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20 years of Greenfleet

20 years of Greenfleet

Greenfleet is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and CEO Wayne Wescott has his eyes on future milestones. "Like our forests, we want to be here for the next century, and we want to be thriving just like them," he says.

Greenfleet is a Melbourne-based non-profit dedicated to connecting people with real climate action.

The organisation was founded by Henry O’Clery who, while driving with friends from Gippsland to Melbourne in 1996, heard Dr Leo Dobes on the radio saying that "really the best thing you could do is plant a million trees" to alleviate the impact of vehicle emissions.

That planted an idea in his mind and, within a year, the first trees went in the ground at Bass River, Victoria. Greenfleet, the first biodiverse offset program offered to motorists anywhere in the world, was now growing, and it hasn’t stopped since.

In the beginning, Greenfleet was about offsetting motorists’ emissions by planting biodiverse, native forests and restoring original habitats. That’s still a core part of the organisation, but Greenfleet’s offering is expanding, to include all carbon-producing activities and new types of carbon planting (e.g. blue carbon in mangroves and seagrasses).

As CEO Wayne Wescott says, "we've expanded at the sides. We are now offsetting anything from fleets, deliveries and flights, to events and electricity use; and we constantly push ourselves to do new things and create new products."

Over the years, Greenfleet has grown exponentially. It planted its one-millionth tree in 2001. In 2015, they started planting in New Zealand; and by 2017, they have planted 9 million trees and offset 2.8 million tonnes of carbon.

Hundreds of organisations of all sizes offset with Greenfleet, including Telstra, Bendigo Bank, Thredbo, universities and local governments. The Walt Disney Company (Australia) is the organisation’s longest supporter, still offsetting with Greenfleet after 19 years.

Former CFO Nick Capes at the Walt Disney Company (Australia) said, "right back in 1998 we saw the potential of the program and we’re proud to have been offsetting our emissions by planting native forests with Greenfleet every year since."

The partners work well together, joining forces to help protect The Great Barrier Reef through the Remember the Reef campaign.

Thousands of individuals also offset with Greenfleet. Wescott explains that it’s the organisation’s focus on a personal connection that’s forged such lasting relationships.

"We're seeking real change, so we’re after longevity and depth in our relationships. I look to football clubs, for example – they don’t want one-off transactions, they want to build lifelong supporters and relationships," he says. "We've brought that personal connection to the corporate world. The proof of our approach is that a big chunk of our individual supporters have been offsetting with us for more than 10 years."

Greenfleet exists in a dynamic environment. Climate change remains a hot topic in Australia and evolutions in technology are rapidly influencing not only renewable energy, but also the vehicles that are being offset.

"We are in a transition period, and it is going to last ten to thirty years," says Wescott. "Carbon offsetting of electric vehicles is similar to petrol vehicles for the time being, because the energy is still being generated by coal. That will ease off over time as renewables change the equation. Autonomous vehicles, meanwhile, are expected to improve efficiency and ease congestion, which will lessen pollution.

"Climate change is still the most important issue we are dealing with, because it is a system issue. We deal with a lot of big problems as a society - terrorism, addiction, homelessness, you name it - but climate change underscores everything because it impacts the system in which everything else happens.

"We need to ensure we're talking to those people in their twenties and thirties who want to make their mark on the world and improve it, and give them the actions to do it. We need to capture and use more data, because hope is based on optimism, but confidence is based on data."

Despite the rapid rate of change, Wescott doesn’t see the need for Greenfleet lessening any time soon.

"I think organisations like ours, will remain. Protecting and restoring the environment and building green infrastructure is a massive job that will persist for the next couple of hundred years," he says.

"We live in an affluent bubble of Australia. We live lives here that others can only dream of and we have an obligation to the rest of the world to play our climate action role effectively."