We have many discussions about the environmental impact and carbon footprint of our events. Any international gathering such as this one is going to have an environmental cost. Many strategies can be adopted to mitigate this cost, from a fundamental re-design at one end of the spectrum to using offset at the other.
We considered the extent to which bringing people together face to face is so much more productive of ideas and knowledge-sharing than simply bringing people together in virtual spaces. It is axiomatic that much of the knowledge shared and certainly most of the ideas generated through events like this happen during informal down-times rather than in formal sessions. Given that we are a group of people talking about environmental solutions, does the potential for new knowledge and new solutions outweigh the environmental cost of travel in bringing people together.
We decided in this instance that it did.
Dartington Hall considers itself to be a green venue. Around 50% of its power is now generated through renewables (biomass derived from its own forestry, and solar) and a second biomass boiler is currently being added. The estate has a ‘zero to landfill’ waste collection and recycling policy, and much of the food consumed on the estate is either grown on the estate at Schumacher College or is sourced from nearby (in this rich agricultural area this does not present a significant challenge).
Our office (in South Devon) is powered with 100% renewable energy.
Travel, however, is not so simple. This is a rural area, and the public infrastructure is very poor. The venue is, however, only a mile or two from a mainline railway station (Totnes) with a three-hour journey time to London. Once here, little travel is required.
If you are coming from Europe or from anywhere in the UK we would ask you to consider the practicality of travelling by rail rather than flying. The Man in Seat 61 has a very useful guide comparing not just the environmental costs of flying versus rail travel, but also the relatively small differences in time.
A hidden environmental cost is the carbon impact of web servers. The internet requires vast server farms placed across the globe to support it, and these use vast amounts of power. As physical location is less important, however, server farms are increasingly being built in places where there are plentiful renewable resources (particularly solar).
We are aware that not all carbon offset programmes are bona fide but if you have one you use regularly please consider offsetting your travel to Borrowed Time there. We would like to suggest that if you are travelling to Borrowed Time by car or by air you might consider donating to Woodland Trust who will plant trees in the UK on your behalf. Please also remember that offsetting carbon is not the whole story.