Offsetting 100% of carbon emitted

Neck deep in mud, grappling with a mangrove seedling and being beaten alive by the intense heat of a Sumatran sun, it was one of those moments where... Read more
Offsetting 100% of carbon emitted

Neck deep in mud, grappling with a mangrove seedling and being beaten alive by the intense heat of a Sumatran sun, it was one of those moments where you wonder how on earth you ended up here.

This year at KE we’ve decided to start carbon offsetting. As KE’s CEO, this isn’t a decision I’ve taken lightly, and we’re thrilled to be launching a programme which, after much deliberation, we believe gives back to the world in all the best possible ways. Here’s how it works - and how it landed me in one of the most intense days of hard graft I’ve ever completed in my life...

Just before the New Year, as part of the decision to offset all carbon emitted from KE holidays, I travelled to Indonesia to understand how one of the mangrove planting projects that we now support works. We’re thrilled to be launching this new initiative, but the main objective for me was ensuring this wasn’t a simple ‘pay-off’ to ease guilty consciences. I wanted to see first-hand how carbon removal/absorption is measured, and how these projects benefit local communities too. I’m thrilled to now know that it will benefit the lives of people living in Sumatra in numerous ways, from preventing tsunami damage to creating livelihoods - but more on that later. 

Getting our hands dirty in Sumatra

I travelled with a director from Livelihoods Funds, our chosen partner for carbon offsetting, and a number of Voyageurs du Monde and Hermes staff, all keen to learn more about the project. Our first stop was Sicanang village about 3 hours drive north east of Medan in Sumatra. We were welcomed by Bambhang, the inspirational founder of Yagasu, and his team and family. Yagasu is the local organisation in Indonesia which runs the project on behalf of Livelihoods Funds. The first thing that struck me as Bambhang introduced the team and the project was the sheer scale of it. 

They have planted over 1000kms of mangroves on or near the NE Coast of Sumatra so far (almost 40,00 hectares), with 154 villages involved. One of the biggest challenges is getting the initial buy-in from the headman of each village. Whilst the entire coast was originally mangroves (over 200,000 hectares), more than half has been decimated by industrialisation and the introduction of palm oil plantations, shrimp ponds and rice paddy fields, many of which are no longer fertile. As I soon discovered though, once the villages do get involved in the re-planting, it doesn’t take long for them to start reaping the benefits. They are hoping to more than double the area planted in the next few years, and get more than 300 villages involved.

A seriously tough and muddy job

We did 3 days of mangrove planting as part of our trip, along tidal river banks, in reclaimed paddy fields and also in coastal mud flats. This gave us a great insight into the challenges faced by the team and the villagers; not least the thickness of the mud and the difficulty of physically moving around in these areas...

The young mangroves are grown in nurseries in the mangrove forest, then replanted in 2 metre grids, and tied to bamboo sticks. Often we were surrounded by palm-oil palms as we planted, and this brought home another of the challenges, convincing the palm oil companies to sell their land back to the villagers to allow them to re-plant mangroves.

To put his all into further context, it took me half a day of mud-wrestling to plant just one tree at a time. I’ve left with nothing but huge respect for those working on this vital project.

The benefits of the project

The benefits of mangrove planting in Sumatra include, of course, carbon removal from the atmosphere. But the reason this project is so incredible is that the rewards are numerous. 

  • Northern Sumatra (Aceh) had almost 130,000 people killed by the devastating Tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, out of an estimated 230,00 in total. It is believed that coastal erosion played a large part in the impact being so deadly. It is also thought that if the natural mangroves which grew along the northeast coast had still been in place, that the death toll would have been drastically reduced. This on its own is a vital reason to replant the coastline. 

  • One of the biggest economic benefits to the local villages (most of which are fishing villages), is the increased fish and shellfish stocks. The mangrove forests increase biodiversity, and that includes the amount of fish, crabs, oysters and shrimps in the coastal waters. Dolphin sightings for the first time in many decades are another good indicator that fish stocks have increased. Birds and monkeys that were on the verge of extinction are also flourishing again. 

  • The natural dyes from the mangrove are now being used for batik, and food and drink believed to have great health benefits are being produced from the fruit of the mangroves (api api fruit for example) and sea holly (Jeruju) that grows on the mangrove. So a number of alternative industries are growing up around the villages, providing additional income and improved living conditions.

Carbon removal and absorption  

During the first 10 years of the mangrove’s life as it is growing, carbon is captured from the atmosphere and stored in its roots and in the soil around the roots. The bigger it gets, the more carbon it captures. After about 10 years the mangrove reaches full maturity, and carbon absorption rates reduce rapidly. However the carbon absorbed over the 10 year period continues to be held in its roots and in the earth. To measure the amount of carbon absorbed at any given point in its life cycle, the Yagasu team regularly measure the stem diameters and heights of the mangroves. This gives a good indication of the carbon that has been absorbed. However to give a more accurate reading, a few trees from each plantation are pulled up and samples of the roots and stem sent off to laboratories to be analysed and a more accurate carbon absorption figure obtained.

Why we’re working with Livelihoods Funds

The organisation is more than 10 years old now, and is all about empowering rural farming communities and supporting projects with measurable social, environmental and economic benefits. They have 13 projects throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America, and each has committed to absorb an agreed amount of carbon from the atmosphere, usually through some form of reforestation or replanting. KE’s parent company Voyageurs du Monde is one of 12 private companies (including Mars, Danone, Michelin and Hermes Paris) that have committed to support and invest in the Livelihoods Carbon Fund in the long-term. They have been offsetting their CO2 since 2011 and have helped contribute to more than 40 million euros being invested in projects so far. A second carbon fund started in 2017 is looking to raise 100 million euros in these projects over 20 years.

Offsetting 100% of carbon emitted

As of 1st January 2020, KE is offsetting 100% of all carbon emitted on services provided by the company. This includes all emissions from flights purchased from us by our travellers, as well as all services provided on the ground such as transport and accommodation. We will also be offsetting all flights taken by KE staff.

What does this mean? 

We will calculate the exact number of kilometres flown by customers who purchase their flight through KE in the year (and staff), and convert that into tonnes of carbon emitted. We will also estimate the amount of carbon emitted on each of our trip - in fact we will end up slightly overestimating this. At the end of the year the total number of carbon tonnes will be converted into pounds sterling, and a payment will be made by KE to Livelihoods Funds (, who fund and support a number of fantastic reforestation, agroforestry and rural energy projects around the world.

The decision to offset

The decision to offset our carbon was not taken lightly, and followed a great deal of research and deliberation. As a well-established adventure travel company, we aim to minimise our impact on the environment wherever possible, both on our trips and in the office. But the fact is that travel and particularly flying is a major contributor of carbon emissions into the atmosphere. We are seeing some airlines start to offset their carbon emissions, but not many yet. 

Whilst we all seek sustainable longer term solutions, we want to offset the emissions that we are responsible for, as long as it is being done in collaboration with well-established and trustworthy partners, and supporting specific projects that can verify what they do, and show how they are carbon positive (and how it is measured). Whilst some critics say that carbon-offsetting is simply a way to make people feel ‘guilt-free’ about travelling, we see it as the best solution currently. We should all consider the amount we travel and think about the journeys we make, but pulling the plug on flying is not the answer - too many destinations and communities rely on the income tourism brings, something that living in the Lake District we know only too well.

How does this affect you, our travellers? 

An estimate of the cost of offsetting the carbon for your KE holiday has been included in the price of each trip. So the reality is that the cost of your trip in 2020 will be higher by a few pounds than if we were not offsetting the carbon emitted. We are still very competitive with our prices, and hope that you will agree that offsetting the carbon emitted by supporting projects like the one in Sumatra is the right thing to do. 

As already described, there are significant additional benefits to the local communities of this project and all those being supported by Livelihoods Funds and KE around the world. As Bambhang explained to me, the ultimate goal for the Yagasu organisation in Indonesia is to maximise the positive impact for the local community. I am very proud for KE to be involved in a project that manages to do that in such an inclusive way, whilst at the same time having a positive impact on climate change.     

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