ClimateNE interview - February 2013

Forest Carbon's Steve Prior interviewed for ClimateNorthEast

February 1st 2013: Steve was interviewed for the February editon of ClimateNE's newsletter.

Tell us a bit about your company and what it offers
Forest Carbon creates new woodlands in the UK on behalf of companies and individuals wanting to capture the unavoidable carbon dioxide emissions that arise from their activities.

Operational since 2006, our projects meet the highest UK forestry and biodiversity standards. All adhere to the government's UK Woodland Carbon Code, which is based on Kyoto principles. With expertise in forestry, carbon markets and woodland carbon methodologies, Forest Carbon is the country's leading developer of high quality voluntary carbon woodland schemes. The 60 plus new woodlands we have planted in the UK comprise over 3.6 million trees that, in their lifetime, will capture over 800,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

What are your views on climate change and the role of your company?
After just six years' experience in the ecosystem services market it's clear to me that the global mechanisms established to prevent climate change have been failing.  What we face now is the immediate challenge of reducing and managing the harmful consequences of those changes we are helpless to prevent. In simple climate change prevention terms, most carbon reduction projects have equal benefit wherever they are globally. For example a wind farm in China benefits us as much as one in the UK. However when it comes to managing the realities of climate change, our increasingly troublesome droughts and floods for instance, then the projects need to be local.

In any case, any measure taken should offer more than a simple reduction in CO2 emissions - and that's why woodland creation is so valuable, because it combines carbon capture with flood prevention and a host of other benefits.

Our business is to bring woodland creation within easy reach of businesses of all sizes, and individuals. Forest Carbon offers the chance to directly capture any amount of carbon, or sponsor any number of trees, at specific new woodland sites; this comes with the assurance of a Woodland Carbon Code validation and traceable Woodland Carbon Code credits.

What makes your company stand out?
We stand out in a couple of ways. First, we offer partners a way of doing something positive in the wider fight to stop climate change reaching dangerous levels, and we enable them to do it here in the UK in a way that benefits local communities.  Everyone understands the value of things like flood prevention, biodiversity, wildlife and recreation space. There really is no better way to make your mark.

Second, everything we do is subject to external audit and certification to the government's own industry standard. Partners' trees are guaranteed by this process, and the claims we make about our new carbon woodlands are accurate and assured.
We are the only company in the UK able to do this at present.

How do you avoid the pitfalls of greenwashing?
There's no ‘greenwashing' in planting new, permanent, audited carbon woodlands in the UK.

We understand that ‘greenwashing' is a serious concern but we must always remember that the vast majority of businesses are not compelled, at the moment, to do anything at all about their carbon footprint or much of their environmental impact.

All woodland creation schemes undertaken by our partners are purely voluntary; if we stand too ready to accuse such businesses of ‘greenwashing' we may be doing ourselves out of the significant benefits their interventions can offer us all.

What are your green plans over the next few years?
We're already a pretty green operation in ourselves, working from two homes using a virtual office. As far as the reach of the business is concerned we have a couple of key projects on the horizon.

July will see the launch of the Woodland Carbon Code's new registry - this will enable us (and our partners) to trace the origin, ownership and retirement of individually numbered carbon credits arising from our woodlands thus providing the Code's final layer of transparency. We think this will bring new investors and buyers to the market.

Following the completion of feasibility studies over the past couple of years we are poised to start work on our first project outside the UK which will involve the protection of 16,000 hectares of unspoilt and incredibly bio-diverse forest and grassland in Romania. Voluntary carbon markets will provide the funding.

How did you spot the gap in the market?
James Hepburne Scott, my co-founder, had long wondered how businesses could be induced to contribute towards the much-needed increase in woodland creation in this country.  James had worked for many years in the UK forestry and land management industries and when we met to discuss my MBA dissertation - on emerging carbon markets in forestry - his previous ideas were consolidated. (It was he who had persuaded the UK forestry industry to sponsor my research.)

James had for some time been lobbying government and the industry for any policy developments that would take advantage of the new global carbon markets to access funding for UK woodland creation and. The pair of us got on famously and we founded Forest Carbon shortly after I had finished the course. A friend from my MBA class then led us to our first client, Marks & Spencer, who planted five new woodlands in Northumberland and Dumfries-shire.

What is your advice for others looking to start up a new 'green' business?
Remember: it's a business. It might be a worthy one and in the nature of a good cause but you still need to be able to clearly articulate the benefits to your customer of their financial commitment. We have found that, when organisations undertake green projects, altruism forms a solid part of their motive; but they will also want to justify their expenditure in terms of the reward they receive - whether the profit is financial or reputational.

Remember, too, that you need to make a profit so you're around in the future to help more businesses become greener.