By Laura Palombi, Erb MBA/MS Class of 2011 and Mike Ott, SNRE Masters Student
After the winter break, several members of the School of Natural Resources and Environment’s EcoValuation Working Group got away from campus and took a trip to Chicago. After class on Thursday, January 14th about 15 members loaded-up and carpooled west to the Windy City where, the next day, we had a whirlwind tour of some of the city’s most exciting centers of ecosystem service market development.
Our first stop was the Delta Institute, a non-profit consulting group working to bring carbon offset projects to life while “blazing a trail for the green economy.” The office is located in the heart of Chicago’s financial district but the office staff are not your typical investor types. Upon arrival, one of our hosts, Ryan Anderson, was thrilled to report that his chicken laid its first egg. This proud moment was followed by a discussion led by Bill Schleizer that helped us understand Delta’s mission to strengthen connections to the environment while improving local economies. Everything about Delta’s approach is hands-on; our hosts had planned an opportunity for us to assess the strategic approach Delta should take given uncertainty about the future of carbon markets and policies.
Later in the morning, we walked around the corner to the Chicago Climate Exchange where we met with Rohan Ma and Steve Donofrio. We were treated to an overview of the CCX and its trading system, an interface composed of trading platforms and the official database of the Carbon contracts traded. The exchange is North America’s only voluntary, legally binding cap-and-trade system for six of the critical greenhouse gasses. It was exciting to see how projects from groups like the Delta Institute and others around the world could be connected to investors and businesses.
Half of us traveled after lunch to visit with Luke Lewandowski of Danish-based MAKE Consulting, a consulting firm focused on wind power. Luke, a 2004 SNRE alum, provided great insight into the wind industry and consulting careers. Having worked in the solar industry prior to specializing more recently in wind, Luke painted a promising picture for young professionals interested in pursuing a career in renewable energy. In many respects, he sees Chicago as the unofficial North American capital for the business operations associated with wind energy – an industry that is top heavy with foreign-based companies.
The other half of the group spent some time at Atrium Brokerage, a boutique firm offering price risk management services for carbon markets. Our host, Brian Rice, found his start in commodity exchange markets as founder of Rice Dairy, LLC and saw an opportunity for growth in the emerging carbon market. Brian gave us a sobering perspective on the risks associated with being one of the first movers, but he also passionately believes in the carbon market as an essential tool for addressing climate change.
We ended the day with a happy hour event for SNRE alumni and had a great time mingling with our fellow SNREds and our new carbon friends.
Saturday, on our return to Ann Arbor, we stopped in northern Indiana at a carbon afforestation project managed by Richard Wineberg of Terra Firma Carbon LLC. Upon our arrival in the heart of the Lake Michigan lake effect snow-belt, Richard and his wife Helene took us on a walk through his forty acre forest demonstrating how he actively manages the land to optimize the carbon storage potential. The project is small, however, compared to the 300,000 hectare plan that Terra Firma Carbon is currently negotiating in Brazil. Richard explained the convoluted process that goes into negotiating land rights in Brazil – a process that is still managed in Lisbon, Portugal – and what considerations go into setting up a large-scale carbon mitigation process. Following the excursion through the woods, the Winebergs treated us to a thoughtful discussion about the future of carbon markets over hot cocoa, wine, and cheese next to their wood burning stove.
We’re already looking forward to planning a similar EcoValuation trip for next year and hope to offer specific areas of interest to a number of SNRE tracks.
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