientist


My first day back working in Birmingham. I am sharing my office with aimag0374.JPG parrot. He is called Sid and is 25 years old. We’re not sure about each other yet.

Yesterday I caught the train to London for a meeting with the Water Works UK, based in Wood Green. I left my laptop at home as it doesn’t travel well & spent the journey reading the New Scientist. There was a thorough article on carbon offsetting called ‘Look, no footprint’ – raising concerns about the efficacy of tree planting as a method of carbon offsetting.

One strong concern was that it may only postpone the problem – when the natural life of the tree is over , carbon will be released back into the atmosphere. I think this will only be a problem if we have not a) developed cleaner energy or b)developed better CO2 capture in the mean time. Therefore, I think that planting trees is fine, and as long as they are not then chopped down to use as firewood, will give humanity time to develop other solutions.

I had recently decided to add carbon offsetting to the list of eco solutions on www.500yearvision.com – and was in fact looking for a suitable supplier. The article gave some info about existing schemes – and makes the point that different companies measure emissions from flights and calculate costs very differently. For example, a flight to Australia could be responsible for 1.8 tonnes, 5.4 tonnes or 12.5 tonnes of CO2 – there are many influencing variables of which to take account, including seat occupancy. The going rate was between £165 down to £13.30.

The article listed six questions to ask of a company providing carbon offsetting:

  • Do your offsets result from specific projects, and what are they?

  • How long will it take for the project to offset my carbon emissions?

  • Can I follow the progress of the offsets I invest in and read reports of independent verifiers

  • Do your projects meet the Gold Standards

  • Can you prove that the projects in your portfolio would not have happened without you?

  • Can you show you are not subsidising others to meet legal obligations.

As planting trees and ensuring their welfare for the next 100 years would be a slight divergence for 500 year vision (though was the idea between the -as yet unrealised- Vermenathon forest – my very first eco business plan) – I’ll not be rushing off to do this myself, though the article did give me an idea about an alternative.

Before I left for London this morning, I had a long and lovely conversation with the chair of one of the voluntary groups that I have supported in the past in Birmingham (this one a committee made of parents of children with specific needs). They need office premises and are looking at rentals for this.

The article in New Scientist and earlier conversation with Saeeda gave me a new idea. I could very simply give products to established voluntary groups which would reduce their energy consumption. This would have to give significant added value to a group in broad terms, so that it was an attractive proposition for them to take part. It could be tracked by fairly low cost means (pictures of equipment in use on a website, for example). Provision of a digital camera for this purpose would be idea for added value. We could design in low barriers to entry – such as asking only for a copy of a constitution as financials would be quite unimportant if items are being delivered rather than money. The scheme would have to also have very low administration costs. In many schemes, only 50% of funds get to the user organisation because of the costs incurred giving the money out.

Eco credentials could be built into the scheme, such as only email or pdf applications being accepted. The funding application could be very simple – incorporating a tick list of what energy efficiency the group already has access to, will have access to and need access to. We can then use the carbon credits which have been purchased to meet as many of these needs as possible.

Would it be ethical to sell carbon credit to fund the provision of energy efficient products to not for profit organisations? How much should be charged per mile for a flight?

What kind of products could they use? Things that tie up with opening a new office would be great.

The alternative route would be to offer people buying carbon credit the opportunity to be investors in the development of clean energy sources which could be utilised by such groups. One idea which has been preying on my mind in previous months is capturing the energy in falling water. If people invest in the carbon credits, this money could be used as a prize for a competition to develop a microgenerator which would operate in down pipes and provide either heat, light or battery recharging any time it rained. Which is a lot in the UK.

I think that it would probably be sensible to do some market research and find out which option people would prefer. It wouldn’t take much to put both of the products on www.500yearvision.com and see what happened.

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