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By Grant Yoxon

You might think that burning 50 litres of fuel in 13 vehicles, not to mention the fuel consumed by our two support vehicles, is a huge waste of non-renewable resources simply to prove a point.

We thought so too.

So early on we decided that if we were to run this event we had to do something to account for the impact the 50-litre ChallengeTM would have on the environment. Our solution was to use as little fuel as possible, particularly in our support vehicles, to employ fuel-efficient driving techniques and then to buy carbon offsets.

Avoiding the release of carbon into the atmosphere in one location by implementing an emissions reduction project in another location is known as offsetting. A carbon offset is a net reduction in carbon emissions because the avoidance of one tonne of CO2 released negates the effect of one tonne of carbon released somewhere else.

To purchase offsets for our 50-litre ChallengeTM, we turned to Less Emissions, a Toronto-based firm that sells carbon offsets sourced from Gold Standard-certified projects.

“In the context of a holistic approach to reducing your carbon footprint, Gold Standard-certified carbon offsets can play a significant role,” said Ron Seftel, Director, Less Emissions.

The Gold Standard is a non-profit foundation based in Basel, Switzerland, endorsed by 37 non-governmental organizations world-wide, including WWF International, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Pembina Institute. A Gold Standard-certified project is one that uses renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies that promise sustainable development for the local community. They are international projects that are independently validated to ensure greenhouse gas emissions reductions have occurred according to approved Kyoto methodologies.

Verification of projects that meet Gold Standard certification confirms that the emission reductions not only create positive impacts on the environment, but also on the social networks and the local economy in which they operate.

Unlike offsets from projects located in Canada, Gold Standard offsets are recognized by the international community as being additional to Canada’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, thereby helping Canada exceed its commitment to Kyoto.

Offsetting is only part of the answer to the critical global climate change problem. “It’s important to understand that offsetting should be the last resort in your plan,” says Seftel. “We advise organizations to begin with conservation efforts such as energy efficiency measures to reduce their footprint, and then look for greener options for those products and services that they must consume. Then – and only then – consider offsets for those remaining emissions that you cannot eliminate through conservation efforts or by switching to environmentally benign products and services.”

Our 2008 50-litre ChallengeTM winner travelled 1017 kilometres. It, like all our challengers, was driven conservatively. Fuel efficient driving techniques – adhering to speed limits without impeding traffic and accelerating gently, for example – were employed. Our test involved compact cars, vehicles that represent a fuel efficient alternative to larger sedans and SUVs. Amongst the 13 compact cars, the Toyota Corolla demonstrated that it has superior fuel economy, achieving highway fuel consumption of 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres, and beating its highway Energuide rating of 5.6 L/100 km by a considerable margin.

2008 Ford Escape Hybrid; photo by Grant Yoxon
Photo by Jim Kerr
Support/camera vehicles for the Autos 50-litre ChallengeTM were a 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid (top, by Grant Yoxon) photo and a 2007 Toyota Sienna (Sienna photo by Jim Kerr). Click image to enlarge

Two support vehicles were used to carry food, water, safety gear and additional fuel, as well as to transport our partner, Motoring 2008’s camera crews. Ford of Canada provided their 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid – our current fuel economy challenger – which proved to be capable of carrying a lot of stuff while achieving a highway fuel consumption of just over 7 L/100 km. The Escape Hybrid won Energuide’s 2007 award for most fuel efficient vehicle in its class (Special Purpose). Our second support vehicle, a 2007 Toyota Sienna minivan, also won the Energuide’s 2007 award for being the most fuel-efficient vehicle in the Minivan class.

Despite our efforts to conserve fuel and to choose fuel-efficient support vehicles, we nevertheless burned over 900 litres of fuel in the 13,623 kilometres covered by our fleet of 15 50-litre ChallengeTM vehicles. Six-hundred-fifty litres fuelled the cars on the event until they ran out of gas. Each received an additional five litres to enable them to get to a gas station, while some required additional fuel to ensure they returned to the staging area at Atwill’s Service Centre. Our support vehicles consumed an estimated 146 litres of fuel.

Less Emissions estimated that our event emitted 1.989 tonnes of C02, which we could offset for $38 per tonne. It’s a small price to pay to prove a point. And one that will be recovered if just one reader decides to trade in their Chevrolet Trailblazer sport utility vehicle (2600 L/ year and 6240 kg of CO2/year) for a Chevrolet Cobalt compact (1600 L/year and 3840 kg of CO2/year) or a Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid (1500 L/year and 3600 kg of CO2/year)*.

*Litres per year and CO2 emitted per year provided by Natural Resources Canada. See NRCan’s Fuel Consumption Guide to compare fuel used and CO2 emissions for any vehicle sold in Canada.

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