First things first: There’s a lot of debate surrounding this topic. Global climate change remains a charged topic, season after season … especially since those seasons seem to be, well, changing. It’s hard not to notice as scorching summer temperatures creep ever upward along the thermometer, as we batten down hangars with steadily increasing frequency and as flood cleanups become a fact of life. If you really like the idea of continuing to skydive for the next few decades, the politics fade in importance in favor of the imperative: do something. Or take up pinochle.
To date, a few clever folks have made excellent efforts to do information-gathering about our sport’s environmental impact, including Bryan Burke, former Safety and Training Advisor at Skydive Arizona in Eloy. Burke did the research and wrote a truly excellent article on the subject for Dropzone.com. (If you haven’t already, read it at tinyurl.com/greenskydive. Right now.)
A couple of folks have even gone beyond illuminating the problem and have stepped forward to solve it, laying the groundwork for a new legacy in the sport … a green one.
Environmental activist Michael Conti, native to Skydive the Ranch in Gardiner, New York, has been in the clean-energy space for his entire professional life, and he’s been interested in the commercialization of green-energy technology for even longer than that. These days, he’s a vice president in the Renewable Power Group at Goldman Sachs. The RPG is an independent solar-power producer being incubated within the larger organization as part of its $150 billion commitment to clean energy. RPG works with developers to invest in large solar powerplants across the country. Now, he’s also the drive behind another big initiative, but this one’s just for skydivers. It’s called Transformation Carbon.
“With Transformation Carbon,” he explained, “we’re effectively creating a packaged solution for skydivers to very easily and relatively inexpensively offset their carbon impact directly related to their skydiving activities … and help people, as well.”
To understand Transformation Carbon, you have to be familiar with its story, which starts when Conti came to skydiving in 2009. He got serious about the sport quickly and just as quickly realized the rapidly darkening gray area it was in environmentally. He started to strategize about how he could use his hard-earned experience and knowledge surrounding commercial clean-energy technology and, as he put it, “sort of clean up the mess.”
“You have a couple choices here,” he began. “You can say, ‘I’m going to reduce my footprint by not participating,’ but that was never an option for me, personally. Theoretically, you could change the technology of the planes, but that’s too expensive to work realistically in the skydiving sphere. I felt compelled to create another response.”
Over the years, as Conti kept traveling to the world’s boogies, he found himself in more and more conversations about ecological responsibility in skydiving. “Everywhere I went,” he said, “I found more skydivers interested in what we can do, as a community, to stem this tide. We know that our activity is dumping unnecessary carbon into the atmosphere, but—all the while—we aren’t going to stop.”
It took Conti some time to wrap his brain around the best way to approach the problem. He wanted it to be bite-sized, accessible to the entire community and make instant sense. The latter, as it turns out, is the hardest part. “The concept of asking people to pay for something they can’t see is always a challenge,” he remarked. In the end, the “aha” moment came when he connected the concept of community.
“I had been aware of a company called C-Quest for a while,” he said, “and had purchased carbon offsets from them through other programs they offer. I had met with the CEO, Ken Newcombe, who’s also an activist.” C-Quest is a social-impact project developer founded in 2008. Much like Conti’s work with RPG, C-Quest develops projects all over the third world that promote cleaner cooking, efficient lighting and sustainable energy. The tracking mechanism they employ is offset credits—generated by each project they develop—that clearly, reliably and accurately show each project’s impact.
As it turns out, the math is pretty straightforward. The approximate average carbon dioxide (CO2) emission per person per skydive is about 27 pounds. Carbon offsets generated from C-Quest’s Transformation Carbon portfolio of projects across the world cost $8 per metric ton (approximately 2,205 pounds) of CO2. Therefore, one skydive costs about 10 cents to offset. And that’s where the “transformation” comes in with Transformation Carbon: when TC investments, in the form of Verified Carbon Offset Credits, are applied to fund C-Quest’s proportional carbon offset projects in the actual-factual real world.
Here’s an illustrative example: One of C-Quest’s projects is an investment in fuel-efficient, low-smoke cookstoves for families in Zambia. A set of two of these improved stoves, over their seven-year projected usefulness, reduces CO2 emissions by about 25 tons—or $200 in Verified Carbon Offset Credits.
In addition, the stoves reduce fuel consumption by 70 percent. In a world where that fuel is collected in the form of wood by women and children, the absence of an associated 113,154 pounds of wood (about 40 sedans’ worth) results in hundreds of extra hours. And they use it, too: Women start businesses; children spend more time in school.
It’s not just stoves, either. The Transformation Carbon concept leverages several internationally recognized carbon-credit programs. One of these promotes sustainable forestry. “I think it would be really cool if we were able to grow the program to the point where we could incentivize farmers in Central and South America to maintain a forest that would otherwise be logged or harvested,” Conti said. “If that could be done in the name of our blue-sky community, I think that would be a huge win. Very ambitious, sure, but very symbolic and tangible.”
“The goals dovetail beautifully,” he continued. “We enable other people across the world—who just don’t have the means to participate in a leisure activity like we do—to better their lives. We can build bridges through this mechanism and all the while do something that happens to be really good for the atmosphere by offsetting carbon emissions.”
So far, the feedback has been very positive. In fact, the Australian Parachute Federation called Conti last month, “keen on the whole program.”
“It would be wonderful to have every drop zone in the world make this product available to skydivers who either work or participate in the sport as a leisure activity,” Conti said, “but what I would also love to see is more conversation around the topic. Ours is just one project to help address the goal, and I’m sure there are bright minds out there who can think of many other great ideas.”
Care All Foundation
On the other side of the world, powerhouse Will Penny is working on the same lofty project but with a different team and from a different angle. The Care All Foundation, a skydiving charity Penny co-founded with Allegra Nasi in 2017, had previously focused its efforts on financial aid for injured skydivers. This past year, after a galvanizing conversation with team ToraTora’s legendarily forward-thinking member Jasper van der Meer, Penny decided to expand into a climate initiative.
“[Jasper] said he’s been wanting to do this since the end of last year,” Penny remembered. “He had a couple of events on the ToraTora calendar that he had the money and the desire to offset but not the means. He came to us because we have a full-fledged foundation, the whole of which is dedicated to skydiving. He asked if he could work through Care All to set up the logistical backend of things. We were so excited to be part of that. We couldn’t agree fast enough.”
According to Penny, adding a climate initiative was a natural evolution of the Care All Foundation. “There is so much good intention around the skydiving community,” Penny said enthusiastically, “and everyone is super keen to do something. How to do something is [where] most of these good intentions fall flat. We, ourselves, were standing at that gap. Of course, we wanted to do something to help toward this cause, but we didn’t have the legal framework to do it. It took quite a bit of financial investment and energy. We actually had to change our constitution, which has taken a few months.”
“What we are trying to do here is bridge that ‘do something’ gap for everyone from drop zones to event organizers to individual jumpers, because the skydiving community has a clear desire to do more around environmental impact,” Penny said. “Movement in this direction has been happening for many years already in a bunch of other industries, and it’s definitely time for an effort like this to be made.”
Striving for Carbon Neutral
The learning curve has been steep for all parties, to say the least. The last question the Care All team had to answer was about the nuts and bolts: where the foundation actually would send the funds and how it would work when it did. Finally, after much searching, Care All hooked up with KlimaInvest, a well-respected German offsetter with a good understanding of the skydiving industry.
When the program officially launches, there will be a dashboard on the Care All website where individuals, drop zones, organizers and other interested parties will be able to log in and pay for their offset: as an organizer (or drop zone), event by event; as an individual, ticket by ticket or estimated by the year.
Penny, however, pushes the idea even beyond the jump ticket. He believes that manufacturers have skin in the offset game, too. “Think about it: All of the gear we’re using as skydivers is made out of plastic,” he said. “In my mind, drop zones, wind tunnels, athletes and manufacturers all have responsibility. At some point, if things start to collapse and we have to shut down non-essentials for our survival, recreational skydiving won’t make the cut.”
“UPT [United Parachute Technologies] is already on board,” he noted.
Financially, the burden of offset is surprisingly low. Penny quotes cents on the Euro to offset. “If you are engaged in a sport that you are spending thousands of Euros on annually, you have the means,” he said. “Just spend a couple extra hundred to sustain our sport and our industry. It’s a total no-brainer.”
The Care All objective is for skydiving to be completely carbon neutral as an industry by 2030. Penny’s personal rallying cry is to smash that objective and do it sooner. “Why not?” he said, grinning. “This industry has been my life’s work. If we realize in 20 years’ time that it didn’t work, I can live with that. At least I know I didn’t sit idly by. Let’s show the next generation of skydivers and industry specialists how we see this thing turning around. Something like this is going to have its naysayers, but I say let them talk. At least we are doing something other than talking.”
About the Author
Annette O’Neil, D-33263, is a multidisciplinary air sports athlete: skydiver, BASE jumper, paraglider and speed-wing pilot. Location-independent, she travels the world full-time as a freelance writer and producer. In her spare time, she loves flopping around on a yoga mat and carpetbombing Facebook from Instagram.