Craig Cohon has had an unusual career. The 59-year-old Canadian helped bring Coca-Cola to Russia in the early 1990s and co-owns Cirque du Soleil in the country. He once managed an opera singer and worked for the World Economic Forum.

Those decades of globetrotting took their toll on the planet. When Cohon decided to calculate his lifetime carbon footprint, encompassing everything from his adult travel to his childhood diet, he pegged it at 8,147 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent — 28 times the global average.

“I feel that I am 100% accountable and 100% at fault for my personal damage to the world, and I am not 100% at fault because I was unaware at a deep level of the unintended consequences,” Cohon explained. Bloomberg Green, “But now that I understand it I’m personally going to do something about it.”

In April 2022, Cohon approached carbon credit company Patch to explore how it could support enough carbon removal projects to offset the entirety of its own footprint. The price tag was around $1 million, and Cohon emptied his pension fund to cover it. Then he decided to hit the road: walking from London to Istanbul to raise awareness about climate change. The 2,620-mile pilgrimage will require Cohon to cover 18 miles each day for 153 days, meeting politicians and ordinary people along the way and inviting business leaders and climate activists to join him. He is expected to enter Istanbul on June 5, his 60th birthday.

Bloomberg Green spoke to Cohon on the 100th day of his trek as he walked along the Danube in Hungary. The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

You started by calculating your personal carbon footprint for your entire lifetime. why did you think it was important to measure it accurately,

I had to figure out that number in order to activate the change. To me, the number of 8,147 tons, 28 times the normal, was huge, and it really reflects the damage I’ve done since 1963, living in the North, being raised in Canada, being privileged, being a businessman.

I was surprised by what started happening after 2000. I was caught up in that mass consumption, mass consumerism, mass travel, mass meat eating, mass fashion buying, mass getting a new iPhone every year.

You worked with Coca Cola, you worked with Cirque du Soleil and did a lot of international business. Have you included the carbon impact of your work?

I thought of the effect as more personal than when I worked at The Coca Cola Company or Cirque du Soleil. If I were still in those roles, or at those large companies, I would be working incredibly hard to change. My voice will be louder. It was loud in 2000 but it will be louder now I am 60 years old.

I feel as though I am 100% accountable and 100% to blame for my personal damage to the world, and I am not 100% to blame, because I was unaware on a deep level of the unintended consequences. But now that I understand it I am personally doing something about it. I am not waiting for politicians or corporate leaders.

This concept of carbon footprint is relatively controversial. People talk about it as a way for corporations to put all responsibility back on private citizens. How do you feel about that criticism?

I don’t really care for the criticism. I am taking personal accountability for my actions, my behavior, my damage and doing something about it. I’m not asking anyone else to do anything about them. I’m only doing it because I feel a deep sense of responsibility and accountability, to repair what I’ve damaged.

I think there are humans in all these companies. And I believe they’re starting to change and the leaders are starting to change and they really want to make change.

Are you sure the carbon removal you paid for will do what you want? It can be difficult to ensure that these schemes work properly and actually make a difference to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

In dealing with patches, they take on the risk of ensuring that the removals are verified and part of EU regulations or other regulations. If they don’t hit the mark they don’t charge me for them so I doubt them [ensure] This is a high quality removal.

I’m an optimist – I don’t think everything is going to work, of course. But I am optimistic that over time we can accelerate the removals.

Do you think other business people should be doing what you are doing?

I think business people who have the financial means to consider it should, number one, consider it. Number two, have a conversation with their spouse and children and see if this is something that is meaningful to them. And if it’s meaningful, go for it.

It’s not about offsetting your future. It’s about letting go of the past and cleaning it up. We don’t factor the carbon price into our lifestyle and that’s a mistake. It is ridiculous that we are not putting a carbon price on products and services.

We have to do this, we have to put externalities into GAAP accounting principles and I have started doing that in my life. I feel really good that my carbon debt is gone. I feel really passionate about trying to pay it forward, to live a net-zero life.

Why do you go?

Walking allows you to see things really clearly. Speed ​​is the speed we are built for as a species. We were made to walk, and when you walk, you have amazing ideas, you think clearly, and so walking for me was a way of being uncomfortable.

I wanted to be physically uncomfortable. I [wanted] Being emotionally and mentally uncomfortable for me to open up. I wanted to invite journalists, activists, CEO friends, politicians to come along with me, to get a little uncomfortable, because we have a pretty comfortable life and most people don’t.

Climate refugees move from Istanbul to London. I wanted to go from London to Istanbul. I wanted to pass through villages and cities. I wanted to forgo populism and liberalism. I wanted to talk to many people.

It’s really a way of trying to take our thinking to the next level. Connecting with people who can make a difference. Don’t get stuck in the boardroom, don’t get stuck in New York or Geneva or London and talk to everyone equally.

Is it like a pilgrimage? Are you letting go of your guilt?

I don’t consider it religious. I think of it as consciousness, and I don’t mind. If I were talking to my 20-year-old self I would say, “It’s fine.” I feel really grateful that I have the hope of building a new kind of consciousness with some very senior people.

The consciousness that we have now is about growth, it is about success, money. It’s about consumerism. It’s about consumption. It is more about a shift of consciousness so that we can begin to empathize with our collective existential threat, which is the climate emergency.

What are you going to do next?

This is the end of the beginning for me. My next step is to continue trying to achieve carbon removal and historic emissions, and that narrative and dialogue and policy, embodied and accelerated in net-zero strategies.

I’m going to rest. London to Istanbul is the same as New York to LA, and I’m doing it fast. I’ll hang out with my girlfriends and kids, which will be great. I would fly to Toronto to see my parents because my father was too unwell during the first part of the trip to hug them.

I’ll fly low but I’ll keep flying. I will, of course, fly every single one, not offset, but I will do removals on British Airways, I will do it at a science-based price and I will do activity in sustainable airline fuel. I will continue to advocate for all airlines to move in that direction. We don’t have enough sustainable airline fuel. The capacity isn’t there, and we need to get there.

I’m not going to be a purist. But I’m going to be someone who acts hard as a consumer. I think we have the power to create products and services we love, we can inspire organizations to accelerate change.

Olivia Rudgard in London at orudgard@bloomberg.net

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