How this veteran restaurateur turned himself into a carbon trader

By Jason Kim, CNN • Updated 11th October 2017

Lifelong San Francisco resident and restaurateur Nick Sassaman has a massive green thumb. Throughout the years, Sassaman has been an avid gardener, a taxidermist, a furniture restorer, a winemaker and a floral arrangement maker.

Eventually, Sassaman realized that he could be a “green business,” or a “green consumer,” and take all of this expertise he developed by cutting, painting and staining wood, cut it into legal carbon credits.

For today’s savvy entrepreneur, this is a simple way to make money without signing up for a business license or becoming a paid lobbyist.

Before doing so, Sassaman has to help his clients and clients’ clients calculate the emissions benefit of his projects — and that’s where things get complicated.

“You have to keep an eye on that,” Sassaman says. “There’s always that part of your brain that’s wondering, ‘Can I do this? Why shouldn’t I be doing this?'”

The controversy comes down to a tiny piece of carbon that is absorbed during the process of growing the tree. When carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere, the plant releases CO2 through photosynthesis.

When we grow trees like eucalyptus or saffron, this captures CO2 and returns it to the soil. So, the forested area retains its carbon, while the soil releases CO2.

“Now here’s the tricky part,” Sassaman says. “When you burn a tree, that stuff goes into the atmosphere, the carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere. So the question is how much carbon did you actually capture and store because of your work? How much did you return to the land?”

This exact amount is unknown.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle is convincing the world to change its practices and incentives.

“There’s this huge push for carbon capture, carbon sequestration,” Sassaman says. “That’s big, but that takes a long time to change. If we can sell our products a lot faster, that’s fine.”

Unfortunately, he doesn’t see that possibility anytime soon, but hope is in the air. Sassaman has recently moved to Seattle, and to be here — he says — “gives me a chance to increase my tree care business and my sales.”

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