By: Alistair McCaskill

A love for life on earth, concern over global warming and a lifelong interest in clean energy motivated Joel Fleming to found Climate Friendly. Drawing on his background as an environmental scientist, Joel established the business in 2003 to help organisations and individuals measure their carbon footprint, reduce it as far as possible, and then offset unavoidable carbon emissions.

Quality offsets

In Australia’s fossil-fuel dependent economy, it is impossible for most of us to avoid a substantial carbon footprint. However, the environmental impact of our emissions can be negated by preventing carbon emissions elsewhere. This principle lies at the heart of carbon offsetting.

To be effective, offsets need to achieve one of two things. One is to genuinely prevent the emission of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. The other is to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and keep it out over the long term. Typical means of achieving these outcomes are through planting new permanent forests on cleared land, preventing existing forests from being cleared and building renewable energy infrastructure. Buyers of offsets need to know that their contributions are going where they should.

“Climate Friendly is a founding member of the International Carbon Reduction and Offset Alliance, a body that represents best international practice for carbon offset providers,” says Sally Castle, Marketing Manager for Climate Friendly. “Our projects either meet the Gold Standard or Verified Carbon Standard for offsets, so our clients can be assured that their actions are truly effective.”

Climate Friendly’s portfolio of projects covers wind farms, hydro-electricity development, forestry protection and biomass fuels, amongst others.

Simple calculations

Climate Friendly’s website offers a range of calculators that allow individuals and businesses to estimate their carbon footprint. “Whether people want to choose offsets based on national averages, or by doing a detailed calculation of their specific contribution to emissions, our calculators can cope,” says Sally. “One advantage of the detailed calculators is that they highlight where people can make reductions in their emissions.”

Measure. Reduce. Offset.

Some people take the view that carbon offsetting is a bit like buying a right to pollute, and Climate Friendly acknowledge that it is a practice that is subject to abuse. They therefore place a heavy emphasis on emissions reduction as the first step in a carbon management plan, whether it’s for individuals or businesses. Simple things make a big difference, things like turning off computers when not in use, buying more energy-efficient equipment, shading windows to keep the heat out and opening the window for natural ventilation. Working from home, encouraging use of public transport and replacing face-to-face meetings with teleconferencing also help.

Green vanguard

It took time for Climate Friendly to gain the attention of mainstream businesses. “Right from the start we received an excellent reception from leaders in environmental organisations and the green building industry,” says Joel, “but it was a challenge to explain the proposition and broaden the uptake beyond green progressives.” Time has changed that, and Climate Friendly’s clients now include major organisations including Tetra Pak, Hilton Hotels, and News Limited.

Climate Friendly has no difficulty attracting motivated, high calibre staff. Its environmental credentials are one of the main reasons why people want to work for the company, and there is a high retention rate across the firm’s team of 12.

The main constraint on growth is the willingness, or lack thereof, to take voluntary action. With a limited promotional budget to encourage action, the business has to balance growth against costs and staff numbers.

Carbon tax a small part of the story

Paradoxically, the carbon tax may help Carbon Friendly. “Carbon pricing under other schemes around the world has not had a negative impact on the voluntary market,” says Sally. “The accepted explanation is that nobody attains market leadership by meeting their tax obligations, and in Australia only 500 businesses are directly affected.” Rather than a threat, Sally believes the carbon tax presents a huge opportunity to refocus our economy. “Even if the carbon tax is successful it will only reduce emissions by 5%,” she says. “The other 95% will require voluntary action.”

With Australia the highest per capita producer of greenhouse gases in the developed world, it looks like Climate Friendly will be kept busy for a long time to come.

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