The Rasamny Younis Motor Company S.A.L (RYMCO) is taking steps to become the country’s most environmentally friendly automotive dealer. In May the company announced it will attempt to reduce its carbon footprint by reducing the amount of emissions it produces as it imports, distributes and sells cars, and by off-setting its remaining emissions.
EcoSecurities is the UK-based company working with RYMCO to identify and offset the auto dealer’s carbon emissions, which they will do through a local company, Sustainable Environmental Solutions (SES). SES will help RYMCO determine how greenhouse gases can be offset with what are known as Verified Emission Reduction units (VERs).
The first step to carbon neutrality is to determine the current emissions produced by RYMCO through its electricity usage, the diesel fuel used by the back-up generator, the staff’s international travel and the company’s own car fleet, said Rachel Mountain, head of global marketing at EcoSecurities.
Where emissions cannot be reduced by RYMCO, they will be off-set by EcoSecurities purchasing VERs on the company’s behalf.
In a voluntary carbon market, VERs are produced by companies who take action to reduce green house gases — by creating solar, wind, biomass or hydroelectric projects — and they are then sold to companies like RYMCO who want to reduce their carbon footprint.
“A VER has the equivalent of 1 ton of CO2 that is generated from the implementation of project(s) that has actually reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” Mountain said.
A VER is not a carbon credit that can then be traded by RYMCO but a mechanism by which EcoSecurities can verify that the auto dealer is carbon neutral — meaning the number of VERs equals the amount of emissions it produces. This certification can then be renewed on a yearly basis. RYMCO is taking the carbon reduction steps because of the nature of the auto industry, said Blanche Baz, public relations advisor for RYMCO.
“Being part of the automobile industry mandates that we take a responsible role for devising strategies to reduce CO2 emissions through increased energy and fuel efficiency,” wrote Charbel Abi Ghanem, RYMCO’s marketing manager, in a press release.
“Though our contribution is considered minute… we are confident that if more companies realize the impact simple measures such as these could have on reducing the harm to our environment, perhaps more of them will apply voluntary emission reduction.”
The corporate shift on the environment
“Environmental sensitivity is taking hold here,” said Sami Nader, economist and professor at Beirut’s St. Joseph University.
Given Lebanon’s fraught political structure, Nader believes companies benefit economically from demonstrating their environmental credentials as it is an issue that appeals across sectarian lines.
“Supporting the green cause does not involve taking any risks,” he said, adding that the message appeals particularly to younger consumers.
The power of the environmental pull is also recognized by the advertising industry, Nader said, which encourages companies to use their environmental credentials to shape their message.
Among the first organizations to approach carbon neutrality in Lebanon were the local offices of international banks, which recognized the appeal it would have with environmentally conscious consumers.
HSBC became Lebanon’s first carbon-neutral bank in 2005 and has continued to raise awareness of climate change, and its green friendly policies, by sponsoring the April HSBC Earth Race.
Bank Med has peppered billboards throughout the country with its own ‘happy planet’ environmental campaign, which features a sapling growing from a pile of money.
Foreign governments have also gotten in on the act. The British Embassy will work with Lebanese municipal governments to help reduce their carbon foot print.
This year the embassy will begin collaborating with EcoSecurities to reduce carbon emissions in three municipalities in South Lebanon, Mount Lebanon and Beirut.
Offsetting or opting out?
Environmentalists are concerned that the practice of offsetting emissions is an inefficient substitute for companies substantially reducing their own emissions.
The practice of offsetting emissions by purchasing carbon credits is popular among companies, and countries who are trying to reduce their emissions in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol.
The environmental benefit of the practice, however, remains unclear.
“Off-setting so far has been a failure,” said Arab Climate Campaign head Wael Hmaidan.
More than 50 percent of global offsetting projects have failed to produce expected emission reductions, Hmaidan said.
“The best thing [RYMCO] could do is stop selling 4x4s and go to hybrid or small emission [producing] cars,” he said, acknowledging that this may run counter to the company’s economic interests.
“Off-setting as a concept should not be perceived as a solution, as it is not,” he said. “But it is a step in the right direction.”