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RP Siegel headshot

Volkswagen Puts Forests on the Ledger

Words by RP Siegel

Our economy is like a giant organism that lives and breathes value. Arteries bring revenue to sellers, and veins carry cost away from buyers. Some vessels also circulate back in to nourish and regulate the economy itself. When a new source of value is created, new pipelines are constructed to connect it up. In recent years, humanity has come to realize that the entire economy, rather than existing in a world of abstraction, is actually fully contained within the natural world. This realization requires some significant modifications to be made in order for the economy to become reality-based and therefore sustainable.

As work on these modifications begins -- and as our understanding of what the economy is morphs from that of a machine into that of a living thing -- new partnerships are required to bring representatives to the table. They then act as agents for entities that were previously not represented in the conversation, such as forests, for example, or rivers. This is very new business, but it is very real and very important. We’ve only come to recognize our economic disconnection from reality after some essential boundaries critical to the maintenance of life have been breached.

That is why I found myself standing recently on a steel bridge deck in Northern California with representatives from Volkswagen of America. We were in the Garcia River Forest, a 24,000 acre tract that is under restoration. Speaking to us was Scott Kelly, timberlands manager with the Conservation Fund’s North Coast staff. Kelly explained why the fund spent $400,000 on the bridge replacement. The previous bridge was on its way out structurally, but it had also allowed significant amounts of sedimentation to wash into the creek each time it rained. Not only is the creek critical to the health of the forest, but it also contains Steelhead trout, and Coho salmon, which are endangered in this area.

A healthy forest is the best way to sequester carbon that we know of. Sediment prevention efforts like these have kept of total of 12,000 dump trucks worth of sediment out of the waterways. About a third of the Garcia River watershed, which serves numerous communities downstream, resides within this preserve.

The bridge and various other restoration projects were paid for with funds from VW as part of a new carbon credit transaction which was brokered by 3Degrees, the third partner in this triune. A few years ago this might have been considered an unlikely alliance, but the climate is not the only thing that is changing.

For Volkswagen, this is part of a holistic approach to ultra-low carbon mobility. That effort is spearheaded by the launch of the 2015 e-Golf with its 70 to 80 mile cruising range, and equivalent fuel economy of 116 eMPG. The carbon offsets will cover the emissions created from e-Golf production, distribution and up to approximately 36,000 miles of driving.

There’s more. The automaker set a target to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of its entire fleet by 90 percent by 2050. That, it said, will happen one step at a time, as each new vehicle will improve upon its predecessor by 10 to 15 percent.

Emissions at every step of the product lifecycle will also be addressed, from the supply chain, through production, throughout the vehicle’s life and beyond. The company's fuel-economy target of 58 mpg by 2020, is well ahead of the U.S. EPA’s 54.5 mpg by 2025. The commitment also shows up in its LEED Platinum manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the first of its kind.

The 2015 e-Golf also comes with a Roadside Assistance Plan, should drivers ever need a jumpstart, to quell those range-anxiety fears. As for its performance, suffice it to say that the Golf (family) was chosen as this year’s Motor Trend Car of the Year. The judges found that the e-Golf drove most like a “normal car” among the electric vehicles in contention.

VW also supports the Big River and Salmon Creek Forests, which contain an additional 16,000 acres, also in Mendocino County, California.

The Conservation Fund works the interface between the environment and the economy. One way to protect a piece of land is to manage it in a way that provides economic value to the community while preserving its natural ecosystems.

The forest lands managed by the fund has portions that are left untouched, while other areas are used commercially in a carefully managed, sustainable manner. Many of the forest lands the organization owns rely on sustainable logging operations to support themselves financially. The Garcia River tract is its first forest to venture into the world of carbon offsets. Considering the relatively young trees there, it’s a good fit at this point in time. The fund currently oversees some 300,000 acres, about 73,000 of which are in California's North Coast region. Those forests provide the equivalent of 60 full-time jobs. Its long term goal is to protect 5 million acres by 2030.

3Degrees provides green power and carbon offset products and services to Fortune 500 companies, utilities, green building firms, and other organizations that are working to become more sustainable. 3Degrees also partners with VW on the McKinney Landfill operation in Texas that captures methane, so that it can be utilized as an energy source rather than leaking into the atmosphere.

Together these three partners have found a way to construct a bridge. I’m not just talking about the one spanning the creek. I’m talking about a bigger bridge that can connect our rivers and forests to our economy -- not by ruthlessly exploiting them, as was done in the past, but by selective harvesting and mostly allowing them to remain standing and flowing. That way they can do what they do best: provide the natural services that all of us need to live healthy lives.

Images Courtesy of Volkswagen

Ed Note: Travel expenses for the Author and TriplePundit were provided by Volkswagen. 

RP Siegel headshotRP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com


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