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.


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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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