Climate Action

This entrepreneur is walking 25km a day for 153 days to help reverse his carbon footprint

This image shows a tree trunk with a red footprint on to illustrate a carbon footprint

Could you reverse your carbon footprint? Craig Cohon is attempting to do just that Image: Craig Cohon

Anna Tobin
Writer, Forum Agenda
Craig Cohon
Entrepreneur and Accidental Ultra Endurance Athlete Campaigning For Carbon Removal, Walk it Back
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  • To minimize the disastrous effects of climate change, the world must reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  • Each individual's carbon footprint varies depending on where they live in the world and their economic circumstances.
  • This entrepreneur has emitted more than his fair share of carbon and now he has committed to reversing his lifetime's carbon footprint.

It varies depending on where you live in the world and your economic circumstances, but the average person born in the 1950s is expected to emit 350 tonnes of CO2 over their lifetime. Former World Economic Forum Global Leader of Tomorrow, Craig Cohon, who has held C-suite positions at The Coca-Cola Company and Cirque du Soleil and founded multiple startups, knew that he had far exceeded this global average. For example, he regularly flew across the world several times a month.

So, Cohon started thinking about how much damage he had personally done to the environment and whether he could actually take back as much carbon from the atmosphere as he had emitted into it over the years. Always up for a challenge, he knew he had two complex problems to solve. First, he had to accurately calculate how much carbon he has expended over his lifetime. Second, he had to find proven ways to wipe out that carbon footprint.

Craig Cohon is getting ready to reverse his carbon footprint
Craig Cohon is getting ready to reverse his carbon footprint Image: Craig Cohon

Here, Cohon explains how he calculated his carbon footprint, how he is paying this carbon debt back and his mission to encourage others to do the same.

What made you decide to reverse your carbon footprint?

I realised that, although I am not guilty, I am to blame for my part in the climate crisis and about a year ago I was challenged by a journalist to reverse my lifetime carbon footprint. So, I went home and decided to calculate this. I then found out that I was the first person in the world to try to calculate their lifetime carbon footprint and it was an intensive two-month process. I started by asking my 85 and 84-year-old parents everything from how much beef I ate as a child, to how many flights we took. Then I hired people to help me with the calculation. I went to Fund Nature and MyCarbon and they worked on all the data and calculated that my lifetime carbon emissions were 8147 tCO2e or 136 tCO2e a year.

That is 28 times more than the global average. It got me thinking, can I remove it? I didn't know anything about carbon removal, but I'm learning more about it every day.

Total Lifetime Carbon Footprint (8147.99 tCO2e)
A breakdown of Craig Cohon’s lifetime carbon footprint Image: Fund Nature and My Carbon

How are you going to reverse your carbon footprint?

I am investing my entire pension fund in carbon reduction solutions. I've signed a contract for forward carbon credits to support frontier technology that is collateralised. This will put millions of dollars into a portfolio of new types of carbon removal technology, including direct air capture, mineralisation, kelp sequestering and turning CO2 into concrete. My portfolio combines nature-based solutions with frontier-based solutions.

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What is the World Economic Forum doing to help companies reduce carbon emissions?

There is scepticism about some carbon removal schemes. How do you assess their worth?

The key is to make sure the science works on carbon removal. I'm working with an organization called Patch, which runs a very detailed analysis and vetting process on carbon removal schemes and its certification process is intense. There were some schemes that we discounted because they didn't meet the criteria.

I approached it like vetting a private equity deal. I had to do my due diligence. If I start asking questions about a company's certification process and management and I don't get the answers or the follow-up documentation, then I am not going to invest my pension fund in it.

Have you read?

You are embarking on a journey to raise awareness and funds for more carbon removal, what does this involve?

I decided as part of this project that I wanted to raise awareness of what I was doing. So, I am also starting a multi-year campaign on carbon removal. The Walk it Back campaign involves walking around the world with a group of diverse individuals. We are teaming up with the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum and working with an amazing activist group called Re-Earth, which is supporting me and talking to city leaders about what I am doing.

The campaign starts with me walking from London to Istanbul on 3 January 2023. I will walk 25km per day for 153 days and I'm walking with different people every day. People that will be joining me en route include the CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, the chairman of ScottishPower, the chairman of Conde Nast, activists, financial people, artists, politicians, and climate justice experts, as well as a bunch of mayors who will walk with me through their towns and villages.

The Walk it Back timetable from London to Instanbul carbon footprint
The Walk it Back timetable from London to Instanbul Image: Craig Cohon

I'm crossing 14 countries and 82 cities and I will hopefully be raising awareness for 17 million people along the way. Every day is going to be a new adventure and I will be followed by two refurbished containers pulled by clean-energy trucks, one is my living quarters and the other is the campaign headquarters covered in art that describes ten different types of carbon removal technology.

I'm pretty excited about reimbursing the planet and redeeming myself.

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