Archive | March 2012

Africa’s Largest Carbon Market & Other Superlatives

After an audit of its first six months of operation, Vestergaard-Frandsen earned 1.4 Million CDM Gold Standard credits (equivalent to 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 emissions averted) for its LifeStraw Carbon for Water Program. The project is expected to average 2.5m tonnes annually over its 10-year duration. This is a big deal because:

  • It’s the largest carbon project of any type in Africa thus far
  • It’s the first ever safe drinking water project to be financed using carbon credits (drinking water is usually purified by boiling the water over a fire with non-renewable wood)
  • It’s the first carbon project to monitor, report and verify actual health impacts of a technology (mostly reduced recorded instances of diarrhea in this case)
  • It’s financially sustainable: the LifeStraws are distributed [and repaired and replaced] for free (the program distributed 877,505 Family water filters so far, in Kenya’s Western Province) and are financed through the sale of carbon credits
  • In addition to providing safe drinking water, the project has other benefits. It aims to reduce extreme poverty, achieve universal primary education (since young girls are often tasked with finding fuelwood and must therefore miss school), empower women and girls, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, and combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases (as HIV/AIDS patients are more susceptible to illness from unsafe drinking water).

My only apprehension is the problem of uptake: many interventions like this have failed in the past because not enough people changed their behaviors to make using such interventions routine. If it’s too time-consuming, a hassle, changes social norms (for example, no longer having the opportunity to talk with friends at the neighborhood well), or expensive (in this case that’s not an issue), then the technology likely won’t be taken up, regardless of its effectiveness. Here’s to hoping that this project has a [positive] lasting impact.

Lunch with… the CEO of the World Wildlife Fund

Being absolutely lucky as we were, our program director arranged to have us meet with Carter Roberts, now the president and CEO of the WWF for lunch today. We (the students) were all in slight awe of his humble attire, his sense of humor, and his relatively realistic view of conservation (thanks largely to his business background, I think). Looking back, though, many of the answers to our questions were carefully crafted–which, unfortunately, seems very common for someone based in Washington, DC, as we have now learned. Nonetheless, he made some interesting points worth sharing:

When asked how to measure success: “Only count those things [results] that will influence your decisions.”

Markets aren’t a captivating topic–but animals are.

“If you avoid [working with] government, you do so at your own peril.”

Organic farming is the least efficient method possible. It takes more water, land, and other inputs. The only things you don’t use any of are pesticides and herbicides.

Echoing the words of an employee and another CEO: “Corporate social responsibility” is dead. Sustainability as a business approach is now increasingly seen as a competitive advantage rather than a burden.

Roberts also spoke of a different model for business called “benefit corporations,” where the goal is not to maximize profits–but to increase benefits to your employees and to society. It’s essentially what I look for in a great company (and one of my first arguments for why classical economics needs to be updated to account for these kinds of businesses.) He pointed to Patagonia and their recent “Common Threads” campaign as an example; the campaign tries to stop overconsumption by teaming with Ebay to sell used clothes. However… it’s not at all the most visible aspect of their website, and a person wouldn’t be aware of it unless they specifically searched for the link. I like the idea, but I’m not very convinced yet that it’s their main goal, or even a priority.

This is actually a great search engine for all kinds of benefit corporations–I never realized there were now so many, but it’s a promising trend if it’s not abused. B-corps, as the lingo goes, have been written into law in Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, Vermont, New York, California, and Hawaii, and are pending in three other states and DC. The legislation requires certification by an independent certifier, but it lets b-corps get away with not maximizing profits–which shareholders can sue a corporation for in normal instances.

During work today, I came across this bit about a climate change education and outreach approach by the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS)–definitely the most playful, interesting, and [hopefully] effective tool I’ve seen so far by an African organization working in the agriculture/climate change space. Although I wonder to what extent Nollywood reaches beyond West Africa…