Our attempt at becoming carbon neutral

The idea

We live in a time where reducing our CO2 emissions has become emblematic in attaining more sustainable lifestyles. However, many of us do so with little understanding of just how much energy we expend in accomplishing the most mundane of activities on a daily basis, from eating food, switching a light on and throwing out the garbage. I think it’s a shame, though, that we don’t also look at compensating for our emissions, rather than merely reducing them. It’s a matter of fact that we simply cannot reduce our emissions to zero, especially in this day and age, and trying to do so is not only unrealistic but will never begin to negate the emissions that we DO create. Compensating, however, entails a longer-term vision and goal; that we may one day begin to neutralise or even reverse the harmful effects of our emissions. I think that this goal is far more worthy and fulfilling, and can be the start of reversing decades-worth of emissions.

The goal

We, as TEDxWageningenUniversity, figured that if we are really going to champion the mantra of “practice-what-you-preach”, then we too will make our own efforts to compensate for the emissions we created in setting up and running our event. We think to compensate for the gas that was consumed to run the venue; the fuels burned to bring over our guests; the electricity required for running our computers; and the energy used to produce our drinks, food and paper. As such, we established a general figure that amounts to our grand total of carbon emissions, and subsequently calculated how many trees we would need to plant (and over how long a time) before we can break-even: that comes to around 60 trees over 10 years. More specifically, we wanted to plant these in and around Wageningen itself into to illustrate that compensation CAN happen at a local level.

Our means

Finding a location was much easier said than done. We spoke with potential sponsors; companies, WUR, and student housing organisation to name a few. Oddly enough, Wageningen is just simply too green. Wageningen municipality, however, managed to heed our project and put us in touch with a network of community and neighbourhood gardens. As of now, six community gardens have a total 28 beautiful, new trees. We even managed to convince WUR to allow us to plant a couple of trees on campus; you can find our TEDx apple trees in the courtyard between the Gaia and Lumen buildings! Arboretum Belmonte (Wageningen’s own living museum) also allowed us to plant a Japanese cherry tree into their collection.

Needless to say, all this could not have been done without the gracious help of two of our sponsors: Kwekerij Dependens, sponsoring more than half the trees planted, and GreenSand which donated special potting soil enriched with olivine (olivine reacts with atmospheric CO2 and stores it as a mineral).

Thus far, we have planted a total of 33 trees across 8 locations in and around Wageningen. While these are fewer trees than we had initially endeavoured to plant, and has set us back with respect to our compensation goals, our limited budget has meant that we must stop with this – albeit not-so-small –  achievement. We underestimated the cost of planting fruiting trees and the limits of our finances.

The real impacts

33 trees planted is still an achievement that we wear proudly on our chests. Even though we did not achieve our ultimate goal, we did achieve other things that we did not initially anticipate. In addition to making some strides in capturing our carbon emissions, we also managed to unite people around a common goal. First of all, we had a fantastic team-building day; from being outside together (in rather chilly weather), getting our hands dirty, posing for silly pictures and trundling on our bicycles to the various locations. Moreover, everywhere we went we were warmly greeted by fantastic volunteers, lively neighbourhood residents and impassioned curators. We found that social capital is also created; while this was not considered in our calculations, it is still a significant consequence that helps to bind all sorts of people together around a common goal.

Another impact

Another sponsor of ours, OnsZaden (www.onszaden.nl), also donated 100 bags of baobab seeds to the audience of our TEDx event. While we did not manage to plant all the trees we wanted, it may just be the case that some of our audience will plant their own trees, so maybe – just maybe – we will succeed in our goal of making our event carbon-neutral!

A small take away

All of these positive impacts, anticipated or not, make the whole endeavour feel great and worthwhile; great, not just for the environment, but also for people like you and my team and I. While it has not been easy, it is extremely rewarding in and of itself. I wholeheartedly recommend everyone to do just a little bit, to feel the joy of doing something really great and empowering!

A special thanks to:
Kwekerij Dependens (www.dependens.nl), GreenSand (www.greensand.nl) and the TEDx team

Tree Planting Day

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On a bright and balmy Saturday 29th of September, seven students from TEDxWageningenUniversity joined forces with Wageningen locals for a tree planting day to raise awareness about carbon emissions and to partly recapture our own in organising the TEDx in Wageningen. Before we start, though, we must go back to April of this year when TEDxWageningenUniversity got in touch with the municipality about organising several tree planting events. After much deliberation (and a slight lack of available space), five locations were selected across town for 13 apple and pear trees to be planted. The chosen locations were all strips of land in the middle of residential areas that, while belonging to the municipality itself, are maintained and cared for by the neighbourhood with the purpose of providing locals with free fruit and vegetables. In this way, access to fresh produce becomes a right for the community. Now; traipsing across Wageningen with 13 trees needs quite some organisation. In charge of this event were two fellows named Tim and David, who had not only chosen the planting sites but also ensured that they were prepared beforehand. Armed with shovels and spades, bikes and a WUR van, the team set out towards the first location where the first three trees were planted. As David went over to the next site in the van, the rest of the team had to pedal behind, though this was not terribly fruitful (please forgive the terrible pun). The second site was hidden between houses, and, in the confusion, caused the team to haul several trees up and down Wageningen in search of the elusive address. What awaited them were two young boys who, having grown impatient, had already started to dig up the earth. It was a great example of the bond between the neighbourhood and nature; whole families were out in the sunshine, tending to their own gardens and actively participating in the tree planting. TEDxWageningenUniversity took the time to talk about the importance of carbon sequestration and to promote the main event on the 7th of November. To the chagrin of the seven students, and to the glee of the parents about, the boys had outdone everyone around, and soon the team was off again. The remaining trees were planted without a hitch, and by noon the session was over with hot coffee. We are in the process of organising two more dates to plant the remaining trees (to be determined), ideally on WUR Campus and on Idealis grounds. Another, larger event is also in the works to plant more, non-fruiting trees such that by the end we will have planted 60 trees in total. In other words, we want to plant enough trees that, over the course of a generation, we will have sequestered enough carbon to make the entire event carbon-neutral! We would like to give our thanks and appreciation to our sponsors Dependens –  the Dutch fruit-tree nursery that supplied TEDxWageningen with the trees – and GreenSand. GreenSand (a company belonging to one of the event’s speakers, Eddie Wijnkers) provided us with a special soil that contains olivine, a mineral that is able to react with atmospheric CO2 to create silica and magnesium carbonate! Neat stuff! See you at the next event, and, of course, on the 7th of November!

TEDx Pitch Night

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On the 10th of September TEDxWageningenUniversity hosted a pitch-night at the Impulse building on WUR campus to select two speakers with the chance to perform on stage at the main event on the 6th of November. Of the many initial applicants, ten amazing speakers were shortlisted to pitch and covered a myriad of topics including on the circular economy, food waste, and ecosystem restoration. The jury itself was made up of a panel of several, fantastic professionals and experts. Two winners were picked; Charlie Williams, whose fascinating speech covered green tech and its contributions towards the Green Wave; and Alex van Tuyll, choosing to discuss the upcoming concept of urban farming and some great ideas – though he tactfully withheld his key one for the main event! The pitch-night attracted a great number and variety of people; becoming a veritable hub for sharing curiosity, having discussions and asking questions! Our host for the night was the excellent chairman of TEDxWageningenUniversity, Michiel Voskamp. We thank everybody for attending and participating so actively, and we hope to see you all on the 6th of November at Junushoff, Wageningen!