Flights amount for 90% of the WSL's overall emissions.
Exactly How Will The WSL Become "Carbon Neutral" In 2019?
We presented our readers' concerns to the executive director of WSL PURE.
The WSL revealed a major environmental initiative a few days back—one that promises to be carbon neutral, plastic-free, and non-disruptive to competition environments by the end of 2019.
To be clear, these promises relate strictly to their Championship Tour and Big Wave Tour events, not the QS, Junior series, Longboard Tour, etc.
Regardless, we thought this was an important (and difficult) step for the WSL to take, given the scale of their production. We also thought it was a step worth praising, much like their equal pay promise of 2019.
However, some of our readers didn't share this sentiment. They were quick to spout negative, and oftentimes uninformed remarks, such as Romain Guery, who wrote: "Carbon neutral by the end of 2019? Are they going to paddle to each event?"
So, with hopes of 1. spreading awareness and 2. asking the "hard questions", we got on the phone with Reece Pacheco, the executive director of WSL PURE and a man who is largely responsible for this new environmental initiative.
Having just inhaled a steaming, presumably fair-trade bean juice, Reece was electrified throughout our chat and displayed great knowledge and enthusiasm around the topic of sustainability. He used terms like "climate crisis" and condemned the naysayers for their idle stagnation.
Let's learn about carbon neutrality, shall we?
Stab: So, Reece, you're the executive director of WSL PURE, can you tell me a little bit about what your job entails?
Reece Pacheco: Well, I'll back up real quick and say that I have like 15 jobs, but technically like two titles. I'm both in charge of sustainability for the WSL and have a role on the WSL side of the business as well as being executive director of WSL PURE.
PURE is a non-profit and is its own entity and everything. What's cool about my role is that I get to kind of look at it from this bird's eye view saying, "Alright, from an environmental standpoint, where are our tours and operations having an environmental impact and how can we mitigate that?" Then, "What is also common to all surfers?" Right?
We all fly and drive and pursue waves and even if you don't fly or drive very much, you're contributing to the carbon cycle just by breathing. We all have a carbon footprint. We all use plastic as a result of being human beings on this planet at this point. There aren't many communities left that don't use some level of plastic.
We all touch down on sensitive ecosystems. You know, we all touch down in dune and beach ecosystems and coral reefs, and we have an impact going to these places.
So, that's what I'm excited about; the WSL is making these commitments as a business to say we're going carbon neutral, we're eliminating single-use plastic, we are committing to leave places better than we found them. Because those are the most pressing issues going on with the planet. So, we're there to educate and act around those issues.
The initiative that you guys revealed the other day has three main pillars, including becoming carbon neutral, limiting single-use plastics, and leaving each place better than it was found. I would say the second and third ones are pretty self-explanatory, so I want to tackle the first. Some of our readers have been skeptical about your claim to be “carbon neutral” in 2019, so can you talk a little bit about what that phrase means, and how you plan to achieve it?
Sure. So within this one pillar of our initiative, there are essentially three different scopes. Scope one is about the direct emissions related to your business; Scope two is kind of indirect; Scope three is another step removed. So, scope three is our biggest actual footprint, because as a business, we don't manufacture a lot. We don't have giant operating plans that are creating products, etc. But we do have a lot of events.
Scope two is related to those events, but the footprint there is not crazy. It's really scope three where we are flying often and flying far to put on our events. And when I say "we," I mean our WSL staff as well as our athletes. So, you know, what we've looked at for 2018 is our CT Men's and Women's and Big Wave Tour athletes footprints as well as our staff footprints and event footprints and all of our offices and said, "In 2018, this was our footprint, and here is what it equates to.”
Staff fights were 68% of that footprint overall. Then tack on the athletes, and you get to around 90% of the footprint is just those flights. So, you essentially tally up all those flights, you quantify the mileage, and the class of the airplane and all that. You basically say, okay here is all the mileage, there is a formula that we use in partnership with Stoke, who is kind of our third party who is calculating and verifying, that way it's not just us under-reporting or anything, so Stoke is there to do it. They calculate it up and say, "All right, this is what it is."
Then, what we've done is we've picked projects around the world that we believe in that will help restore carbon and/or offset our carbon footprint. We picked projects per region. So, we've got Asia-Pacific, North America, South America, and EMEA (Europe, Middle-East, and Africa).
So, we pick a project or two in each region that we feel is a high impact project and support them. For example, in Asia-Pacific, we are going to support a peat swamp forest. Peat swamp is a really great habitat that stores carbon really quickly. If you look at project Draw Down, which is a really cool project that ranked in the 100 most important activities to battle climate change, peat swamp forests are ranked number 13 as far as a high impact project.
We’re also supporting a wind energy project, and that's number two most important on the project Draw Down list. So, it's essentially looking at what was our overall footprint, and then offsetting an equivalent of that with these projects. So we did the math on that for 18, and are offsetting most of that, and then we will go 100% of that in 19.
Let me just see if I understand this correctly. You, the WSL, quantified the emissions cost of flying staff and surfers around the world. Is that just to CT Events, or is that to QS Events as well?
It's just CT and Big Wave Tour right now, so we're doing it for our owned and operated events. I want to expand it to QS, but that's going to be another level and scope of work.
Yeah, that's another 50 events and way more surfers to keep track of. There are like 100 surfers in each event.
Exactly, so the scope of this quickly grows. But we feel strongly that we have to do what we can as soon as we can. This is what we know we can do right now. This is a full-on climate crisis, right? We agree with that terminology and agree that we need to act now. So, that's why we're like, this is what we're doing. Is it 1000% bulletproof perfect plan? No, but we don't have time to wait for a perfect plan. No one does. We need businesses to act now. Paige Alms said it really well today: "It's progress over perfection."
Absolutely. So, you took those quantified numbers from the 2018 CT and Big Wave Tour events of the WSL's emissions and then found out what dollar contribution to X, Y, and Z initiatives in Asia, South America, North America, and Africa would offset those numbers. Is that basically how it works?
Yeah, we commit to a certain tonnage to offset and with each project and say this is the tonnage that we want to offset with you.
And the tonnage has a dollar sign on it, correct? You guys are essentially donating money to these foundations.
Yeah, and all of these projects are certified in one way or another. A couple of them are REDD+ projects, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation.
So, if you're an indigenous landowner in a rural area of Africa or Indonesia and some logging company comes through and is like, "I'm going to pay you a bunch of money to chop down all your trees." You're like, "Man, that's potentially something I should do." But this program helps say, "Hey, there is an economic value to this land being protected, protecting the species, storing the carbon, and there are ways to quantify how much carbon is stored by these projects,” which is really exciting.
We want to help support that and protect that land, and conserve that land in a healthy way. So, we've picked these high-quality projects that we feel really good about, that are conserving land or creating renewable energy or converting projects to biofuel, etc.
So yeah, you count the tonnage, and then there is a cost, and we pay that cost.
Got it, and thank you for explaining. I think that when people hear "carbon neutral," they tend to think, "Oh, what are you just not going to fly now?" Some folks, myself included, didn't fully understand the concept that you can. In theory, work your way to reducing the overall amount of carbon in our atmosphere by funding organizations that are maintaining carbon-storing plants.
Yes, but it’s not just that. On the one hand, we’re going to be “carbon neutral” in 2019, which is great. But we also know that we need to reduce our carbon footprint as well, right? We don't just want to say, "We're going to offset it." It's not healthy to eat junk food all day and be like, "But I work out!"
We want to reduce our impact as well as offset it, so part of this is quantifying our footprint and then saying all right, what's a reasonable target for us? How do we reduce our emissions overall? Which means less flying. Which means green-leaning our events even more than we already do. That could be further distributing our operations instead of sending people to events out of headquarters, but leveraging talent on the ground in different regions, and making sure we do more of that.
It can add up over the scope of the business, and obviously the WSL is a growing business, there are going to be more events, there are going to be more operations, and so we'll probably grow our overall business operation, but how do we set targets to reduce the growth of our carbon emissions?
Along those lines, we had a fascinating comment on the press release story that we did. A person called "7 dollar surfboard" said [sic all]:
Whilst watching the Bali "protect" I heard that Kolohe Andino will have about 150 boards made for him in a year which is fucken excessive. That is a fuck load of toxic, petroleum-based products being used. Guaranteed those boards won't even last 6months due to their weak performance-based construction. That's just Kolohe, now imagine all 36 men and 18 women getting roughly the same amount of boards made a year that won't even last half a season, and of course there are still all the qs surfers. That's a shit ton of toxic petroleum products being used, i.e. demanded from big petroleum/oil companies.
The WSL should rather champion to actually make steps to preserve the environment instead of being a bunch of slacktivists picking up three pieces of trash whilst using their paper straws and creating stupid hashtags. They should implement rules that restrict surfers to a prescribed number of boards, leggies, etc year and their construction, like the boards made for SITD.
Gear will be made to last, people will say this will hamper the surfers' performance, which it might in the short term but this will encourage innovation in the technology and materials used to replace our current backward, petroleum-based methods and soon surfing gear will be even better and more eco friendly than what it is now and this eco-tech equipment more affordable to the average joe.
Surfers will then actually have a leg to stand on when fighting environmental issues because right now we look like a bunch of idiots only cherry picking what suits our current agenda.
I was just wondering if that's something you guys would ever consider proposing or implementing.
I've heard that criticism before, they're not the first person and you know, I am a proponent of high-quality products that last a long time. I'm the first guy to point out that I have clothes that I think that I've had since high school. I'm like, "Yeah, this shirt still works." I'm not going to say that we're about to implement any rules like that, but I'm not going to rule it out either.
I would first respond that Kolohe is probably an exception—not everyone gets that many boards. Not everyone has the sponsors that he does, and not everyone has that kind of a quiver. I know that for a fact, that not all surfers have that. It's not as bad as this person makes it out to be. I know that it's an issue, I know that it's a vulnerability and I do want to work on it.
But I would also say that just because we're not perfect when it comes to boards, doesn't mean that we can't go carbon neutral, doesn't mean that we can't pick up trash, you know? This is a quote from a friend of mine who has been in his space a long time; he said, "I'd rather light a candle than curse the darkness." So, we can sit there all day long and say that this campaign or that campaign is bullshit, or I saw that person eating a hamburger, so who are they to talk about climate change? It's like, what? They aren’t mutually exclusive. So I guess that's my response there, is that great points, yes, I am aware that some surfers go through lots of boards and all that, but it doesn’t negate what we’re trying to achieve.
I do think there are great efforts to work on more sustainably crafted boards, and I support that. I don't have any plans to act on that right now. We're going after the biggest portion of our environmental footprint first, which is our carbon footprint and our events, and our operations and doing what we can do right now. We'll get to everything else when we get to it.
For more info on the WSL's environmental initiative, click here.