Interview with Carbon Offsetting Specialist Daren Howarth of C-Level | Ocean Bottle Store

Interview with Carbon Offsetting Specialist Daren Howarth of C-Level

The climate crisis is damaging the ability of land to sustain humanity.  Global warming is increasing droughts, soil erosion and wildfires- whilst diminishing crop yields in the tropics and thawing permafrost near the poles. But the future is bright, below is one of the exciting solutions that we can all be part of. 

Carbon Offsetting has become something often offered as an add on to travel bookings and purchases. But there’s a way of taking offsetting to a more holistic level, to something coined by Daren Howath as Carbon Balancing.  Daren has been in the world of carbon for nearly two decades and runs C-Level business that helps people and businesses offset their carbon footprint. 

OB (Ocean Bottle):

Explain in layman’s terms the difference between carbon offsetting and carbon balancing and why it matters? 

DW (Daren Howarth):

The term carbon offsetting has been around for a while. So has its twin term carbon neutral.  To an extent it’s what C-Level offers the responsible businesses we work with and the individuals who find us. But we see a bigger picture, one that incorporates culture change, living systems and community.  

What is more meaningful for us are the terms we actually coined when we started up, Carbon Footprint and Carbon Balanced.  These are the twin terms needed for responsible action on carbon - and a lot more besides.  

First calculate your impact using carbon as the simple currency to work out your Carbon Footprint. Second, do something wholly beneficial about your impact. This is Carbon Balanced. It’s bringing together the natural powers of ecosystems and people to bring CO2 down to earth. 

So what we mean by C-Balanced is mainly action on carbon with indigenous forest and peoples.  Without getting too detailed, trees provide one of the best technologies we have on the planet to sequester CO2 as they grow and go about their life! Through photosynthesis, the life force of the planet, CO2 can be moved out of the atmosphere and locked into trees and soils.  I have worked with the Biotect and Earthship builder Michael Reynolds, and like he said, “trees have really got it together on the earth” We should take a leaf out of their book.

So rather than just offsetting, we are talking about verified ways to compensate your recent carbon footprint with intensely holistic projects that anyone can connect with, invest in and see results from.  

A good example of the difference, was a project chosen to offset UK government flights when they first started doing that. It was achieving carbon neutral through investment in technology to better process excrement that was coming out of factory farmed pigs in Thailand.  Before the project the excrement was going into great pools of anaerobic water, creating methane. By adding technology, the project enabled this release to be avoided. A great and quantifiable result from a greenhouse gas point of view. But, when you take an ecological and systems view, the project was connected with animals being a part of an industrial process let alone the carbon story of humans on a meat diet. Big renewable electricity projects like hydro-dams can also look great at first if you think of switching from coal burning power stations, but they displace people and are responsible for vast releases of methane from rotting flooded vegetation.

There are many fabulous technology projects around, especially some of the smaller ones, like those doing cleaner cook stoves and solar lighting.  These are well worth it and do create wide benefits. But for C-Level, at a time when so much of the earth’s living skin is being exploited and destroyed, we have a heartfelt intention to be as deeply involved as we can be with forests and the people close to them. That is what being C-Level Balanced is all about, not just selling offsets.  

Hazda, one of the individuals involved in a C-Level project within the Yaeda Valley, Tanzania


How have you seen the carbon offsetting world change over the past few years? 


Big changes have happened in the sector I work in.  I have seen the cycle of change before. Pioneers come up with new ideas.  There is a lot of creativity, a lot of pioneering passion, but this then gets impacted by the pincer movement of bandwagoning and accounting mindsets.  It happened with the greening of business wave of the 90’s. What started as passion to transform business practices turned into British Standards and the explosion in the rather misleading phrase sustainability. 

With the carbon sector a similar pattern has played out. Maturity and acceptability brings many benefits of course. But what we have seen is people chasing the money a bit too much.  We have seen focus come and go and come back again as some of the main players in the sector blow with the winds of the market. So in 2000 the passion and vision was all about a future with forests.  Then the market switched to the more tech idea of being carbon neutral, and then years later forest and nature are back in vogue - big time. C-Level has remained pretty much on course over this time. As have ‘offsetting’ projects at the heart of our Carbon Balancing - humbly providing natural climate solutions - carbon, ecology and social benefits. It’s worth noting that the original standard by which ‘carbon offsetting projects’ can be verified is called Plan Vivo - meaning Living Plan. It was developed around the amazing Scolel’te project in Chiapas, Mexico, a project still running and still part of the C-Level portfolio. And the Plan Vivo Standard is still providing the project design and verification integrity that is essential for everyone looking to do something meaningful about their Carbon Footprint. Plan Vivo now operates in a market full of competing carbon standards - most of which are well funded and aimed at bigger projects.  I love attending the Plan Vivo Network gatherings. I have yet to meet anyone from any project or country that is primarily in it for the money, and that keeps me coming back for more. 

A hand-in-hand mangrove regeneration and fishery project in Kenya


Where would the OB community see the most impact if they invest in carbon balancing?


Action on Carbon for All Of Us

The potential for balancing business and individual footprints is immense in my view.  I think we have only touched the surface of what we can do. There have been some great initiatives to really get people on board (lets avoid the term consumers here! That term is a bit of dark magic - yes we need people buying the right products, but ones that are made to last and by design encourage people as conservers not consumers).  

Take Future Forests who I worked with in the late 90’s.  Dan Morrell the co-founder used music to bring people on board with his vision.  Fast forward well over a decade and fellow ecopreneur Kate Dillon Levin is enlisting Prince Ea who created his music video Future Generation - Sorry.  

But now the people energy is rapidly rising again. C-Level is experiencing an unprecedented level of interest in our balancing services.  Not least from individuals…both straight off the streets of the internet, and also from within bigger companies, where they may be operating as green trojans!  So our rational is simple. Deal with what you have done - #burntitbalanceit. We are dealing with footprints made. If you fly, or have flown anytime, anywhere, balance your flight using the C-Level Flight Carbon Calculator.  Anyone can do this right now and choose one of our holistic projects to partner up with.  Forget making a Will - Make a Living Plan! And if that is not enough personal action on carbon for today, then take just balance your life for the last year on our balanced life carbon calculator.

Mangrove reserves within the Mikoko Pamoja Project on the Kenyan Coast


Lastly,  we are delighted as you know to have contributed to the Blue Forest Projects, Mikoko Pamoja, and are hoping to support future project Vanga Bay, on the Kenyan Coast. Can you talk a little bit more about the importance of mangrove forests in our ecology and also the great success of this particular project?

C-Level is right at the start of working with Ocean Bottle to balance their business.  It’s a great fit, and exciting times to be helping each other. As we start looking at ways to balance Ocean Bottle, we have connected them with amazing Blue Forest projects in mangrove villages on the Kenyan coast.  Mikoko Pamoja is the first project and means mangroves and people together in Swahili. It’s almost the Swahili phrase for C-Levels mission and our core service. What’s important about getting more of our clients involved in this project is the sheer natural powers of these liminal forests.  Mangroves bring down (sequester) many times more CO2 than land forests. So they produce a lot of carbon benefits (verified as carbon credits under Plan Vivo Standard). But they are being cut down all over the world, and yet these two humble projects are models, beacons of possibility. We put together a shoe-string film with the project team, one of our 101visions - a micro-documentary called Blue Forests.  In this we explored what these villages and mangrove forests are achieving.  The forests literally underpin the villages. They hold back tidal surges and erosion (vital as sea level rises) and they provide nurseries for the fish that provide most of the protein needed by the village people.  News got out about the project and it won the UN Equator Award. It then picked up funding from Leonardo Dicaprio and just maybe, Vanga, the second mangrove village project is the start of scaling this amazing Living Plan.


Thanks for your time Daren, keep fighting the good fight and please give us an intro to Leo! 

Dear Future Generations, the video apology from Prince Ea

More about C-Level and how to balance

The mangrove project we committed to:

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