It’s the Green vision

By Ross Findon

Friday, February 22, 2013

 

It’s the Green vision

David Green with his ideas for an energy self-sufficient Island. Picture by Robin Crossley.

WIGHT LIVING HE is the face of Ecoisland, the man who has spearheaded a campaign to make the Island one of the greenest places on the planet.

But since the 2011 launch of the Ecoisland Community Interest Company (CIC), of which he is chief executive, he has become almost as divisive as the green debate itself.

To critics, David Green produces so much hot air it could in itself explain global warming — if they believed such a thing existed — while to supporters, he has played a vital role in raising awareness of the environmental challenges we face and how they can be tackled.

His role at the head of Ecoisland — a company that pledges to hand back profits to community projects — began in 2011 but the Ecoisland story starts long before then.

It was in 2007, under the world’s gaze, that the Island took its first steps as a would-be eco-trailblazer.

With much fanfare, the then IW Council chief executive, Joe Duckworth, announced to an assembly of national press, business leaders, academics and potential investors, the Island wanted to become one of the first places in the world to become energy self-sufficient.

Beyond that, there were claims the Island could soon be producing so much sustainable energy we could export it.

But as quickly as the Ecoisland vision blossomed, it started to wilt.

The economy started to nose dive in 2007 and the Island’s attention switched from producing electricity to wondering if there was enough money to pay the bills.

Vestas closed its much lauded wind-turbine factory, Joe left for a better-paid job in London and a succession of windfarm plans were rejected.

But, behind the scenes, there remained businesses and individuals passionate about not letting Ecoisland die.

Regularly gathering in a pub — where better to talk about saving the planet? — the group became the foundation for GreenTank and that, in turn, led to the formation of Ecoisland CIC.

As a community interest company, Ecoisland CIC must divert profits back to the community. That has been relatively easy so far — there haven’t been any profits.

Its first set of abbreviated accounts were published this year and showed Ecoisland CIC had total assets, after liabilities, of about £10,000.

The accounts also show that last year David Green was paid £61,000 through his marketing and management consultancy company 3 Green Lights, with another £5,000 in expenses.

As you would expect, David is quick to defend the cost, highlighting the long hours, sleepless nights and, most importantly, the results achieved by the tiny team that actually runs the project.

Following the recent departure of operations manager Joni Rhodes, there is just vice-president Jeremy Waitt, apprentice Rosie Saxcoburg and executive officer Abigail Cooke.

David said: "I have had to underwrite some of the costs at times, there have even been occasions when I have had to pay the wages.

"It’s hard to put a value on the amount of blood, sweat and tears people have put into this — the personal commitment from staff and others who have worked unpaid."

The funding Ecoisland has received so far has come mainly from partnership fees and commercial activities from big names, such as IBM and Toshiba.

"It’s basically sponsorship. The people that are involved with us know that it helps their PR profile.

"There was a set-up phase initially, when we needed money from somewhere for communication and to raise our profile.

"It was difficult to get money from the government or the IW Council.

"My background was with things like the America’s Cup, where all the money had come from sponsorship, so I had the experience of trying to raise these types of funds.

"The companies we got in touch with believed what we were doing was right and it was going to be a significant organisation to be involved with.

"IBM has already said, pound for pound the money it has spent supporting Ecoisland was the best it spent globally last year.

"It sees a value in being associated with the Ecoisland vision."

For many years, David was chief executive of the Cowes charity, the United Kingdom Sailing Academy (UKSA).

During his time at the UKSA, where he had started out as a windsurfing instructor, he oversaw the deal to buy the historic yacht Gipsy Moth IV for £1 and a gin and tonic.

The charity secured funding from local businesses, international organisations and individuals to restore the ship, which went on to sail around the world with crews of young people, giving them a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It was originally hoped the yacht would become a floating museum based in Cowes but it was eventually sold in 2011 to help fund other aspects of UKSA’s work.

"When you have run a charity on a minute budget for 20 years, you become very adept at asking people for help," he said.

But securing the support of big business for Ecoisland is often the easy bit, or at least the easier bit, according to David.

"I find it much easier trying to convince large organisations about the importance of what we’re doing than the average person down the road sometimes.

"I think the idea seems too big, too complicated or unachievable to people," he said.

"The trouble in the early days was all we had was a vision. Soon people will be able to see Ecoisland in tangible assets and investment."

Among the examples of real benefits people can already see is the amount of sustainable energy the Island now produces.

Although this has come from private projects, such as solar farms, Ecoisland has had a hand in advising, promoting and supporting many of them, according to David.

"We have said we want the Island to be net energy self-sufficient by 2020. I can now say we currently generate more energy than we can use five or six times a week.

"It has reached the stage that Scottish and Southern Electric is in discussion with the National Grid because it is not set up to have so much energy fed back in."

More benefits could come from the launch of the Ecoisland Energy Service Company (ESC), which it hopes will help Islanders reduce their bills by cutting the amount of energy they use.

David will step down from his role of day-to-day management of Ecoisland CIC — replaced by a managing director — and take the reins as paid chairman of the ESC.

The company, he has said, will open up new avenues of investment for Ecoisland, not available to community interest companies, bringing benefits to the community.

It will find private investment for energy-saving technology that can be used by Island households to lower their energy consumption.

Those households will see their energy bills fall, while investors will be paid back from a proportion of the savings.

The technology could include things such as energy-efficient white goods and central distribution, which will be able to run appliances at times when energey is at its cheapest.

Several companies are already backing the plan.

To ensure the community benefits, a trust is to be formed, mainly made up of Islanders, possibly joined by some independent experts.

The trust will be funded from ten per cent of the profits of the ESC, which will be able to use that cash to support IW projects.

David, who will not be involved with the trust, hopes it will eventually be able to award grants from £1,000 to £250,000.

"In the early days, the funds might not be that significant but I think the ESC will generate significant income for the trust," he said.

"The fund will be like an IW Dragon’s Den, which would be used to launch new community initiatives."

The first participants in an ESC pilot, part of a trial by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, are due to switch to the company soon.

The hope is, if the model is shown to work, people across the Island will be able to sign up, creating an energy co-operative.

"If we get enough people signed up, we can get a big saving on the cost of buying energy as a bulk purchaser."

That could also help to create greater energy price stability, helping the Island avoid the sharp rises in the energy market.

But there have been plenty of bumps in the road to get to this stage.

Ecoisland has been dubbed Ego-island by critics of David, some of who claim it is simply there to pay his wages and fuel his sense of self-worth.

It is those personal attacks that seem to cause him the most frustration.

"I have put my whole self into this.

"It’s desperately sad that with some of the issues we are facing, it is being so trivialised and personalised by attacks against me," he said.

Others have criticised Ecoisland’s apparent lack of appetite to defend wind energy during the many planning rows on the Island.

"We wholly support wind power generation. I am very clear on this.

"We try to respect a balanced view for the whole community. We recognise one of the greatest assets the Island has is its landscape and there are a lot of people who feel that large wind turbines would be a blot on the landscape.

"You have to try to be sensitive to people’s feelings.

"I also believe there are some efficiency comparisons that need to be made with other technology.

"I would love to see some big wind turbines on the Island but they would have to be in a place where people feel they are acceptable, otherwise all you are doing is alienating the community and turning them against sustainable energy in general — the baby goes out with the bathwater."

There have also been fears Ecoisland could end up duplicating the work of existing charities.

"I would be delighted to work with all the green organisations on the Island and hope they will want to engage with us.

"I can’t blame other organisations that have been out there doing this for years, wondering what we are all about.

"My hope is that all of us will co-operate and everyone will do what they can to bring about the vision for a greener Island."

Looking back at how Ecoisland has performed in its first 18 months, however, David is clearly proud of its achievements.

"I don’t think we could have got to this point in any other way.

"I am not saying we always know how it is going to turn out but I cannot see how we could have achieved more in the time or the resources we had.

"We could not have pulled any more stops out."

David Green at a glance

• Born in Worthing, Sussex.

• Turned down a place studying educational psychology at Oxford Univers-ity to take up a job teaching canoeing and outdoor activities in Scotland.

"I decided I would be able to make a better contribution to the world, outside the system. I’ve always been an idealist."

• Became one of the country’s most qualified windsurfing coaches and joined the UKSA. Became a director for three years and took over as chief executive in 1991.

• Left UKSA in 2006 and formed private company 3 Green Lights, a PR consultancy working with maritime charities and organisations.

• In 2007, became involved with the early Ecoisland concept.

• In 2011, set up Ecoisland Community Interest Company.

Reporter: ross.findon@iwcp.co.uk

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