I’ve been planting trees to absorb carbon since the 1990s, and in 2008 Carbon Link started planting trees in Kenya as a way to try and slow climate change. In tropical Africa, trees grow up to ten times faster than they do in the UK, so carbon absorption is significantly faster, and the resultant planetary cooling is much more effective.
Although we have been very well supported by the Welsh Government over many years, extra funds are always needed to help us plant more trees – and so the concept of a ‘Climate Shop’ was born.
Starting out as an online shop, where people donated items to be sold to raise funds to plant new trees, it became clear that a physical shop would also be welcomed by communities in Wales.
We set up the first Climate Shop in Lampeter in April 2021 and opened a second, much larger, department store in Aberystwyth in September. Each shop is filled with items kindly donated by people who are concerned about the climate, biodiversity loss, or excessive waste. We stock almost every kind of household item including clothes, books, gifts, jewellery, kitchenware, building materials, tools, and electrical equipment. We’ve even had scooters and cars donated, and we recently received a valuable pair of Welsh gold rugby cufflinks. People in these communities are just incredibly generous.
What’s unique about our shops is that we don’t price our stock in pounds – rather, all our goods are priced in our unique currency of ‘Trees Planted’. Thanks to support from the Welsh Government, we now have a large community forestry operation over in Kenya and it only costs us 20p to plant each tree, so a £3 item in our shop would be sold as ‘15 Trees Planted’. We’re trying to help people understand that whenever we buy pretty much anything, some harm is done to the natural world through the mining, manufacture and delivery, and that between us we’re basically shopping the planet to destruction. With Climate Shop, we are trying to create a completely new kind of retail model where every purchase helps rather than harms the natural world, and our pricing is a key part of this. Spending £100 in our shops will see 500 trees planted in Africa, and those trees will withdraw around one tonne of Co2 from our overloaded atmosphere over the next 20 years.
As well as effectively converting unwanted household items into fixed atmospheric Co2, our shops also help poorer local people access affordable gear whilst diverting materials from landfill, reducing excessive consumption, and helping us make the necessary transition to a more circular economy.
More and more of us are now becoming aware of the wider impacts of our purchasing decisions and we’ve had a tremendous response to our Climate Shops. We’ve been overwhelmed by the support of local people and the generosity shown to the project by the community in Ceredigion.
My advice would be ‘just do it’. Don’t be afraid to start a climate change project that you feel passionate about. We’re running out of time to get on top of the climate emergency and many people now understand that and the imperative need to do something about it, so you will receive support.
The Welsh Government can offer lots of help in the form of advice and grants to get your project off the ground. We started this initiative with one volunteer and over 60 have now helped put it together. If you are delivering a project that supports the climate emergency and you are leading by example, people will see what you’re doing and almost inevitably they’ll be drawn in to help. It has been amazing to be on the receiving end of so much kindness from the people of mid-Wales.
It’s a good idea to start small, like we did with the online shop. It helps you to gauge interest and find out what works and what doesn’t early on, before you’ve made any big commitments. Finding affordable and accessible premises was the most difficult part of a project like ours but, if you work hard to get your concept known, leverage social media, and build a team of great supporters, the opportunities will open up.
I would also suggest you try and be a bit innovative with your ideas. If you can put a new spin on an old idea, it’ll be easier to get exposure and engagement.