Forest gumption

Ever-deepening Kyoto sinks have given forestry something of a bad name in the climate change stakes. Future Forests, however, whilst admitting that mass planting offers no panacea, is placing trees at the centre of corporate communication and carbon management.
Matt MacAllan reports.

People understand trees. You can see them, smell them, hug them, hang things on them at Christmas time, climb them, swing from them, chop them down, make a million different things with them, and burn them. But there's more. In the words of Pullitzer prize-winning science writer Jonathan Weiner: "As an instrument of planetary home repair, it is hard to imagine anything as safe as a tree."

Alex Smith is managing director of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management (ECCM), an Edinburgh University spin off company with lasting ties to Future Forests. ECCM undertakes two distinct activities in the name of Future Forests. The first entails the assessment of potential offsetters' carbon dioxide emissions. "Carbon management," says Smith, "entails quantification, registration, tracking and trade. The first step, as a corporate entity, is to quantify your emissions." Energy use, business travel (including hotel nights), goods distribution and waste production are all tallied, producing a total number of tonnes of carbon produced per year. "Registration is an exercise in identifying and listing your sources; tracking is about setting a reduction target and monitoring your trajectory against that target; trade is the implications for the UK emissions trading scheme to begin in April." The latter remains a moot point.

Non-reducible emissions
Following recommendations as to what a company can do to reduce its overall carbon footprint - energy management, waste minimisation, etc - a figure is arrived at regarding offset via Future Forests. ECCM then delivers sequestration estimates, or the 'foresty science' that dictates how much carbon is absorbed when you plant a certain number of trees in a certain place. Smith explains: "In effect you are looking at the decay rate of a given emission mass over a hundred year period that is met by the growth rate of trees in a particular location." Or, what area of a particular species of tree would be required to counteract/balance/negate one year of emissions. "For example, let's assume that ten hectares of trees, growing over 100 years, equates to 1,000 tonnes of carbon emitted - one factory's emissions for one year. Should that factory wish to offset emissions for the following year, then that would require another ten hectares, and another 100 years."

Planting trees, then, offers no panacea for global warming. Indeed, planting one tree and ensuring its survival to maturity equates roughly to the carbon dioxide generated by one return flight to Lisbon. (The actual amount of CO2 offset by trees planted depends upon such variables as species and geography.)

The key, if Weimer's assertion is to be granted any credence at all, is to imagine. Jonathan Shopley, Future Forests chief executive officer, joined the company in May 2001 from Arthur D. Little where he was a director of Little's Global Environment and Risk Management Consulting practice. "The proposition that brought me into Future Forests," he says, "was one of being able to take an intangible, global, difficult to understand, scientifically complex issue like global climte change, break it down and then rebuild it so that it could be offered to individuals and corporates in a way which said, 'here's how you contribute to this issue; here's how you can take personal responsibility for your own contribution.' You can understand and become enthused and empowered and engaged by that."

Thus, Future Forest is as much about brand asset building as it is about planting trees; about engaging - if communicated effectively - management, staff and customers.

Linpac Plastics Ltd, manufacturer of plastics packaging for the food industry, is one of an extensive list of Future Forests clients, including the UN, Mazda UK, Royal Sun Alliance and a growing number of celebrities (Pink Floyd's new album, Echoes, is certified carbon neutral).

Linpac, which had already placed great store in instituting its Policy for Environmental Excellence, is collaborating on the initiation of two carbon offset programmes with Future Forests. In one of the projects, Linpac is funding a tree-planting programme which will offset a proportion of carbon dioxide emitted as a result of manufacturng operations at its main UK site in Featherstone, West Yorkshire. A second tree planting project is being funded by employees at Linpac's international head office in Knottingley, West Yorkshire. Staff decided to donate money from weekly charity collections in order to address concerns about global warming and climate change. The company matched their contribution and provided additional financial support to fund the two projects.
And so to the bottom line. Shopley: "Our service breaks down into three things. There is an ECCM assessment cost, there is a cost of carbon sequestration [anything from £21.30 to £70 per tonne, depending on where you want your forest - forestry, like property, is cheaper in Scotland than in the south of England], and there are communication and project management fees." A 200-delegate conference going carbon neutral would cost around £3,000. A 750-strong UK law firm, notably excluding business travel, comes in at ten times that.

But alongside the argument that 'traditional' environmental management systems, with policies and programmes and targets expressed in percentage points, are uncompelling, there is another, more serious point. In buying trees to offset carbon dioxide emissions, in addressing carbon neutrality, you accept the fact that carbon carries with it a cost. "Up until that time," Shopley says, "you might have had an environmental management system target to reduce energy consumption by, say, five per cent. Going carbon neutral, at £X per tonne, suddenly signals to everyone - designers, product managers, procurement managers - that carbon is costing you money. Carbon neutrality provides early signals, in terms you can define, about the repricing of carbon in the economy as a whole."

Future Forests now offers technology offsets - the 'green credit' achieved by, for example, switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy - in conjunction with forestry offset programmes. The company's first technology offset comes from a project in rural India that converts diesel-powered generators to run on biomass.



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