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A story of project selection

In the second post of this series, I wrote about selecting a project by answering two questions. The first question is, what projects SHOULD I do? while the second is, what project CAN I do? The theory is one thing, but a real life example is another. Let me tell you my story about selecting a project to make a charitable contribution recently.

My Story

In my business we have two favored charities. The first is an internal organisation, Medicin San Frontieries (Doctors without Borders). Their mission is to provide medical aid in area where few others will venture.  The second charity is MQI, Merchants Quay Ireland. MQI are a charity which helps the homeless in Dublin.

Our aim in supporting these organisation is to give in a way that can have a meaningful impact. Recently I came across an analytical academic, William MacAskill. His approach is to use analytics to assess where to invest charitable dollars. Decisions are based upon the most positive impact each of your dollars/euros/pounds can have. This allows one to make the best possible decision that will have the greatest impact. The movement that he is part of is referred to as “Effective Altruism”.

I have taken this approach to look at how I can offset the impact I am having on the earth. My CO2 footprint derives mostly from travel. This is made up of long haul flights and some shorter haul flights within Europe. On top of this, I also drive about 25-30,000 km in a typical year. The comforts of living in a developed country make up the final element of my carbon footprint.

A little research provided me with some facts.

  • A transatlantic flight to the East Coast of America accounts for  2.17 metric tons of CO2e. I take 1-2 flights per year; this has been as high as 10)
  • A transatlantic flight to the West Coast accounts for 3.86 metric tons of CO2e. I  take 1-2 per year
  • A short haul European flight accounts for between 0.13 to 0.46 metric tons of CO2e. I take 4-6 per year
  • 30,000 km of motoring – 4.59 metric tons of CO2e
  • Estimation based on household bills says my living accounts for – 6.06 metric tons of CO2e
  • Public transport usage – 0.09 metric tons of CO2e
  • Secondary (lifestyle) – 6.30 metric tons of CO2e ( 2 of us, so 3.15 for me!)

Pulling all this together, I arrived at circa 31.3 metric tons of CO2e as my carbon footprint. A little behind the average American citizen who clocks in at 32.5 metric tons of CO2e. I now know that I should offset this in some way. But the question is, how CAN I do this in the most effective way?

Figures calculated using

What are the options?

I explored two options. The first was to cut my CO2, while the seconds was to fund projects which offset the CO2 that I produce.

Exploring the first option, the immediate choices available were:

  1. Eat less meat
  2. Travel less (flights and car)
  3. Use an electric car
  4. Downsize the family home

My diet is already largely vegan.

The travel less option was next up. Over the past several years I have reduced the amount of travel that I do by 60-70%. I do not see anyway in which I can further cut it.

The electric car? I would like to consider buying one when I am next due to change my car. However, I need to better understand the real benefits of electric cars. We still need to generate electricity and this comes at an environmental cost.

Downsizing? This will happen in time. It will only make a small dint in the number as my home accounts for 3.15 metric tons of CO2e. Reduing by a third would take this to 2.10 metric tons.

Next was the exploration of the CO2 offsetting. This is an area that is complex and offers many options. Carbon Fund is a charity which focuses on offsetting the CO2 through reforestation. Their calculation state that a $10 contribution can offset 1 metric tons of CO2e. For me that would equate to circa $320. The basis for their numbers was not clear to me and the reports linked in the website just gave me the 404 page. I wanted to make sure that the project I chose made to effective impact in reducing my impact on the planet. I have no doubt carbon fund can do that, but I was unable to unearth the facts to support this.

Next I researched a charity called coolearth. I had come across coolearth on William Macaskill’s great book, Doing Good Better. Coolearth seek to protect the rainforest from loggers, by supporting local farmers. They provide funding to farmers to build a sustainable living from the land they own. This in turn means that less farmers sell their land to the loggers. As a result, the forest remain in place. Coolearth targets landowner at the periphery of the forest. Locking this forest area in, results in the protection of the forest that is land locked by it. When one runs the numbers on the benefits, it looks as follows:

  • For each acre of rainforest saved, we are locking in 260 metric tonnes CO2e.
  • For each acres protected, a further 4 acres are protected
  • Assume 30% of unprotected land is being logged
  • It costs $100 to protect 1 acre of rain forest. There is some debate around this number, so I scaled it based on date to $154 per acre.

Now lets do some maths.

  1. A $154 contribution will protect 5 acres x 0.3 = 1.5 acres.
  2. Cost per acre = $154/1.5 = $103.

While this protects that 1 acre, another acre might be substituted by the loggers and felled. We therefore assumed a 50% success ratio in protecting land. That is, one out of two cases we have stopped logging, bringing the cost per acres to $103/0.5 = $206. There is a risk that the land may be deforested in the future. To account for this, we reduced the CO2e figure per acre from 260 by forty percent. The number now look as follows:

  • $206 equates to 260*0.6 = 156 metric tonnes COe
  • Applying a margin of safety of 300%, 1 metric tonnes equates to $206*3/156 = $3.96
  • My footprint offset = 31.3*3.96 = $122.96

Taking this into account, we made a donation of Stg 200 as the charity is UK based. This equates to $308.77 and an offset of 77.97 metric tonnes CO2e. The charity keeps one updated on progress and how the funds are put to use. I am looking forward to hearing from them and will update this post when I hear back.

A simple example of how to select a project to fund. Hope you found it useful and can correlate it to the previous article.


Carbon Fund


Doing Good Better by William MacAskill

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