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Last Updated: Monday, 17 December 2007, 01:37 GMT
Land Rover aims to join the greens
By Peter Plisner
BBC News, West Midlands

Land Rover in Uganda
Land Rover has signed up to carbon offsetting schemes in Uganda
If you ask the average person in the street what carbon offsetting is most will probably have heard of it, but might not actually know what it is.

The concept is relatively new and there has been much debate about its merits in cutting greenhouse gases.

Nevertheless it is a multi-million pound industry aiming to reduce CO2 emissions all over the world.

Vehicle manufacturer Land Rover is using it to offset both its own production emissions and those of some its customers.

Since September last year Land Rover has been offering customers the chance to offset the first 45,000 miles of every new 4x4.

Conventional stoves

Like satellite navigation or alloy wheels, it is an optional extra on top of the price of their new vehicle.

Since the scheme was launched 55,000 Land Rovers have been sold and so far only two customers have refused to sign up.

Deforestation in Uganda
Half of Uganda's trees have been felled to meet charcoal demand
One of the offsetting schemes which Land Rover has signed up to in Uganda involves investing in the manufacture and promotion of energy efficient stoves, which burn less charcoal.

The end result is lower emissions than conventional stoves and a 37% reduction in charcoal usage.

It is claimed that if just two stoves are used the reduction in CO2 emissions is equivalent to running a Land Rover Discovery for one year.

Use of the stoves also helps to reduce deforestation in Uganda which has seen half the country's trees cut down for charcoal.

Vehicle's tailpipe

However arguments continue over whether carbon offsetting is merely a tool for absolving guilt.

Environmentalists are concerned that it does nothing reduce emissions from a vehicle's tailpipe.

Another issue is that drivers are not being encouraged to travel less.

Workers at a stove factory in Uganda
Land Rover is investing in energy efficient stoves
Birmingham University's Sustainability and Environmental Advisor, Dr Trevor Shields, says: "It gives the wrong impression that we can still drive around as we are doing now and somewhere else in the world those bad driving habits will be offset."

He suggests there is still a need to reduce direct emissions by driving less and driving more fuel efficient cars.

Land Rover maintains that carbon offsetting provides a "stopgap" measure while it develops more environmentally friendly technologies for its vehicles.

At its HQ at Gaydon, Warwickshire, engineers are working on a number of concepts including hybrid engines, more lightweight components and vehicles that reduce fuel consumption by switching off the engine when stationary.

The company's Managing Director, Phil Popham says: "We're investing 700m over the next few years on environmental technologies."

Carbon offsetting is described by some as a clever way of allowing drivers to carry on as normal but, away from the arguments about environmental worth, schemes like the one in Uganda benefit the local community.

Because the stoves in Uganda are more fuel efficient, they burn less charcoal and ultimately it means that poorer families have more money with which to buy food and other essential items.

Schools which use them say they have been able to buy more books for the children.

And the factory that produces the stoves employs around 50 people, providing much needed jobs an area where unemployment is high and living conditions are poor.

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