Brand Builders: Future Forests

The climate protection company is making a commercial success of being environmentally aware, writes Ben Bold.

It is not every day that one receives a letter from Brad Pitt, but that is exactly what happened to Future Forests founder Dan Morrell earlier this year. The envelope contained a cheque for $10,000 and a letter informing Morrell that the Hollywood star wanted to become a 'CarbonNeutral citizen'.

Pitt is just one of a raft of celebrities keen to work with climate protection business Future Forest, which aims to combat global pollution. The organisation's other supporters include famous names as diverse as Kevin Keegan, Lord Bath and rock band Foo Fighters.

Aside from superstars, consumers in the UK and overseas are becoming more familiar with the term CarbonNeutral, which was coined and trademarked by Morrell and Future Forests co-founder Sue Welland. Although it has yet to be included in the Oxford English Dictionary, Morrell is optimistic.

'How great it is to have trademarked something that is part of the English language,' he says.

The term is based on an equation that calculates how an individual or a business can offset the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by their activities.

The words are intended to act as a powerful reminder that society must strike a balance between mass-consumerism and responsible living.

Future Forests works with a number of businesses to help them to measure, then offset the greenhouse gases that they produce. 'If they do not have their climate-change litigation sorted out, they will be valued on the stock market as a future liability,' Morrell says.

Honda, for example, gives car buyers a pack explaining that a Future Forests tree has been planted for them (allowing for three months' CarbonNeutral driving). Other Future Forests corporate clients include Avis and DHL.

As awareness of Future Forests and CarbonNeutral grows, so it is hoped the case for consumers to choose environmentally responsible companies, over those not addressing global concerns, will strengthen. This month the company began its first integrated campaign by partnering with Radio Taxis Group's fleet of London cabs (Marketing, 2 March).

The idea for Future Forests sprang from unusual ground. In the mid-90s, Morrell was working in the music business, sourcing tracks for TV ads and synchronising the airing of the commercial with the single's release.

In 1996, while backstage at Glastonbury chatting to former-Clash frontman Joe Strummer, Morrell's lifelong ambition to improve the environment came to fruition.

'Joe and I were watching these trucks and vans arriving and talking about the greenhouse gases they must be creating on tours,' he explains. 'I thought, "I know what we can about it. We can plant a forest." So Joe became the world's first CarbonNeutral citizen.'

To run Future Forests as a proper business, however, Morrell's talent needed tempering. It was at this point that Welland entered the story.

Her background is in marketing and advertising and she met Morrell while overseeing a project for Visa's sponsorship of the 1996 Olympics. 'When we first met, Dan had just been bitten by a parrot and had a big plaster on his lip,' says Welland.

It is hard to imagine Welland ever being bitten by a parrot and both she and Morrell readily admit they are very different from one another. 'We have complementary characters. I had a need for passionate imagination and I met his need for somebody who could be a bit more serious,' adds Welland.

The fact that Future Forests is a business, not a charity, means corporations prefer dealing with it. The organisation has grown by 60% year on year since launch, and last year had a turnover of EUR2m (£1.4m). 'We know companies like dealing with a business because they demand a service from us,' says Welland.

However, having forged deals with firms in areas such as banking, telecoms and music, some sectors are proving more elusive. Not surprisingly, these are generally the worst culprits when it comes to pollution. Morrell and Welland clearly want to court them. As Morrell says: 'We have always wanted to work with a petrol company, a supermarket, an FMCG, an airline and a utility.'


1997 Dan Morrell and Sue Welland set up Future Forests as a business.

1999 A potential client Andrew Owens, founder of independent oil company Greenergy, likes the idea so much he invests in Future Forests and provides office space. The term CarbonNeutral is officially registered.

2000 Avis UK signs up as a CarbonNeutral company. Future Forests raises £1.35m investment from venture capital company Zouk Ventures for the first stage of growth of the business.

2002 The UN's World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg offers CarbonNeutral flights and Avis extends its programme across Europe with CarbonNeutral rentals. A further round of investment is achieved from ethical bank, Triodos.

2003 Future Forests is commissioned to create a citywide campaign in Newcastle to reduce CO2 emissions.

2004 The company increases its staff to 24. Its corporate clients now include Honda, HSBC, World Conservation Union, Ricoh UK and EMI.