Carbon Saving Plan

As an idea it’s hard to fault: cut congestion and pollution and boost trade in local shops by rewarding people for not driving.

But as a money making vehicle it’s still up on blocks.

The Carbon Quids scheme was launched a year ago on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield. Walkers, cyclists and bus passengers can earn a discount card valid in local shops. The shops, who join up free, are supposed to benefit from extra business. And the road and the planet are supposed to get a break from cars.

The idea was dreamt up in 2007 by Sheffield firm Counter Context and launched in partnership with Sheffield Council last year.

But a year on and there are just 326 participants – and the cash-strapped authority, which stumped up £60,000 initially, has pulled out.

So, with a disappointing take up, no demonstrable impact on congestion or pollution and no obvious way of making money, all the signs should point to Carbon Quids going broke.

But conviction is a powerful thing.

Counter Context boss Alexis Karachai believes the world is ready to embrace the idea and the company is going it alone.

In his mind Ecclesall Road is just the start, other Sheffield shopping centres like Hillsborough, Woodseats and Crookes could also host carbon saving reward schemes. And eventually it could spread across the country and have hundreds of thousands of members.

With numbers this huge a method of monetising the project would reveal itself, like a genie. Until then it’s a case of ‘build it and they will come’, fingers crossed.

Alexis said:

There is no business model. It’s a good idea and if we develop it one will present itself. It’s a new way of working, we’re waiting for that lightbulb moment.

We come up with ideas all the time, but when we thought of this in 2007 everyone got excited because of the potential for this to be rolled out across the country. It will take a lot to give it up.” 

It may sound back to front, but this is a world where Facebook and Google were launched without a business plan. And the Instagram app – which is free and has no means of making money – recently sold for $1bn.

Giving drivers a nudge to make small energy- saving changes

ITS aims may be trebly worthy – cut congestion and pollution and boost local trade – but will anyone seriously give up their car to earn a 10 per cent discount at Sharrow Marrow?

When it’s belting down with rain, will your typical car commuter swap the saloon for a Stagecoach bus, or a sit up and beg, just to get money off in Endcliffe Park café?

Don’t see it that way, says project manager Gillian Burton. It’s all about raising awareness so that the car isn’t always seen as the only option.

She said:

It’s about giving people a nudge into making the odd change. If everyone makes one or two journeys without their car then that’s better than no one doing anything.”

Non-drivers earn Carbon Quids points by noting a four digit number in the windows of a handful of shops on Ecclesall Road.

They input the number into the Carbon Quids website to earn 10 points. Bus users take a number off their ticket. Ten journeys earn a discount card lasting a month, 30 earns a three-month card.

The company is working on a smartphone app which aims to make the process far simpler, it says.

The scheme depends on honesty.

Initiative’s profile raised

The door is open to every shop on Ecclesall Road, but so far 25 offer Carbon Quids discounts.

Cardholders can get 10 per cent off in shops including Adorn, Alton and James and Cocoa. Cuts of Class and Wolf and Co offer 15 per cent.

Hairdressers House of W are the most generous, offering 25 per cent off all services.

The only problem is low take up. With just 326 participants, shop assistants often look surprised when handed a card.

In its first year Sheffield Council was responsible for marketing the scheme.

Now that Counter Context is going it alone, boss Alexis Karachai says they aim to raise its profile further, with up to £45,000 set aside for marketing.

The company is based in St James House on Vicar Lane in the city centre. It makes money running surveys for councils around the country and specialises in public transport, waste management, energy infrastructure and carbon reduction initiatives.