Interview with Emily Horgan, Director of the Greaseball Challenge, part two

Emily Horgan, making the world a better place, one charity rally at a time!

This is the second part in an interview with Emily Horgan, Director of the Greaseball Challenge, where she talks about her work with the World Bank, reducing your environmental footprint and what makes a great Greaseballer. In the first part of the interview, Emily shared with us some amazing stories of her past charity rally adventures as well as her motivations for creating the Greaseball Challenge. Click here to go to part one of the interview.

If you haven't already, be sure to read our article on the Greaseball Challenge first as background to this remarkable interview.

ABG: Through your work with the World Bank, and during the various charity rallies that you have participated in, what would you say was the most inspiring renewable energy project that you've seen?

EH: The most inspiring project is not necessarily one I have seen but there are plenty out there that get me excited - usually they are small-scale interventions that really make a big impact at the grassroots level but also have the potential to be scaled up to a massive level. For example, there is a solar LED lantern project supported by IFC which aims to provide an affordable lighting solution to people without access to electricity. The pilot projects in Ghana and Kenya will replace dirty kerosene lamps with these solar lanterns. It's amazing to think that one billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity and projects like this not only help light up homes but reduce indoor air pollution which is a major health hazard and enable school children to read after dark.

Interview continues after the jump.
ABG: In countries like the U.S., biofuels production facilities are often large, expensive projects. What kinds of small, localised biofuel project do you hope to assist with your non-profit organization, the Greaseball Foundation?

EH: Biofuels production is a complex issue. There are many good, and bad, biofuels projects out there - in many places, people are just starting to experiment with producing their own fuels for transport and home use and we want to help promote good practices and good methodologies. Through funds we hope to raise with the Greaseball Challenge, we would like to help support small, grassroots projects in Central America - projects that may be run by community/farming cooperatives or small NGOs with a component of social entrepreneurship and education. We hope Greaseball can provide some seed capital or even technical support in the form of equipment donations or linking small-scale producers to other organizations who can help them develop their own projects.

To give you an example, we have been talking to people at Piedmont Biofuels, a biofuel cooperative in North Carolina who are about to set up a small biodiesel project in Guatemala. If we can fund the biodiesel processing equipment, they can roll out a project where local farmers provide the feedstock to make biodiesel that would be sold to other local cooperatives or enterprises who currently pay high prices for regular fuel. The local market and inputs are there, as are people to work on the project, they just need some funding to kick start the project.

We have also been speaking to an alliance of organic coffee farmers in Costa Rica about taking down jatropha seeds and filtering equipment so they can grow the feedstock to make their own biodiesel to run their agricultural machinery and vehicles. We are also talking to a new cooperative on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica who are developing a pilot project to produce a clean fuel made from banana waste through a gasification process - a process invented by a local entrepreneur and supported by EARTH University. In that case, we have discussed donating some of the vehicles for their use - a pick-up truck and the school bus. There are many potential matches - we are using our network of contacts to find examples of projects that we can support in some small way. Particularly relevant with a larger Greaseball Challenge will be the vehicle donations - there is likely to be a variety of cars, trucks and utility vehicles which are immensely useful to organizations in Central America. Diesels are often preferred due to their durability.

ABG: Beyond the rally vehicles and particularly the fuel they will use, in what ways will you look to reduce your own environmental footprint during this rally?

EH: We'll be stopping off to visit eco-tourism lodges and supporting locally run guesthouses and camping facilities along the way to avoid large hotels or chains - and clean up behind us as we go! Also we will buy food and fuel from local growers and support local restaurants - beyond environmental objectives, we would like to support small locally run enterprises and projects. That is especially important in rural areas as well as towns. In addition, we hope to bring some equipment with us we can donate - solar panels, efficient lights or bulbs, and a generator - which of course can run on biofuel too!

ABG: What's your hot tip for people to reduce their environmental footprint at home?

EH: Anyone can be an environmentalist, and reduce costs while they do it. Buy a bicycle instead of using your car to get to work, and walk to the store whenever you can. Replace at least some of your incandescent lightbulbs at home with energy efficient alternatives - replacing one 60-watt bulb with a 15-watt energy efficient alternative avoids burning up to 400 pounds of coal at a power plant over its life! Turn off your appliances at night and recycle all your glass, plastics and papers - it goes without saying. Go carbon neutral - in your car, at home and when you travel, by offsetting your emissions online through sites like TerraPass and ClimateCare. Avoid food which was excessively packed and processed, and try to use your own mug when you buy coffee. All these things are easy to do with a little effort.

ABG: For the rally, where do you possibly start to look for a diesel vehicle under $200?

Despite the rule on acquiring vehicles on a shoestring budget, we won't be encouraging people to take down old junkers which are expensive to maintain. A lot of developing countries - whether in Central America or Africa or Asia - have restrictions on the import of used vehicles over a certain age to prevent "dumping". This has been a problem in Mexico in particular and the authorities are quite strict. At the same time, the reason so many old cars end up in these countries is because there is a market for it - they are useful to people who can't possibly afford to buy new cars. In all the countries we've travelled through on our charity drives, we've never been anywhere where people didn't offer to buy our vehicles - people would approach us at gas stations, at borders, in towns, in villages. We've also found that the budget rule and the motley selection of rides it attracts doesn't prevent people finding vehicles which can be driven 4,000 plus miles on a rally. A car that makes it that far is generally in good mechanical shape and has plenty of life left in it. Diesel engines can run up to one million miles if they have been well maintained.

So where do you start to find a vehicle on a shoestring budget? The three cars I've sourced in recent years, I've sourced for free. The car I'm driving this year for Greaseball is a classic 1976 Mercedes 240D. It had been sitting for 5 years in Washington DC in a driveway. Some friends put me in touch with the owners and I pitched the rally idea to them. They loved it and donated the car for free. They are delighted to know it would be retired in such style and to people that need it more than they do. We've had to spend some money on repairs, but one of our sponsors, Lowe Worldwide, is funding the car. Equally, the school bus joining the challenge from Colorado has been donated by the school district superintendent. Both cars I drove to Africa were donated for under $100 by their owners once they heard about the rally. With some mechanical ingenuity and resourcefulness you can certainly find a vehicle in good shape.

We encourage people to find vehicles through their network of friends, family and colleagues - once you look, it's amazing how many people have cars they are willing to donate. There are also police and government auctions, and Ebay - a great resource. We just found a great Mercedes 300D for the rally for $750. We also hope to talk to the major car manufacturers this year to see whether they would be interested in donating new diesel vehicles for us to donate to some of the Greaseball beneficiaries - whether eco-tourism projects, farmers, or charities working in cities. It's a great cause and great publicity for private companies to partner in this effort. Teams can go a long way to offset part, if not 100 percent, of their costs through sponsorship.

ABG: What kinds of characteristics would you say make up the perfect Greaseballer?

The perfect Greaseballer - someone who is adventurous and who takes the unexpected in their stride - if you don't like breaking down, camping out, long border crossings, sleeping in cars - this probably isn't your cup of tea! Commitment is important - following through on finding a vehicle, getting it ready for a long road trip, finding sponsors and organizing fundraisers, getting your friends and workplace involved, and especially running the cars on biofuels, that's a challenge. At the end of the day, we aim to have a lot of fun on these adventures and we all are expected to pull together when something goes wrong. All you really need is a sense of humor, a killer soundtrack on your iPod, and a spare pair of socks. A home mechanic in the group is gold dust of course.

I'd like to thank Emily Horgan for her time in answering all of my questions and for sharing with us more background and insight to charity rallies and the Greaseball Challenge. It sounds like it's going to be a lot of fun for a good cause and I look forward to hearing some of Emily's great Greaseball stories.

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