more stories from this November 2000 issue
Recycle Your Air.'
entrepreneur Dan Morrell is targeting a massive and complex environmental
problem: global warming. But his solution is deceptively simple: The way
to save the planet is one tree at a time.
by Anton Corbijn
FC issue 40, page 334
April 26, and Dan Morrell flies economy class from Heathrow to JFK, then
takes a cab to First Avenue and 46th Street. He straightens his tie, brushes
down his suit, and strides into the United Nations building. He flashes
his passport at security and scans the lobby for his welcoming party. No
checks his watch. He's right on time, but there's no sign of Kofi Annan
-- or the tree that he and Annan are supposed to plant in Washington Square
Park. Damn it, there isn't even a shovel. Not good. Maybe this wasn't such
a smart idea after all. Photo ops with UN secretaries-general were the
last thing that Morrell had expected when he wrote a hit-and-hope letter
to the UN suggesting that its forthcoming commission on sustainable development
and global warming ought to set an example by going "carbon-neutral." Flopping
himself into one of the chairs in the lobby, Morrell begins to ponder how
his fledgling ecocommerce business, Future Forests Ltd., might have made
better use of his airfare.
Osborne, cochairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Forests, enters
the lobby on his way to convene the conference. He allows Morrell 30 seconds
to brief him about Future Forests. He likes what he hears and says, "Dan,
this is great. I want you to address the forum." Morrell prepares himself
for a room with maybe 50 or 60 people, tops. But the room that Osborne
leads Morrell into is not one of the smaller chambers at the UN; it is
General Assembly Hall. And few of its 1,969 seats are empty.
has no carefully crafted script, no PowerPoint slides. So in three minutes
flat, he tells his powerful audience the simple truth about his work: We
plant trees at $5 a pop to offset the carbon dioxide that you create. Morrell
thanks his listeners for their time and then sweats in silence as the translators
conclude their interpretations. A delegate stands and begins to clap. Then
another stands and claps, and then another. Morrell leaves the room to
a standing ovation, and Future Forests has won some very influential friends.
in To CNN: Carbon-Neutral Now!
trees will offset the carbon dioxide ( CO2 ) that one U.S. citizen generates
in four months, says Future Forests. Nine trees will negate the effect
of your family vacation in the Caribbean. Plant eight trees, and you'll
cancel out four years' worth of garbage. Seven trees will offset five flights
between New York and London. Six will neutralize all of the CO2 released
by your refrigerator over its lifetime. Five will reabsorb your automobile
emissions for a year. Four trees will let you carbon-neutralize your washing
machine for six years. Plant three trees, and you can enjoy carbon-neutral
train commutes for 10 hours a week for three years. Two trees will offset
the CO2 generated in the production, delivery, and brewing of four pots
of coffee a day for six years. And just one tree? That's enough to make
an average citizen of Uganda carbon-neutral for a whole year.
can't be that simple, can it? Of course it can't, and Morrell, 38, Future
Forests founder and CEO, is the first to admit it. Photosynthesis is complex
to a stultifying degree, and CO2 absorption depends on a multitude of biological
factors. Such details are important to Morrell, who lives in Somerset,
England, but if he has learned anything from his recyclable career as a
nightclub operator, a video-game importer, a fashion retailer, and an advertising
middleman, it is this: The simpler the idea, the better it sells.
major players of the Green Movement have proved adept at hand-wringing
and alarm raising, but they have proved lousy at solution delivery and
implementation. The momentum and optimism of the late 1980s and early 1990s
appear to have been lost: The burden is too heavy, the scale of the task
too great. But carve the global problem into chunks of individual responsibility
-- and give people the power to repair the damage that they've caused --
and you stand a chance of turning the tide.
feel powerless about the environment," Morrell says. "But from what little
they remember from their school biology lessons, they can make a connection
between planting a tree and CO2 absorption. Slowly, people start to change
their minds about driving their cars, using their dishwashers, recycling
their waste -- just because they have a tree planted somewhere."
average U.S. or UK citizen has a lifestyle that annually produces 11 tons
of CO2 -- the main contributor to the greenhouse effect and to global warming.
But trees naturally absorb CO2 and produce in its place useful by-products:
oxygen and wood.
says Morrell, is an efficient way to absorb CO2 emissions that cannot be
reduced at their source. As a rough average, five trees can, through photosynthesis,
absorb 1 ton of carbon from the atmosphere over a period of 100 years.
And there are other benefits: Forests can filter nitrous oxide, sulphur
dioxide, and lead; reduce the spread of dust and noise; and create needed
habitats for wildlife. They look good too. Yet the world's forests are
being destroyed at a rate of 20 football fields a minute. That deforestation
releases approximately 1.8 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every
you won't find Morrell rattling a tin cup under your nose, and he doesn't
like being mistaken for some hippie eco-warrior. Future Forests, he says,
is strictly an ESP -- an environmental-service provider. "We're like the
people who collect your newspapers or recycle your tin cans," says Morrell.
"We recycle your air."
simplicity of Morrell's proposition has attracted support from actors,
artists, businesses, governments, musicians, and more than 10,000 ordinary
CO2-producing citizens around the world. Future Forests has planted some
148,000 indigenous trees in 55 forest sites in India, Mexico, and the UK
and anticipates the projected absorption of 29,000 tons of carbon over
the trees' growing lifetime. The organization plants long-term natural
native species such as ash, beech, hawthorne, oak, rowan, and yew, and
its natural forests are planted with local partners on public-access land.
some help from the University of Edinburgh's Institute of Ecology and Resource
Management and from the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management ( ECCM ),
Future Forests has developed a model for calculating the ratio between
CO2 emissions and uptake of carbon by tree. Acting as an R&D arm for
Future Forests, the ECCM assesses and inspects each planting site to calculate
and to monitor levels of carbon sequestration per hectare planted.
carbon-neutral by planting trees is no get-out-of-jail-free card in terms
of emissions reduction," says Morrell. "If you want to reduce your negative
impact on the planet, you need to think about using less energy. But don't
underestimate the power of trees."
Only Rock and Roll
traditional environmentalists, Dan Morrell can be a little bit too "rock
and roll." It's the evening of January 28, 1986, the day the space shuttle
Challenger exploded. Morrell is clambering into the back of a rented Volkswagen
Golf with some of his showbiz pals. They've been nightclubbing in Bath
and are heading back to Morrell's apartment to continue the fun. With him
are a clutch of models and session musicians, including drummer Tony Thompson,
who has just finished touring with David Bowie. Robert Plant is trying
to hitch a ride too -- he needs a drummer to help with a Led Zeppelin reunion
and is keen to talk to Thompson -- but there's no room. He'll have to find
route, the driver loses control of the car on an icy bend and crashes.
Everyone in the car sustains injuries, though, thankfully, none of the
injuries are fatal. Thompson has possibly broken both arms -- so much for
the Led Zep revival. Morrell has a fractured skull and will be unconscious
for a week.
three-year period of recuperation in the country followed, allowing Morrell
to evaluate his checkered career. His work on a floating nightclub had
been a laugh: Ferrying revelers up and down the river from Bristol neatly
sidestepped licensing laws and mooring regulations. The video-game business
that he had begun as a teenager with his brother had been lucrative, while
his clothing factory had been a ticket to catwalks around the world.
accident gave me a chance to decide what was important," Morrell says.
"Did it matter if someone sold a shed-load of video games? Who gives a
dime about going to a nightclub every night? Does anyone need to be convinced
that this dress is sexier than that one? I knew I had to make a break to
something fundamentally meaningful." Nursing his wounds in a cottage in
the Somerset village of Castle Carey, Morrell used the time to dream --
and to generate a list of ideas for new ways to spend his time. One of
those ideas was Future Forests. In 1989, a bleary-eyed Morrell and his
girlfriend stumbled into morning after having attended a party the night
before. Walking down London's congested Harrow Road, the couple found themselves
gasping for air. Yet it struck Morrell as rather odd that the trees lining
the route looked so healthy. "Must be something to do with photosynthesis,"
he mumbled to his girlfriend. "What if . . . "
course, Future Forests was just one of Morrell's new ideas -- and it would
have to wait its turn. By 1992, he had cofounded a music-brokerage business,
Fullview Productions Ltd., which flitted between record companies and advertising
agencies to match prerelease material to TV ads for clients like Adidas,
Guinness, and Honda. But the tree-planting bug was eating at him like a
bad case of Dutch Elm disease. With backing from the Forestry Commission,
Morrell took his idea to the UK's largest motoring organization, the Automobile
Association, offering to plant forests to offset the CO2 generated by its
members. The AA liked it, bought it -- then sat on it for three years.
Morrell bought his idea back and took it on the road. His one-day-a-month
hobby turned into a two-weeks-a-month mission, as he milked his contacts
for introductions to every CEO and marketing director that they knew. British
Airways, Ford, Virgin -- Morrell tried them all. "When you know that something
is fundamentally a good idea, then there's no way out." But while no one
said no to Future Forests, no one said yes either. A breakthrough came
in 1996, on a train journey to London, when Morrell found himself sitting
across from Rodney Bickerstaffe, secretary- general of the UK's biggest
trade union, Unison. The two men had never met before, but Morrell did
what came naturally. "Poor guy, I gave him one and a half hours of wall-to-wall
made no promises, but a month later, Morrell received a check from a union
member who wanted to buy a tree. Another check arrived a day later, and
then the floodgates opened. Bickerstaffe had sent a memo to all of his
members urging them to support Future Forests. "We had been spending all
of our time appealing to the big wealthy brands, but it was the low-paid
public-sector workers who really got us going."
has managed to create a tangible benefit from an invisible problem," says
Sue Welland, 40, marketing director of Future Forests, who quit a high-profile
job with Eurotunnel to work with Morrell. "He can make you believe that
anything is possible and that you are the person to make it happen. He
has the kind of lateral thinking and slight eccentricity that can make
the difference between an okay idea and a piece of magic."
without a proper scientific foundation, Morrell's magic could still appear
to be an illusion. Unexpectedly, Future Forests had found a sympathetic
ear in the motor-sport industry. Max Mosely, president of the Federation
Internationale de l'Automobile, invited Morrell to a Brussels, Belgium
forum on CO2 emissions. It was there that Morrell first met Richard Tipper,
a world authority on carbon sequestration and an environmental adviser
to the UK government. "We hadn't really known what we were doing, to be
honest," says Morrell. "But through Tipper, we were able to work out exactly
how many trees would absorb the emissions of one car, one aircraft flight,
one toaster, whatever. Getting the figures to stack up was fundamental
to our credibility. We know that what we are claiming to be true is 100%
Tipper punching in the figures, Future Forests developed a CO2 audit program,
measuring how many tons of CO2 a company generates and then calculating
how many trees would be needed to offset those tons. In the past two years,
more than 40 clients have been through the audit, and such companies as
the design group Imagination, the Independent, J. Walter Thompson Co.,
Mazda UK, and TRW Aeronautical Systems can now claim to be carbon-neutral.
Europe PLC is one of Morrell's most enthusiastic fans. Last year, Avis
planted more than 26,000 trees throughout the UK, in such locations as
Birmingham, Manchester, and Tunbridge Wells, to help compensate for CO2
produced by its UK head office and 160 branches. And it's not just about
upstaging rival Hertz, says Katharine Johnson, 36, the company's communications
coordinator. "The impact has gone beyond tree planting," she says. "Working
with Future Forests has given us a platform to have a debate within the
company about our environmental responsibilities. It has started lots of
conversations here and has made us think more carefully about the way that
we and our customers use our cars. For example, we're setting up car-sharing
clubs for our clients and looking at ways that we can work more closely
with public-transport providers."
UK believes that its $25,000 investment in forests has yielded $3 million
worth of PR. Tower Records is hoping for similar results when it makes
its online sales service carbon-neutral this fall. Clients get a brand
differential from carbon-neutrality, but they also get a kick out of the
celebrity support that Morrell -- a prodigious networker and a member of
London's exclusive Groucho Club -- has reeled in. Afrika Bambaataa, Stella
McCartney, the Pet Shop Boys, and Joe Strummer all find room in their schedules
Forests has made enemies as well. Some environmentalists say that planting
trees is a distraction that allows business to shirk responsibility for
cutting CO2 emissions. But Morrell says that his clients know his prescription
is no cure-all: "The problem of greenhouse gases is way too big for us
to solve with tree planting, but our mission is to challenge mind-sets.
Forestry is not a panacea. It's not the answer to climate change. But as
part of an integrated carbon-management program, it's an important part
of the answer."
trees for individuals, says Morrell, is simply good fun. More than 10,000
people own trees through Future Forests, from the police chief in Hartfordshire
who made all of his patrol cars carbon-neutral to the college kids in Southampton
who persuaded their local Kentucky Fried Chicken to go carbon-neutral.
is casting his net wider through Future Forests's innovative ecocommerce
Web site. Enter miles driven, vacations taken, information from your utility
bills, and so on, and a calculator determines how many tons of CO2 you
generate. Then go online and buy the exact number of trees needed to offset
that amount. Choose where you would like the trees to be planted, and Future
Forests emails back a certificate and a map showing the exact location
of your trees.
first tree that Morrell planted -- a cherry tree planted along a railway
path outside Castle Carey station -- is now tall enough to climb. He walks
past it each time he takes the train to London's Paddington terminal. "Our
forests are not just about carbon offset. They're about biodiversity, natural
habitats, and having a cool place to go."
believes strongly enough in planting trees that he's willing to put it
first in his life. He has reduced commitments to his music business and
works almost exclusively for Future Forests. Now that Future Forests is
bringing in nearly $3 million a year, it no longer needs Fullview to pay
the rent on its Castle Carey and London offices.
its Web site, Future Forests intends to offer renewable electricity and
carbon-neutral holidays. In a deal with Green Globe 21, the company hopes
to be able to advise flight passengers of carbon-neutral air routes. The
plan would allow you to fly from Atlanta to Adelaide, or from Seattle to
Singapore, and have trees planted for you that would offset the flight's
carbon emission. And Morrell and his celebrity chums have already booked
some time at a studio next year to cut a CD titled Global Cooling.
zeitgeist is on Morrell's side. Climate-change levies are looming, and
when the Kyoto Protocol is ratified ( perhaps as soon as 2002 ), offsetting
CO2 will be mandatory in the UN. But that has Morrell a little worried:
"There could be an unacceptable face of carbon-offset forestry, an ugly
side that fells rainforests and replaces them with fast-growing trees such
as eucalyptus just to gain quick carbon credits."
and such environmental pressure groups as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace
have expressed concerns about irresponsible forestry, and Morrell is keen
to differentiate his brand. "Future Forests is about putting something
back into communities. We plant indigenous natural species for local people.
In India and Mexico, for example, we plant fruit trees so that the local
people can gain a living from looking after them. There is public access
to all of our forests, and we do a lot of urban planting. We also work
with schools, helping kids to understand the issues."
takes as many as 100 years for trees to fulfill their carbon-offset potential,
and Morrell says that his clients are fully aware that they're entering
a long-term commitment to the environment. "I like trees. They're simple
and easy to explain. But there's no time for quick PR fixes when you're
helping to save the planet."
Wylie, ian at wylienet.demon.co.uk, a Fast Company contributing editor, is based in London. Contact Dan Morrell, dan at futureforests.com, or visit Future Forests LTD. on the Web ( http://www.futureforests.com
Morrell, founder and CEO of Future Forests Ltd., applies market incentives
and marketing savvy to an intractable environmental problem -- climate
change and global warming. Here are some of his marketing techniques for
winning people over to his cause.
it simple. "Humans have a massive capacity for digesting hugely complicated
packages of information. But to make an idea memorable, you have to keep
it simple. That's why we came up with the idea of one car, 5 trees per
year -- one citizen, 15 trees per year. The reality is much more complicated
than that, and it depends on the species of tree, soil type, rainfall,
longitude, latitude, and all sorts of other factors. We average it all
out so that the figures stack up, so why complicate the message?"
go to the barricades. "It's far better to interact with people than
to protest against them. Of course, we respect a lot of the environmental
campaigning that takes place, but whom would the chairman of Avis rather
talk to -- the campaigners who are protesting outside his building telling
passersby that the business is damaging the environment or the tree planters
who are offering him a means to repair the damage?"
the phony caring, sharing bit. "The future belongs to single-issue-focused
groups who can make themselves attractive to CFOs as companies prepare
for environmental taxes and regulations. At first, we found ourselves in
companies' marketing budgets. Now we're migrating into their operations
budgets -- because clients recognize that environmental planning is a core
function and that tree planting is a long-term commitment."
I feel so much better about ... Mark Zorro
idea. Excellent motive. Th... Digant Savalia
it is all just that simple an... Martin van den Berg
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