From Fortune 500 to CLIMACT, Offsetting At The End Of The Line
(A Few Good Men: CLIMACT's Pascal Vermeulen, Dimitri Mertens and Hugues de Meulemeester)
Those following the carbon offset market closely might be wondering about the differences in missions and motives between providers who are in it for profit, versus the ones who have gone the non-profit route.
Today Carbon Catalog, the resource that offers a directory and fair glance at the world's offset providers selling online, interviews the for-profit Belgian-based provider CLIMACT, never-before featured on TreeHugger.
An interesting point that CLIMACT raises in the interview is that it's easier to motivate companies to go carbon neutral, rather than individual TreeHuggers; and that fighting climate change shouldn't be perceived as a punishment, but as a positive thing. In other words, companies and individuals should be able to make money from their offset investment.
Also CLIMACT only offsets its clients "at the end of the line," after other routes to reduce carbon dioxide emissions have been exhausted.
Given that its founders have left impressive high-end careers in their wake (at Fortune 500 companies), they have a lot at stake to make their new business, founded last November, work.
Expect them to expand into the international market, giving other offsetters such as ClimateCare and Carbon Neutral a run for their carbon offset money.
Some excerpts from the interview with CLIMACT's Hugues de Meulemeester, the company's engineer and financial expert:
What motivated your company's founders? Profit or the environment? What is their background?
All of us are very motivated by preserving the environment for future generations. Our only mission is 'minimizing GHG emissions,' locally and remotely. We left our jobs and former careers to start CLIMACT on this mission.
Pascal's background is Sales and Marketing at Unilever and general management Sara Lee; Dimitri was legal at the EU Court of Justice in Luxemburg and I worked in Finance for Cisco Systems before.
The voluntary carbon market is experiencing a lot of growth, but there is also an increasing amount of competition. From your sense of the marketplace, do you think there is room for more players, or do you expect consolidation?
The market of voluntary offsetting is still emerging in Europe and certainly in Benelux where we are most active. We currently do not consider other players as competitors. There are so many urgent actions to be taken that all initiatives are welcome.
However, I do expect consolidation to happen at least vertically to propose the best services as possible, both in terms of project quality as value-add services (carbon footprint, communication, ). The example of JPMorgan and ClimateCare is a good example.
Considering the additional tax advantages that non-profit providers can give their customers, do you believe you can compete in the long term?
Carbon Offsets will probably be deductible for everyone sooner or later. The Belgian government has already taken steps to incentivize small cars or energy savings measures for buildings (wind or photovoltaic cells).
The Government is currently evaluating tax benefits for carbon offset solutions as well. Moreover, we do propose services beyond carbon offsetting. Many companies prefer to outsource services to for-profits rather than to non-profit.
What are the most attractive benefits you offer your clients?
We propose complete end-to-end solutions to make our customer carbon neutral. Carbon offsets are only at the end of the line after all reductions have taken place.
So we start by measuring, then we highlight reduction opportunities and work with partners to implement them, only then do we complete the offering with carbon offsets to reach the objectives that our customers have set.
In doing so, we can help justify the investments financially. Reductions and energy savings can often help fund the carbon offsets.
Bottom line ROI [return on investment] always has to be positive, even if the company is very CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] minded. And we can help make the ROI of fighting climate change positive.
What do you think motivates your corporate customers to voluntarily buy carbon offsets? Are their customers demanding it?
They want to keep the lead on addressing new constraints, to anticipate new regulations, to save energy costs and improve their image. They want also to remain coherent towards their customers —— Walk the talk internally before communicating and proposing carbon neutral products or services.
Pressure is coming from everywhere: customers, regulations, shareholders but also employees. But the trigger always comes from the mindset and attitude of key decision making executives at the top. If they envision their company taking its responsibilities towards climate change, the whole organization will follow.
Some companies invest directly in carbon offset projects, without using the services of a provider such as yourselves. What value does your company provide, in its role as an intermediary?
Carbon offsets management is not core for most companies. They need to outsource that competence to specialists. Most company do not know where to start to initiate a carbon strategy. They need someone to help them measure and reduce before offsetting. Our services even help regulated companies from a legal perspective. Our role as an integrator has a lot of value in that context.
Does your organization have an environmental hero or role model? If so, who?
We have a lot of respect for people who evangelize about climate change and take action to fight it. They clearly see that our children's children planet is at risk and make people aware that we need to change the way we live, use energy or conduct business.
A lot of their action is directed towards the younger generation to trigger change. In Europe, Nicolas Hulot, Ken Livingstone, Bertrand Piccard and his team of the Solar Impulse project, or Alain Hubert and the International Polar Foundation are leading figures.
For more of this interview, see Carbon Catalog.