The board of Young FMO from left to right: Nada Coici, Shahzad Memon, Hervé Kacou and Sander Daniëls
The FMO 1.5 Challenge shows us how the personal choices we make in everyday life can reduce our CO2 emissions and help to halt the ravages of climate change.
The world has arrived at a pivotal point this year. On the one hand we are facing a global pandemic, while on the other, the effects of climate change demand our urgent attention, especially if we are to meet the target set by the Paris Agreement of keeping the rise in global temperature to below 2° C, and preferably at 1.5°C.
That is why the Young FMO (YFMO) network, created for FMO’s employees aged 34 and under, took up the baton this summer when they came up with the idea of an FMO 1.5 Challenge. For three months, from 1st September to 1st December, a group of 50 FMOers were selected to live within a CO2 emissions budget of 5.16 tons. To put this in perspective, the average emissions per person in the Netherlands (and other Western countries) is 19 tons per year, so reducing this by two-thirds in the key areas of Transport, Energy and Food, means some drastic changes are needed. As an incentive, the contestant who manages their CO2 ‘budget’ the best has been promised a wonderful, but for the moment secret, prize.
We spoke with four participants in the challenge who provided us with insights into their experience so far, as well as tips they discovered along the way.
Senior Accounting Officer at FMO
Credit Officer at FMO
Data Architect at FMO
Impact Analyst at FMO
While the 1.5 Challenge will help us learn how to make the better lifestyle choices that slow down the effects of climate change, it also has important implications for FMO’s future strategies. Tackling climate change is a central pledge of FMO’s Sustainability Policy, and if we are to align our investment policy with this going forward we must ‘walk the talk’ and learn more about how to introduce sustainability into our daily lives by reducing our annual CO2 emissions to the 5.16 ton goal needed to keep the temperature rise at 1.5°C.
YFMO asked Ajay Varadharajan the CEO of Greenswapp to support the participants throughout this project. His company specializes in calculating the cost of CO2 emissions based on the environmental accounting used by scientists, and Greenswapp not only provided the participants with interesting challenges, it also provided them with interesting tips and strategies for reducing their CO2 emissions. From Ajay’s perspective, this is a truly future-minded project. He said, “Not only is it very progressive, it’s science-based and to translate the 1.5 target into daily life is very exciting.”
Making the best choices for the planet
All the challenges are about making the best personal choices for the planet. Food is a significant contributor to CO2 emissions, and a part of our lives where we really have the power to dramatic changes, which is why two of the Challenges set by Greenswapp focused on meat consumption and food waste. We spoke to some of the participants in the challenge who provided us with insights into their experience so far, as well as tips they discovered along the way.
Ajay Varadharajan - CEO of Greenswapp
“Not only is it very progressive, it’s science-based and to translate the 1.5 target into daily life is very exciting.”
Meat vs a plant-based diet
The ‘Meatless Mondays’ challenge asked those who eat meat daily to not eat it on a Monday, and those who eat it only a few times a week, to designate one day only where they would eat it, and suggested they kept that meat day for special social occasions where avoiding meat might be difficult.
There is a scientific reason for reducing our meat consumption. For example, a vegan-only diet saves 0.9 tons of CO2 emissions per year, and if you only eat meat on one day per week, you save approximately 0.6 tons. Ajay said, “We need to choose lower impact food products, otherwise if we are to keep within our 5.16 ton budget, we would need to reduce these significant savings elsewhere, which would be very difficult. When choosing what you eat, don’t think in terms of calories, think in terms of CO2.” So, if you do want to enjoy a juicy steak once a week, you will have to consider how you will compensate for that to balance your budget.
Food waste is a serious issue in the West. Household food waste averages out at 9.5% of products purchased, equivalent to 0.24 tons of CO2 per annum. It may not surprise you to know that bread products, dairy and vegetables are the top three food categories where most waste happens, and the challenge here is to consume everything we buy and cook, as well as rethink our shopping habits. Buying smaller amounts, especially those products that go off more rapidly, is one way we can stop ourselves from throwing so much into the bin.
“Be guided by the contents of your fridge.” She explained, “Even if you are following a recipe, and one or two ingredients are missing from your store cupboard. Don’t buy them: adapt the recipe to what you have. Who says that a pumpkin, goat cheese and pine nut quiche can’t be made with mozzarella and sunflower seeds instead?”
Energy consumption is another challenge. Using electricity provided from the National Grid in most countries means using fossil fuel-based energy. Switching to a green energy supplier saves 1.5 tons of CO2 per year and reduces your impact by 8% in one simple action that only takes a few minutes, and Greenswapp provided the participants with information about the greenest suppliers in the Netherlands.
Natascha told us about her experience with this challenge: It’s quite difficult to decide which energy supplier to choose, there are so many. I received some tips from other team members and after checking the site of one supplier I noticed I could become a co-owner of a few wind turbines for 5 years and receive an extra discount.” Natascha was proud of reducing her CO2 in this way, until her daughter aged 9 said, “You know these things kill birds, right?” highlighting the fact that ‘going green’ is not always a straightforward choice.
Tom thought this was one of the most fun challenges. He told us, “It is actually remarkable how a different way of producing can lead to the exact same outcome. Despite the green energy, the shower still works the same!”
Ram however, discovered a snag in this exercise. He said, “Many ‘green’ providers with a 10 score do not produce/invest in electricity production but are purchasing electricity in the energy market. I tried to look at the provider who is investing the most dollars in green energy to make the choice.”
The laundry challenge highlights the impact of our use of washing machines, tumble dryers and dishwashers on sustainability. Together these machines consume three-quarters of our household electricity. The CO2-saving steps given to the participants, if performed correctly, would not only save Euros, it also saves 1 to 2 tons of CO2 per year, or a 5-10% reduction in a person’s total annual impact. Only washing during off-peak hours, using more cold water washes and shorter washing cycles are small adjustments we can all introduce into our domestic routines.
Natascha gave us a handy tip: One of our team members talked about laundry eco balls and of course it did make me curious. I Googled them and people were quite enthusiastic about them. Now I’m the owner of one of those balls. And because I do want to put my towels in the dryer I also bought two dryer cubes, which shortens the drying time.”
Bulk buying detergent was one of Greenswapp’s tips, so Tom bought 60kg of washing powder and saved around 30€. As he said, “I’ll not run out for the next few years.”
And Paulina said, “Put white vinegar on your shopping list. It can be used as a fabric softener, as well as for cooking.” She enjoyed the challenge of changing her laundry routine to reduce her energy consumption at peak times, but as she said, you do need to put some serious thought into altering your everyday behaviour.
Ram, who has young children, already owns an eco-friendly washing machine. He told us, “We try to do the maximum amount of washing on sunny days so it can dry outdoors, and even do it during peak energy hours if that means not having to use a dryer.”
Air travel, as most of us know, is a huge contributor to CO2 emissions. A single transatlantic flight accounts for about 2 tons of CO2, or a whopping 10% of our annual impact. Fortunately, the challenge addresses differences caused in our flying habits due to COVID-19 and challenged the participants to offset the last 1.5 years worth of their flights. They also learned from Greenswapp about the importance of choosing a carbon-offsetting project verified by the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism.
Taking the 1.5 Challenge forward
Although the 1.5 Challenge is not yet completed, we can already see changes in behaviour. It is to be hoped that everyone involved maintains the changes they have made, and that they pass their tips and experiences onto others within FMO and in their communities.
Tom told us,“I do recommend that others follow the challenge, and there’s no need to overestimate the efforts you have to put in.”
Ajay summed up why he believes the Challenge is so valuable: “One of the best things about this project is that it is not just an academic exercise, it’s in the context of daily life, and that also puts the huge global challenge in perspective.” When asked about the outcomes he hoped for, he told us, “It’s a fantastic opportunity for the participants to share their experience with colleagues, family and friends, and we know that personal recommendation is one of the best ways to encourage others to adopt changes in behaviour.”
We look forward to seeing the end results of this challenge, and discovering the winner. With climate change being one of the most important challenges of our lives, we should be encouraging as many as possible to learn from this YoungFMO initiative.
Taking a group picture during Covid-19