On the one hand, it’s just a forest. There are beautiful redwood trees and clean air, cool, quiet creeks and hidden wildlife. You know, a forest. The kind that have existed for millions of years. On the other, it’s a carefully managed collection of natural resources that lets companies pay money to make their products more beneficial to the environment. Welcome to the Garcia River Forest.
For our purposes, the Garcia River Forest is interesting because of its connection to Volkswagen. Its young redwoods are helping Volkswagen create something almost unheard of in the automotive industry: a (mostly) carbon-neutral car. The 10,000-foot overview of how this works is as follows: when you buy the electric car, part of your money goes to support three carbon offset projects. These projects (the one in the Garcia River Forest, the Big River And Salmon Creek Forests in California, and the McKinney Landfill in Texas) have put a price on the value of not letting more carbon get into our atmosphere. The calculations come in the form of credits per metric ton of CO2 and VW has paid enough money to cover the emissions it generates during the production and distribution of the e-Golf as well as the charging for around 36,000 miles of driving. VW worked with 3Degrees, a provider of carbon offset services, to calculate the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that each e-Golf will be responsible for, from the factory to the driveway. The Garcia River Forest location is managed by The Conservation Fund (TCF). VW originally announced the carbon-neutral program back when it revealed US details for the e-Golf, in August 2013.
Stuart Gardner, project manager at VW of America for the Golf family, told AutoblogGreen that the idea for the carbon offset came from the way VW understands plug-in vehicle buyers. “At Volkswagen, we strive to be leaders in e-mobility and developing alternative powertrains and we realize that, when someone buys an electric vehicle – the e-Golf, for example – they are doing more than just buying an electric vehicle,” he said. “They are buying a lifestyle and they want to engage in this lifestyle.”
VW is not releasing the specific amount of the purchase price of each e-Golf that is directed to the Garcia River Forest (or any other carbon offset projects).
Alterra Hetzel, forest carbon business development manager for TCF, told AutoblogGreen that the Garcia River Forest is one of four northern California forests that TCF owns and manages as both working forests (which means that logging is allowed, following certain guidelines) and as a carbon offset project. The carbon that is saved comes from the difference between what would be logged if there were no limits (some areas of the forest have been clearcut, twice, under previous owners) and what TCF now allows. TCF wants to keep local economies that rely on the forest in operation, while also keeping the forest healthy and getting a benefit from the carbon credits. Those credits are verified and tracked.
“Companies like Volkswagen want to show climate leadership and corporate responsibility, so they will support carbon offset projects like the one here at Garcia River Forest,” she said. “Essentially, they are protecting these forests so they can be conserved into the future for future generations by purchasing carbon offsets. That carbon financing is not only protecting these forests, it’s providing a host of co-benefits for wildlife, biodiversity, threatened species like coho salmon [and] steelhead trout.”
Now, as cool as this program is, the truth is that VW has already purchased the credits for the projected e-Golf sales, so really it doesn’t matter if anyone buys another of these EVs or not when it comes to the current funding round. Then there’s the limited time frame. The 36,000 mile/three-year length of the e-Golf project was chosen because that’s a standard warranty period and “we thought that would be interesting to the customer.” Gardner told AutoblogGreen that there is currently no option for e-Golf drivers to pay more to offset more miles, “but I think that’d be something interesting to look into.” There are also no plans to extend this sort of carbon neutrality to any of VW’s ICE vehicles. Until then, that’s what TerraPass and similar groups are for.
Nonetheless, given all of the work that VW has put into this particular project and the rest of its ThinkBlue initiatives, we came out of the Garcia River Forest quite impressed. Everything can always be improved, but that shouldn’t stop us from appreciating that what VW’s doing here is almost literally hugging trees.