Jul 2, 2015
Congratulations on getting through to the semi-final. I really like the idea. I think it's feasible and has good potential. I had a couple of comments I wonder if you'd thought about: 1) You discuss some problems with the accounting of existing carbon offsetting schemes. I agree that your proposal may overcome some. However, you don't mention the idea of "additionality" which I think should be considered. http://www.co2offsetresearch.org/consumer/Additionality.html When someone purchases carbon offsets that should be preventing emissions that otherwise would have occurred. My initial thoughts of how this links to your proposal is that when someone purchases your carbon credits that should fund a new hub being installed and therefore reduce the emissions of the people using the new installation. In your proposal you kind of suggest that you would develop the hubs and then sell the carbon credits. I think this would contradict "additionality" because even if someone didn't buy the credits the emissions would have already been saved. 2) My second is related to the business plan. I see your proposal really as having two parts. One, is the selling of carbon-credits to result in reduced demand for work travel (I think this is the most novel component). The second, is the facilitating of virtual communication. This second-part I wonder if it is less novel. Have you looked to see if there are commercial businesses already selling this as a service already? Whilst I understand you like the idea of providing a more "human" service in this regard, it might make sense to begin the business as purely the carbon-offsetting component where you sell credits and then fund additional projects through existing facilitators (which otherwise wouldn't have occurred). The business may then branch into providing its own facilitation as it establishes the demand for credits. This would also give your company time to develop expertise in these areas separately instead instead of having to begin everything from scratch at the same time. Best of luck in your proposal.
Jul 13, 2015
Congratulations on this idea! I am in great favor of any proposal aimed at reducing the outrageously high greenhouse gas emission associated with work-related travels. As a scientist in the field of environmental studies, I find the idea of travelling thousands of miles to share knowledge for environmental protection really paradoxical. What I like more in your proposal is the goal of generating a self-sustaining mechanism where people willing (or needing) to travel allow other people to be able not to travel. Yet I have some concerns that are briefly summarized below. 1. As far as I understand, the project, to be effective, needs airlines to be willing to put part of the earnings from carbon offset voluntary contributions into your organization. I was thinking that, as your final goal is to reduce the demand for travel, they may not be available to do so (for them, it is way easier, and hypocrite, to throw this money into some forest restoration project somewhere). 2. Your project aims, among other things, to improve facilities for videoconferencing and other distance communication methods. Unfortunately, however, any communication technology has historically stimulated rather than discouraged physical travel. The use of the telephone, for example, has been a way to maintain better communications with faraway people/companies, and it has fostered travels to eventually meet these people/companies. I think this should be considered because the availability of some high quality videconferencing facility may strengthen relationships that would ultimately result in more travelling over time. This leads to the third point. 3. Some additional mechanism is needed to ensure that the overall number of flights decreases (or at least does not increase) over time. It is very sad to say but for many people travelling is a rewarding activity per se. Very often it is just the thrill of checking-in at the airport, dealing with the "flying community" and spending a week on the other side of the ocean (plus the disputable pleasure of telling your friends and colleagues: "yeah, last week I was in California/South of France/Thailand for a meeting...."). Fighting all of that is terribly hard because you do not really know who is the ally and who is the enemy. In my view, little can be done unless some real constraint is enforced on how many resources a scientist can spend on travels. Hence, what about involving funding bodies (e.g. NSF, NRC) in your project, through a mechanism that binds the obtainment of research funds to the reliance on distance conferencing approaches? For example, the funding body may impose that, on any dollar spent on traditional travels, a given share is diverted towards your organization to foster non-physical meetings. I hope my comments may be of any help. I strongly encourage you to go on with your idea. I think it is very important for all of us. Thank you. Francesco
Stacy Rebich Hespanha
Jul 14, 2015
Thank you cloudfish and Francesco for your comments and suggestions! I have found them very useful as I've been working on revising my proposal. Cloudfish -- Thank you for mentioning the concept of 'additionally'. I have since changed to some degree the way the proposal was structured. Instead of structuring the program around selling offsets, sources of program revenue (now referred to as 'benefactors') invest in future travel reductions based on expectations for return on investment based on previously-generated rates of reduction. Your comment regarding partnering with other companies and organizations was also on point, and something that was hinted at in the first version of the proposal, but not sufficiently elaborated upon. The plan is to partner with virtual technology companies in the design, installation, and maintenance of systems. As for facilitation of the types of informal interactions we're planning to include, I don't know of any companies or organizations that currently offer these types of experiences. To the degree that we can find partners with the requisite expertise, we will be interested in collaborating on developing these novel uses of technology. Francesco -- Regarding your first point about airline participation in a voluntary offset program -- this would certainly be desirable, but not necessarily essential since not all aviation emissions are currently being offset through voluntary programs, and there is nothing to stop individuals flyers from choosing to offset their emissions through any program they choose. There appears to be a viable (although not voluntary) mechanism by which airlines might be motivated to participate: the judges and other reviewers have brought my attention to the ICAO's Market Based Measures plan, which, if adopted, will bring civil aviation into a compliance situation whereby they would be obligated to reduce emissions by set amounts. If this plan goes forward, it would definitely be a priority to pursue inclusion of the plan I describe here as an MBM mechanism. Your point about ICT stimulating rather than reducing travel was something I had considered and attempted to address through the negotiated agreements between participating organizations and the BGT nonprofit. I realize, however, that that brief mention was insufficient to give a good idea regarding what I have in mind, so I have expanded the section regarding accounting for emission reductions. Your final point about the extra benefits of travel (like supporting a 'cosmopolitan identity' and making people feel important) is a good one. I don't think this program would remove those extra incentives to travel, but hopefully it would at least tip the balance enough so that people decide to make fewer trips overall. The idea of partnering with funding bodies is excellent, and given the chance to move this idea forward, would definitely be something worth pursuing. Even having explicit guidelines regarding budget justification for virtual interaction support (and making it as easy to get approval for that type of support as it is to get travel support) would be a great step in that direction. Thank you both again, and I hope to have the chance to continue the conversation about these ideas. Best wishes, Stacy