What’s the big deal about carbon? (Day 1/2)

“In a two part series reporting live from Kenya, Jeremy Ellis, Marketing Director at Thomson and First Choice, gives us an insight into the things he's learnt about carbon offsetting and some of the projects we're involved in”

  • What’s the big deal about carbon? (Day 1/2)

    Jeremy Ellis - Marketing Director at Thomson and First Choice

    I am going to learn about carbon offsetting. It’s one of those terms I hear a lot, but I would never be able to explain it to anyone.

    What I do know, is that our carbon footprint at Thomson and First Choice is significant, mostly from our planes, but also from our shops and offices. I know we’ve made a commitment to reduce our carbon footprint as part of our Holidays Forever plan, and I know we’ve also made a commitment to save one million tonnes (!) of CO2 emissions by investing in clean energy and energy efficiency projects, but I don’t know how we’re going to achieve this, which is why I’m off to Kenya… to visit one of our World Care Fund projects and to find out for myself.

    May 2012 – Day 1

    Profit with purpose in Kasigau, Kenya

    Jambo! After a red eye flight from London to Nairobi and another connecting flight to Mombasa, we are finally here. We’re met by torrential rain and luckily also by David Ward, our Resort Team Manager in Kenya, who seems to be the man to know. This rain isn’t what I had in mind when I signed up to a trip to a country 500km from the equator! After an ‘African half-hour delay’, an hour later we get on the road, if you could call it a road. This is the start of our two and a half hour drive from hell. The traffic is total chaos. There’s a several mile tailback of lorries heading to the port in Mombasa (we’re told this port is the gateway for a handful of African countries) but at least we’re heading in the opposite direction. ‘Staring death in the face’ is the only way I can describe travelling along this road. There are cars, buses and motorbikes also trying to get to Mombasa, who have decided to create a new ‘express lane’ sandwiching us in between them and the lorries.

    We eventually arrive in Kasigau (a beautiful spot in the Taita Taveta District) to a warm welcome by Rob – the boss at Wildlife Works – and his team. A freshly homemade (or rather office-made) lunch is waiting for us. The office is set back from the main road to Mombasa and is underneath a small cliff. Over lunch Rob tells us about the project.

    The pioneering Kasigau Corridor project is the first Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) project to gain Verified Carbon Standard. This means it is reducing deforestation while creating local sustainable development opportunities and protecting valuable ecosystems. Put simply, it’s helping the environment by saving trees, helping people by creating jobs and education, and protecting endangered wildlife. It’s been up and running for over ten years and has an eco factory, schools and a nursery, greenhouses and tree nurseries, as well a rangers lodge.

    First port of call is the Wildlife Works funded Marungu School – the only secondary school in 30 kilometres. As we pull up, Headmaster Daniel Mwangi comes to greet us. There are four classes, covering 14 to 18 years, with around 220 children. As well as receiving free education, the children here are learning about carbon, forest protection, and about the value of their indigenous trees and plants. I’m invited to speak to Form 3 (thank goodness Daniel has briefed me well!) and the kids get to put down their pencils and come out for a break. We also get to meet Rahema. She has studied at this school with a bursary from Wildlife Works is now at University in Nairobi. She is articulate and bright, and I can tell she is planning to go far. It suddenly occurs to me that this project is a lot more than just about carbon. It is changing people’s lives.

    I’m just as overwhelmed when we visit the eco factory. There are two buildings and the third is being built. As we go round, we see workers from the local community stitching cotton t-shirts and bags, for export to South Africa and Europe. I notice some designs for an ASOS collection which is out in the UK at the moment. There are also pictures of Bono and Michelle Obama wearing clothes made here. They are very proud to be producing for them and for PUMA, who made the building of the second factory possible. This gives the community a sense of purpose and has already created over 50 jobs.

    I’m really impressed. I thought I was coming to Kenya to see trees. This is quite different from what I expected. The donations we receive from our World Care Fund are helping people make a sustainable living and supporting education. ‘Profit with Purpose’ is how Rob describes it, and it’s a term which sticks with me.

    More tomorrow. For now we head to our lodge for a well earned rest.

Author: Jeremy Ellis