Notes from the Road – Carbon offset your next surf trip

15 Dec 2011 0

Words by Tim Baker

Okay, here’s a quick quiz. How much do you reckon it would cost to carbon offset your greenhouse gas emissions from a 27,000 km round Australia road trip?

In other words, how much would you need to invest in renewable energies to save the amount of carbon dioxide produced from your trip entering the earth’s atmosphere?
The answer?  $216.20. Not much, huh? That’s all it cost to offset the 9.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide our trip produced. Around 0.8 cents per kilometre.  Now, this is a voluntary carbon offset that we chose to adopt, which is quite separate from the Carbon Tax recently introduced by the federal government. But it’s a similar concept – charging people for the pollution they produce and diverting that money into the development of clean renewable energies.  I find it hard to see how that’s going to wreck the economy, as the alarmists predict.
We organized our carbon offset through a local firm, Climate Wave, which specializes in sustainable event management, with a special interest in surfing. Partners Greg Howell and Guil Araujo both have long histories working for the environment, through Surfrider Foundation.

They in turn, procured our carbon offsets from a company called Cleaner Climate. The $216.20 was invested in the Shangyi Manjing Windfarm in Shangyi County, China. It’s 33 turbines generate 49,500 KW and helped supply power for the 2008 Olympic Games. When all its 215 towers are complete it will be one of the largest wind farms in China, supplying energy to 600,000 people.

“We find investing in renewables has got a lot more stability and value for the future than just planting trees because there’s too many variables when it comes to bio-sequestration,” Greg Howell, from Climate Wave, explains. “And even though the offset went to a Chinese project we need them all around the world so it doesn’t matter where the projects are.”

Given it was so cheap and easy to carbon offset our travel, I couldn’t help wondering why more of us don’t do it. Someone who has done it is 11-time world champ Kelly Slater, who retrospectively calculated his travels and carbon offset them through Carbonfund in 2007.
“I’ve thought about it for years but wasn’t actually sure how to do it,” Kelly told US Surfing magazine, which itself is now proudly carbon neutral. “I made a brief calculation of my travel over the years. I spend about two weeks a year actually in the sky flying and quite a few driving miles which both add up a little differently. I’ve done around 4 million miles total, which I thought would break the bank when the end result came. But it adds up to around five acres of replanting that costs around $5500.”

Kelly said then his goal was to get the entire ASP Tour to carbon offset its travel and create a “surf forest” that would make the tour carbon neutral. Though he no longer carbon offsets his travel, and has since expressed some doubts about climate science, he remains as concerned about the environment as ever. “I'm not sure carbon in the air is our biggest concern but for sure, there is no doubt, we are screwing a lot of things on this earth,” he told me recently. “Energy and food and water are our biggest needs. We have to find a way to sustainably create and control them that doesn't ruin the earth and our quality of life.”

It is gratifying to see the first stirrings of a green change seeping into the surf industry. The recent surf film “Manufacturing Stoke”  highlights some of the innovations  in cleaner greener materials and technologies, but also vividly shows how far we have to go.
Billabong recently received a Leaders of Change Award from the UN Global Conference for Social Change in New York, for its range of environmental and social programmes – including its auditing of the company’s global carbon footprint.

The Billabong Pro at Jeffreys Bay and the Rip Curl Search event in San Francisco are two events that have adopted dedicated environmental management strategies. The Rip Curl Searh event, in particular, set a new benchmark – recycling and compost waste, using biofuel for event generators and carbon offsetting the travel of all participants. You can read more here.

Greg Howell reckons these initiatives are encouraging, but he would still like to see the ASP to do more to promote sustainable event management.
 “We would like to see ASP incorporate a ‘best sustainable management of an event’ award,” he says.

In tough economic times, many businesses believe they can’t afford to adopt environmental measures, but Greg says they can often save running costs.
“Usually we can show them savings within the first event to cover the costs of our fees. Each year you do a bit more and a bit more and save more costs. If they want to take baby steps, that’s the beauty of it, you don’t need to go in 100% the first year. Look at where your energy is being wasted. In the catering area, change from plastics to all of the new products that are available – vegetable polymers, bamboo.”

It’s hard to argue such measures are unaffordable when a developing nation like Indonesia is leading the way. The Indonesian Surfing Championship now has an environmental management strategy for every event on its circuit, to reduce waste and energy use. “Those guys have been doing some great work, getting rid of plastic, using banana leaf like in the old days, running education programmes in schools. There’s some really wonderful stuff happening,” says Greg.

It’s not hard to imagine a time in the not so distant future when any surfing event or surf business that doesn’t have some credible environmental management plans will start to look archaic.

“We’re the ones that have to be in tune with the elements more than any other sport in the world. We should be leading the charge when it comes to the sustainable management of our events,” Greg says.

- Tim Baker

For more information go to:
www.climatewave.com
www.cleanerclimate.com

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