Carbon Capitalism: Boyd Cohen’s Quest to Offset Carbon, One Brick at a Time
With the 40th anniversary of Earth Day just around the corner, Boyd Cohen is busy. He and his wife and partner Elizabeth Obediente are heading to Cochabamba, Bolivia, to spearhead a two-hour session Thursday on their social carbon model at the much-anticipated World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Later that night, Boyd will dial in to participate in a conference about green technology in Latin America, thanks to Skype. Then it’s off to Colombia to work on his newest sustainable business venture, CO2 IMPACT.
“We want to be one of the biggest players in social carbon in the world, particularly in Latin America. And we want to do that by essentially helping as many communities as possible address these multiple challenges they have around pollution, contaminants, emissions, poverty, and growing a cross sector over time,” Boyd tells me.
Cohen, a 39-year-old sustainable entrepreneur, has been sharply focused on climate change and green ventures ever since he graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a PhD in business and entrepreneurship in 2001. He clearly doesn’t mince words.
“Climate change is the biggest global challenge humankind has ever had to face,” says Boyd.
No small claim there, and not one without its detractors either. But Cohen is nothing if not steadfast in his convictions, and he talks a lot about triple bottom line benefits.
The ongoing and often vituperative debate over global warming has given rise to so much hot air, who knows how much it’s added to the upwards of 38 billion tons of carbon dioxide we humans generate each year. All joking aside, for Cohen, “charismatic” carbon is the answer, and CO2 IMPACT is taking the bull by the horns: selling high quality carbon offsets, addressing climate change by reducing emissions, and improving the quality of life for the rural poor in Latin America.
“While there is much uncertainty and skepticism about carbon offsets, they are a very important part of the solution to reducing climate change,” Boyd believes.
Despite the shortcomings of the 1997 Kyoto Accord, and concerns about the fate of carbon markets in the wake of the failed Copenhagen climate talks last year, those markets continue to grow at a rate of about 60 percent a year and remain a more than $125 billion a year industry.
“It isn’t going to destroy economies if we address climate change, it’s going to save economies,” claims Boyd, whose other social ventures have included Recollective, Visible Strategies, and 3rd Whale, which recently merged with GenGreen. He’s also LEED AP certified, and was a consultant on the 2010 Olympic Village for the host city of Vancouver, where he and Elizabeth now live. Oh, and did he mention he is co-authoring a book with Hunter Lovins called Climate Capitalism slated for publication by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in February 2011, and that he hopes to preview excerpts of it when he attends the upcoming climate talks in Mexico this December?
Right now, though, Boyd’s and Elizabeth’s attention is on Colombia.
“What we found in Colombia, and this seems to be true in other countries in Latin America, was that there’s a lot of need but there’s not the know how around how to finance these projects or how to execute them and how to do the whole carbon piece of it, Boyd explains.
While Elizabeth, who’s Venezuelan, was working on a certificate program in climate change and the Kyoto Protocol funded by the Organization of American States a few years back, she happened upon Nemocon, a poor, rural community of about 3,500 brick makers, forty-five minutes outside of the nation’s capital city of Bogota.
“They all had these artisan kilns, they’re called fuego dormidos in Spanish—and they’re highly polluting, they’re highly contaminating, they’re highly emitting of greenhouse gasses, and furthermore, they’re very inefficient,” Boyd says. “The community was already moving towards finding a solution to all these problems, and feeling government pressure to do so as well because of all of the pollution involved, and the government of Colombia is trying to change that.”
Boyd and Elizabeth knew that if they could get the financing, they had a real opportunity, so in November of 2009, CO2 IMPACT was born. Originally launched as Kincentricity, (“I like to come up with strange names for companies,” he explains), Boyd soon realized he may have pushed the envelope a little too far. Most people he was dealing with could neither pronounce it nor spell it, and no one could relate the name to what the company was actually doing. On April 7th, he re-launched the venture as the indubitably more user-friendly CO2 IMPACT.
In March – just four months after inception, everything came together. The seed funding was in place thanks to Gray Ghost Ventures, and Boyd and Elizabeth signed their first emissions reduction purchase agreement (or ERPA) with Carbon Clear out of the U.K., and more recently a framework agreement with the Swedish firm Tricorona. In addition, CO2 IMPACT is among the first twenty companies worldwide to garner majority pledge status from the highly respected voluntary certification program Gold Standard, meaning at least 51 percent of the company’s projects will be Gold Standard designated.
Boyd’s and Elizabeth’s initial plan in Nemocon is to replace 370 old kilns with 10 eco-efficient ones. Boyd estimates the switch will reduce 30,000 to 40,000 tons of CO2 emissions each year for ten years, “and in fact the project may double because we’re looking into doing a second project in that community,” he says.
It’ll be a big change for the people of Nemocon, but one they look forward to.
“Right now they work as independent families,” says Boyd. “Each of these contaminating kilns is usually in the yard of the home of these people.” Toxic fumes waft right into their houses. “What was resulting in the community was a cycle of poverty they were never able to get out of, and on top of that, lots of child labor and lots of health issues – respiratory issues and even death from exposure to the contaminants from their brick making process.”
The new kilns will be centralized, and the families will work in collectives. Because the new kilns will produce better bricks, the families stand to double their income, Boyd says. Not only that, CO2 IMPACT will share revenues from the carbon offsets with the community. The hope, too, is that more of Nemocon’s children will go to school more of the time after the cooperatives are formed – creating another social benefit, and another way to break out of the vicious cyle of poverty.
“What’s beautiful for us about carbon as a possible solution to social issues in developing countries is that you can really achieve some synergies and benefits – sort of triple bottom line type benefits – for communities by leveraging carbon finance.”
HOW CAN YOU REDUCE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT?
You can also calculate and manage your own carbon footprint. Check it out:
ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING EARTH DAY:
- Come Celebrate Earth Day with Care2! – Nicole Nuss
- Seven Ways to Get Involved for Earth Day – Beth Buczynski
- Get Out! For a Free Book Giveaway! – Judy Molland
- Now is the Time – Angel Flinn
- Don’t Toss that Plastic Bottle – Jennifer Mueller
HOW ARE ANIMALS AFFECTED?
- Top Ten Endangered Species – Sharon Seltzer
- A Review of Disneynature’s Oceans – Beth Buczynski
- Eating as if the Earth Matters – Heather Moore
THINGS TO PONDER
- Four Rules To Save The Planet – Nancy Roberts
- Earth…Gay? Coming Out for Sustainability – Steve Williams
- Family Planning and Earth Day – JamieAlexis Fowler
- All My Sisters: Avoiding Breast Cancer – Angel Flinn
- Humans are the Earth’s Problem AND its Solution – Beth Buczynski
THOSE MAKING A DIFFERENCE
- 2010 Goldman Environmental Awards – Nancy Roberts
- Climate Champion Dr. James Hansen – Nicole Nuss
- Boyd Cohen’s Quest to Offset Carbon – Suzi Parrasch
photo credit: CO2 IMPACT
Suzi Schiffer Parrasch