Female Eco-Entrepreneur Awarded For Taking On Carbon Market

As we reported last week, Jane Burston, Director and Founder of carbon offset company Carbon Retirement, has been named in Management Today’s 2011 “35 under 35” list of talented female leaders in UK business. This is the 11th award Jane and her company have received in three years, so we thought we'd take a closer look at this remarkable eco-entrepreneur..

At just 30 years old, Burston has taken on the male dominated world of carbon trading to build a successful business. Carbon Retirement leverages the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, an international market in which industries buy and sell “pollution permits”, to bring positive change to the voluntary carbon offset market.

Both carbon trading and carbon offsetting are male dominated professions; in a report issued by Climate Human Capital, only 7% of senior hires in the Environmental Commodities market between July 2010 and March 2011 were women.

Burston is the only woman leading a carbon offset firm in the UK.

Carbon offsetting has in the past been a source of reputational risk for organisations but Burston attempts to reduce this risk for clients. Her approach offers clients a unique carbon offset model which is more robust, measurable and transparent than traditional carbon offset methods. Carbon Retirement buys “pollution permits” that are needed by heavy industry in Europe (as part of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme) and then permanently removes them from the system so they cannot be used. This forces industrial companies that would have bought the permits to reduce their
emissions instead.

In the three years since inception Burston and her company Carbon Retirement have won a total of 11 accolades for innovation, entrepreneurship and ethics.

Q. Why did you decide to build carbon retirement, and how was the transition from the public sector to enterprise?

A. "I decided to launch Carbon Retirement because I saw that the voluntary carbon offsetting market was growing fast - it doubled in value in 2007 and tripled in 2008 - but it was marred with controversy as people debated the value of the projects being funded.  I wanted to launch an alternative way of doing things that provided exactly what people wanted: a risk-free way of reducing emissions in our own backyards – and a transparent service they could rely on.

My motivation is to bring a different ethic to carbon offsetting – I want to create long-term change and reduce the developed world’s reliance on fossil fuels. 

Launching an environmental business in a recession was never going to be easy, but I'm passionate about the product, so going for it was the only option!

I used to work in public sector strategy consulting, so I already had experience of delivering programmes that are designed primarily with non-financial outcomes in mind but which need to be commercially and efficiently run. "

Q. Why do you think women account for only 7% of senior hires in the Environmental Commodities market, and how can we get more women in this space? How many women have you hired in your team? 

A. "There are very few women in financial and commodity markets in general and that's reflected in the carbon markets.  A huge number of graduates are now interested in the low carbon sector, and when we advertise a role we tend to get an even split of applications from men and women.  I've recently hired a woman as my Assistant Director and expect more women to be promoted and recruited into senior positions as the market matures."

Q. Many people do not really understand the carbon offset market despite its fast growth. Explain “carbon offset” and “carbon trading” in your own words.

A. "A voluntary "carbon offset" is where a company or individual pays for an emissions reduction elsewhere, in order to cover the emissions they can't avoid.  Traditionally this has happened through buying credits generated by projects such as tree-planting or renewable energy in developing countries. 

Carbon Retirement works differently. We buy “pollution permits” that are needed by heavy industry in Europe and then permanently remove them from the system so they cannot be used. This forces industrial companies that would have bought the permits to reduce their emissions instead. This is the only completely risk-free way to offset, as every tonne we remove is guaranteed to create an additional reduction.  Our approach creates long-term change by weaning heavy industry off carbon in the developed world, where emissions per person are high.

"Carbon trading" is the practice of buying and selling carbon credits in the carbon markets.  There are two different type of carbon market: the voluntary market and the compliance market.  The voluntary market is made up of businesses and individuals who want to offset their emissions.  The compliance market is a policy governments use to reduce emissions from heavy industry.  Plants and factories have to buy pollution permits to cover their emissions, and because there's a limited number of permits this means they have to reduce them

We're unique in that we bring these two together.  We allow businesses and individuals to access the pot of permits needed by industry, so they can offset by reducing the number of permits in the pot, and help move the developed world off its reliance on fossil fuels."

Q. How was the business funded, and what are your plans for the future of Carbon Retirement?

A. "The business was funded by a mixture of social enterprise grants and angel investment. 

We plan to scale up our operations, both through attracting business clients that are already using offsetting and are unsure that the reductions are being delivered, and from businesses that have not yet offset to date but want to take responsibility from their emissions.  As we're used by more businesses we also anticipate that sales to individuals will increase, as our business clients often promote what we do to employees and customers.

We strongly believe that our approach can and should become the future of offsetting, both in this country and abroad.

The UK government endorses what we do under its Quality Assurance Scheme for carbon offsetting.  Evidence shows that voluntary offset buyers are seeking more robust projects – this is the only model which gives 100% certainty that the emissions reductions are additional.  The voluntary offsetting market is large and getting larger – in 2010, 131m tonnes were offset globally.  Our model can make sure these reductions genuinely happen."

A Cambridge graduate with a first class degree in Philosophy, Burston spent four years working in a strategy consultancy before moving to public sector climate policy development at Transport for London. She set up Carbon Retirement in 2008 to provide a reliable method of carbon offsetting for
businesses, consumers and the public sector.

Carbon Retirement’s clients include FTSE 100 private equity firm 3i, New York Stock Exchange, the Church of England and the UK Committee on Climate Change – an independent group of the UK’s top climate scientists.

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