Start your own CRAG! Carbon Reduction Action Group
What is a CRAG
A CRAG (or Carbon Rationing Action Group) is a group of people who have decided to act together to reduce their individual and collective carbon footprints. They do this in annual cycle. First they set themselves an annual emissions target or “carbon ration”. Then they keep track of their emissions over the year by keeping a record of their household energy use and private car and plane travel.
Finally, at the end of the year, they take responsibility for any “carbon debt” (i.e. emissions over and above their ration) that they have built up. All carbon debts are paid into the group’s “carbon fund” at an agreed rate per kilo of CO2 debt. The fund is then distributed as agreed by the members of the group.
How do we start a CRAG?
Here’s a guide to the practical issues involved in starting up a CRAG. First there’s a quick checklist to get you up and carbon rationing in super quick time, while the following sections go into the practicalities in somewhat more detail. For more in-depth information on how CRAGs operate, see CRAGs: a short guide.
- Summary: the Nine Steps
- Finding people for your CRAG
- Friends and Local Networks
- In your community
- Through the website
- Ideal group size
- The Really Important Meetings
- First meeting
- Second meeting
- Moving on …
Summary: the Nine Steps
- Download and read CRAGs: a short guide.
- Agree on what you want to count. To keep it simple you might want to just focus on heating, electricity, car and plane travel. Some groups are trying to count public transport as well.
- Agree on the conversion factors you are going to use. Probably worth checking out what other groups are using. You might decide to put a zero conversion factor on certain things e.g. Ecotricity or wood.
- Calculate or estimate your individual carbon footprints over the last year. Feel free to use our worksheets or spreadsheets.
- Agree on a target for this year. Most groups seem to be going for 4500 kgCO2 per person in 2006/7.
- Agree from when to when your carbon year will run e.g. January to December or April to March.
- Agree on the penalty for holding carbon debt at the end of the carbon year. Most groups are currently going for 4 or 5p per kgCO2 debt.
- Agree anything else you think is necessary at this stage e.g. an optional cap to carbon debt.
- Decide how you are going to keep track of your carbon over the year. Will you email a “carbon accountant” or will you do your sums each time you meet up and if so how often will you meet up?
If you have followed these 9 steps you are already carbon rationing! Good luck! The only other thing your group needs to decide is what to do with any carbon fund that appears at the end of the year.
Finding people for your CRAG
You can find potential CRAGgers amongst your own friends, in local groups and your local community, or through this website. The opportunities are boundless! It is tempting to look for a mix of high and low emitters but it does not really matter. It is much more important to find a group of people that get on and that you can build trust amongst the group.
Friends and Local Networks
A good place to start is with your own friends, work colleagues, networks and local groups – green groups, cycling groups, faith groups and other campaign groups. Try sending out an email to people in your own address book and onto email lists where the recipients know you. Even facebook can be useful. Friends know what to expect, they will feel comfortable about calling you up and asking questions and will happily forward your email to others they know that might be interested.
This approach is likely to result in a small group of keen committed and supportive members who “get it” pretty much from the off and are not put off by the “less is good” message. In the subsequent meeting or two, you will manage to agree on how your CRAG will operate and go “active” within three months of the initial meeting. Most of your members will already be pretty heavily committed to other activities so, while willing to participate in the CRAG, don’t be disappointed if most do not have the time to help you facilitate the group or seed new groups if that is what you would like to do.
In your community
Alternatively, breaking outside of the usual suspects is particularly rewarding. Make use of notice boards in community centres and libraries, and the local paper. Make announcements or write short articles for neighbourhood newsletters. Try to provide as much information as possible, tell them about yourself, give them links to the website and newspaper articles, where the group might meet and how often it might meet but without being over prescriptive. Surprisingly there are people out there who want to take personal action on climate change but have no intention of ever campaigning about it.
A larger, more mixed initial gathering of people is likely, some of whom may actually be there to argue against what you are proposing! It will be more difficult to establish a consensus over what you will count, how it will be counted, what ration you will allow yourselves and what reward/penalty system you will apply at the end of year for carbon saving/debt. You may end up with something that is very different from what you originally envisaged. On the other hand, you may enthuse someone who is not tied up with other commitments and decides the CRAG is what they want to do.
Through the website
Set up a group space on the carbon rationing website. This is the shop window for the group. Many groups leave their group page blank and wonder why nobody else has subscribed! Post up the contents of your emails so that others can see that you really do want to start a group. Edit your personal profile and talk about climate change and your contribution to it and say as much or as little as you like, see Jacklyn’s inspiring profile. This is a slow but steady way of recruiting members and requires very little effort. (If people do contact you about your CRAG please respond even if you do not plan to call the first meeting for several weeks).
Ideal Group Size
You can start a CRAG with any number of people but a small CRAG might not survive a small disagreement and a large CRAG won’t easily fit in a front room. A group of ten works very well but not everybody knows nine other people that are mad enough to join a CRAG. In which case, you might want to gang up with someone else who will share the responsibility of recruiting the other members; finding five people is much easier. If you are working on your own, try holding a meeting with those that have shown interest so far and discuss how to recruit a few more people. Experiments are ongoing with much larger groups of up to 50 members each, but we haven’t yet seen how successful they can be.
The Really Important Meetings
The first two or three meetings are really important; this is when the CRAG will make the key decisions, it is also the time when some people will drop out. But the good news is that others will be very enthused and motivated by the whole thing. You also don’t need to ask people to commit to being in a CRAG for six months or a year; just work on the basis that if they come to the third meeting they are probably are going to stay!
Before inviting everyone to the first meeting, ask everyone to roughly calculate their carbon footprint (using worksheets or spreadsheets or anything they are comfortable with using). Every CRAGger needs to know whether they are likely to be high or low emitters before deciding how much carbon credits will cost or whether there should be a maximum penalty! It also helps if they have read about CRAGs, for example CRAGs: a short guide.
Not every CRAG member is going to be able or want to come to every meeting. However when a group of environmentally aware people come together, there is no shortage of things to discuss. Be prepared for some discussions to take a while and don’t try to cover too much at the first meeting. Consider allocating time for particular items and having a chair to ensure everyone gets to speak and that they don’t interrupt each other! Some people can be intimidated (or just bored!) by the more vociferous or informed, and may be deterred from returning. Try to ensure that everybody in the CRAG buys into every decision even if they don’t agree with it. The challenge is to agree the rules before anyone drops out!
Recording and publishing the decisions the group makes in the early meetings is invaluable especially when it comes to settling up. Before the meeting you might want to looking at the agendas and minutes of other groups to see what they decided in their first meetings e.g. Oxford, Islington.
Here are some suggestions for items that you might want to discuss in the first two meetings:
- Agree on what you want to count. To keep it simple you might want to just focus on heating, electricity, car and air travel and ignore travel by public transport. Or you might decide to only record journeys public transport above 10 miles. But keep in mind that commuting long distance by train can really add up over the year.
- Broadly agree on any financial rewards and penalties. Most groups have penalties of 4 or 5p per kg of CO2 debt., some groups reward low emitters as well.
- Agree to set a maximum penalty. Each CRAGger then knows in advance the maximum amount that they would have to pay (but it is a cop out!).
- Agree on allowances for any children in the group.
- Agree a start date.
- Agree on how you are going to communicate with each other between meetings. Several groups use a yahoogroup.
- Agree on when and where the subsequent meetings are going to be held. You don’t need to meet every month.
There are then some less important technical and practical issues that you might want to leave to the second meeting.
- Agree on which if any suppliers of green tariff electricity qualify for a carbon discount.
- Agree on how aviation emissions are going to be counted. CO2 from flying is a complicated issue. You can enter miles into the CRAG spreadsheet but it is wildly inaccurate. The most reliable approach is to calculate the emissions using a good external website such as Climate Care.
- Agree on all the other conversion factors. These are generally uncontroversial. The CRAG speadsheet uses numbers from the Carbon Trust; most other calculators use similar numbers. There is generally no need to differentiate between different types of rail travel or even between rail and coach unless you have a long distance commuter in your group.
- Decide who the group’s coordinator is going to be and who the “carbon accountant” is going to be. These are two largely separate roles in a CRAG. The roles can be done by one and the same person but it is better to have two people share the load. This can be very effective as there is little overlap in the work.
- Agree on how carbon emissions will be recorded. This can be done with a combination of diaries, spreadsheets and web sites. It is important that everyone believes that everyone else is recording their emissions correctly especially if the high emitters are going to be buying carbon credits from the low emitters. It is not that CRAGgers are likely to be dishonest with each other but some CRAGgers do keep very meticulous records of all their trips while others find this very hard to do.
- Agree on how carbon emissions will be recorded. Will each CRAGger calculate his/her own emissions? or will each CRAGger email the “carbon accountant” or will the whole group try do the sums each time you meet up?
- Agree on the settlement process. Are you going to open a bank account with a friendly organisation? If high emitters are paying low emitters i.e. effectively trading carbon, you need to decide how much each low emitter gets. Or are penalties going to be paid to an appropriate campaign or cause?
- Agree on when and how often you are going to settle. Most groups settle every 12 months but 6 months isn’t so long to wait.
- Agree on whether you are going to allow unused credits to be carried from one period to another, this may be fair if you settle every 6 months.
If you have followed all the steps you are already carbon rationing! Subsequent meetings can be a little more relaxed and there’s time to talk about the finer things in life; grey water systems, energy efficiency ratings and insulating houses with solid walls.
CRAGs: A short guide
- The Background
- The CRAG Scheme
- How to join
- How it works
- Frequently Asked Questions
The main aims of the scheme are as follows:
- to make us all aware of our personal CO2 footprint
- to find out if it can help us make radical cuts in our personal CO2 emissions
- to help us argue for (or against!) the adoption of similar schemes at a national (DTQ) and/or international (C&C) level
- to build up solidarity between a growing community of carbon conscious people
- to share practical lower-carbon-living knowledge and experience
In 2003, the average UK citizen caused 5.4 tonnes of CO2 to enter the atmosphere 1. In order of importance, these were due to:
- air travel (1.8t)
- household heating (1.5t)
- car use (1.0t)
- household electricity consumption (0.9t)
- other public transport use (0.2t)
These five categories make up our so-called personal CO2 emissions. Personal CO2 emissions make up about half of the UK’s total. The other half is caused by businesses and the public sector.
A sustainable level of personal CO2 emissions may be as low as about 0.6t. This represents a 90% reduction from today’s level. To avoid dangerous and potentially runaway climate change, this may need to be achieved by 2030 2. To achieve a 90% reduction in personal emissions by 2030 would require a rate of reduction of close to 10% each year.
The CRAG Scheme
CRAGs give us all an opportunity to start contributing our fair share to that goal. For simplicity, the basic scheme covers the first four categories (96%) of personal emissions only, that is: air travel, car use, household heating and electricity. The scheme assumes these came to 5t, i.e. 5000kg, of CO2 per person in 2005. The personal ration of each member of the group is decided by consensus during the first few weeks of the carbon year. So far most groups have settled for a ration of 4500kg in 2006 with the carbon year running from April to March. The CRAG scheme potentially rewards those who live within their ration and penalizes those who exceed their ration. In this sense it follows the general principles of Contraction and Convergence 3 and Domestic Tradeable Quotas now renamed Tradeable Energy Quotas.
How to join
You join a CRAG by letting your nearest group’s “carbon accountant” know and by explaining something about your living circumstances as this will affect how your CO2 is counted.
For example, my details are:
- I share a house with 3 others
- Our heating is by coal, oil and wood
- We don’t get our electricity from a renewables source
- Three of us own cars; one of them is mine
- I am the only one joining the scheme
My ration would therefore have to cover 1/4 of the household’s emissions (no matter how much or little the others contributed to the total) and all of my car’s emissions (no matter how often others borrowed or shared my car).
If there isn’t an existing group near you, give us a shout and we will help you start your own.
How it works
At the start of the year, the carbon accountant will credit your CO2 account with your annual ration (4500kg in 2006). Every time you get an energy bill, a new MOT or a plane ticket, you will let her know the details (e.g. how many kWh of electricity, annual car mileage, flight destination, etc) and she will debit the equivalent amount of CO2 from your account and let you know your new CO2 balance. This should not mean you sending her more than about 12 to 15 emails a year.
At the end of the year you are overdrawn, she will ask you to pay off your carbon debts! Debts will be paid at a rate of so many pence per kg of CO2. The participants will agree amongst themselves what this rate should be. They must come to an agreement by the end of the first quarter of the carbon year as defined by the group. Debtors will pay their dues into a “carbon fund” held with a friendly bank. The fund will then be distributed in a way agreed upon by the group, for example, amongst the CO2 savers in proportion to their share of total savings, or to a charity, or to a green project, or a combination of all of these or none. It is up to each group to decide for itself.
To understand what this would mean in practice, let us assume that in 2006 the participants settle on a rate of 10p per kg. Imagine you have used up your ration of 4500kg and want to make another journey. You will now be going into carbon debt. At 10p/kg, a car journey from Birmingham to London will cost about £4, a return flight to Athens will put you back £188 and a return flight to New Zealand will cost £1200!
At the end of the year, whether you are in CO2 credit or overdrawn, if you want to remain in the scheme, you should send the carbon accountant paper copies of your energy bills, MOT and plane tickets as proof of your year’s carbon footprint. These should get to her before the end of the first month of the new carbon year. Carbon debts due on the old year should be paid in by the end of the second month of the new carbon year. The carbon fund should be distributed by the end of the first quarter of the new carbon year just as the group is deciding on the new year’s ration and carbon penalty.
Threat of exclusion from the scheme is the only means of enforcement at our disposal.
You will be excluded if:
- you fail to provide proof of your carbon footprint by the agreed deadline, or
- you fail to pay off your carbon debt by the agreed deadline, or
- you opt out of the scheme
The last one prevents people going off for a carbon binge and rejoining the next year without paying their carbon dues.
Frequently Asked Questions
The answers to these FAQs are only suggestions. Ultimately it is up to each group to agree by consensus.
Q1. How will the carbon accountant calculate the CO2 emissions associated with the energy use that I report.
A1. She will use the conversion factors that the group has agreed upon. These will be posted on the website. Most groups currently use those obtained from the coinet.org.uk website. They are the same figures as used by CAT and Mayer Hillman. The numbers come from the DTI and include a 3x factor on air miles to account for the enhanced warming potential of gases emitted at altitude. Please feel free to check the accountant’s arithmetic when she updates your balance
Q2. How can we ensure the group hits its annual emissions target?
A2. If total CO2 savings are equal to or greater than total CO2 debts at the end of the year, then you will have hit or bettered your target. This may not happen in the first year because the group may (not unreasonably) choose to set the cost of carbon debt too low. You will probably be more radical in the second year and easily hit your target.
Q3a. I am a student and live 30 weeks a year in a hall of residence and the rest of the year I am either travelling or at home with the folks. How does that work?
A3a. Your personal share of electricity and heating energy consumption is difficult to quantify. You probably don’t have much control over them. It is suggested you accept the CO2 ration for car andplane use only (i.e. 55% of standard ration) and report only these.
Q3b. What happens when I move out of hall and into that flatshare?
A3b. You’ll get the full ration. We will divide the household’s emissions calculated from the bills by the number of people officially resident and that will be your share of emissions.
Q3c. What if energy bills are included in the rent?
A3c. You cannot be serious! But if you are, I would suggest you get a copy of the bill off the landlord and we would do it as per A3b above.
Q4. What is to stop me cheating by not reporting a flight?
A4. Only your conscience. This scheme will depend on us trusting one another not to cheat. The better we know each other the easier this will be. Therefore the more local the group the better. Groups should aim to meet up at least once a quarter to catch up and compare CO2 notes.
Q5. Can I join part way through the year?
A5. Yes, but you’ll need to report your CO2 emissions (i.e. dig out your energy bills, MOT and plane tickets) for the first part of the year.
Q6a. I have a baby. Does she get a full ration too?
A6a. Yes, as does any dependent that lives full time in the same house as you. Discussed at Allowances for children?.
Q6b. What will the carbon accountant do when I report our household energy use?
A6b. I will calculate the CO2 equivalent and debit half of it from you and the other half from your baby’s account.
Q6c. What will she do when I report our car mileage?
A6c. She will calculate the CO2 equivalent and debit all of it from your account. It’s your car after all.
Q6d. What will she do when I report our air travel?
A6d. If you both flew, she will calculate the CO2 equivalent for the journey and debit it from each account.
Q7a. I live with my partner and we share a car but he is not interested in his CO2 emissions. How will that work?
A7a. You will be debited only half your household energy emissions whether he joins in the group or not.
A7b. If you own the car, they will be debited from your account. If you don’t, they won’t. We have to keep it simple.
Q8. I drive/fly on business. Does that come out of my ration?
A8. The scheme only covers car/plane travel for private purposes. If you use your car for work AND private use, you will have to explain how you split the mileage. Don’t you have to do that for the taxman anyway?!
Q9. Add your own here!