By PDG Ingrid Steinhoff, Barcelona, Spain

I served as Governor of District 2202 for 2022-23, the year of “Imagine Rotary,” and I understood that my passion for Rotary and my commitment to the environment would be reason enough to make our Rotary district an international benchmark. But this personal ambition collided with the reality that every governor necessarily has to face — accepting that the year goes by too fast and that there is hardly any time to turn those wonderful dreams and ideas into reality. 

However, I decided to persevere, accepting that — beyond the limits of time — my Rotarian and environmental commitment prevailed over the ephemeral task as governor. This article describes how D 2202 worked with key groups within and beyond Rotary to become the first Rotary District to be certified as Net Zero by Rotary Green Revolution. Please contact me if you have questions as you read or want to brainstorm how to implement Net Zero in your club or district!

“This is a spectacular and historic story,” says Alfredo Valero of Rotary Forests. “Now we have obtained a double carbon footprint neutrality of 100% in 2023 through a Spanish Public Foundation, in addition to obtaining the NetZero Coalition certificate from Rotary Green Revolution.”

How we started: After two months as governor, I decided to take advantage of the district seminar that I organized in Getxo (Basque Country, Spain) on Saturday 17 September 2022 and meet with Rotarians from my District and share with them my idea of organizing a breakout session at the Rotary International Convention in Melbourne, with the intention to present the District structure, the strategy and the importance of Rotary’s 7th Area of Focus for D2202.

To my surprise several Rotarians present told me about Rotary Green Revolution, a Rotarians in Action movement they had created to help Rotary clubs and Districts around the world, incorporating global strategies to mitigate climate change with cross-cutting projects. At the time, a project was underway with Rotary Forests to reforest 1,600 trees in Tauste (Zaragoza) which is a region with a semi-desert climate that suffers from chronic drought. This region suffered a terrible fire that devastated 500 hectares in 2009, and has been included in another reforestation project of the Ibercaja Bank through its Foundation, with a reforestation program of 40 hectares. I decided to plant another 1,600 trees, one for each Rotarian in my District, as my personal gift as governor, using the One Rotarian, One Tree program of Rotary Forests

At that same meeting I was introduced to Rotary Green Revolution’s NetZero Coalition program, which offered to calculate the carbon footprint of District 2202 and offset 100% of CO2 emissions with reforestation projects. Transportation is the biggest factor in our District’s carbon footprint.

I admit that at that time I didn’t really understand the true magnitude of what was being proposed. But even though I am not a great expert, my passion for Rotary and my regular monitoring of ESRAG (Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group) publications helped me to make a firm decision: I appreciated the generosity of the Rotarians of Rotary Forests and decided to join their NetZero Coalition program, being convinced that carbon neutrality should be the first environmental step for our clubs in the District. Through this we could serve as an example for other Districts. 

Overcoming challenges: The first big challenge in calculating the carbon footprint was to try to explain to all Rotarians of the District what carbon neutrality meant. It was not easy to get Rotarians to understand the importance of contributing to the process by providing relevant information. And it was precisely at the District Seminar in Getxo, with only 40 Rotarians, where we started to become aware of the difficulties in collecting data. A simple Google Forms form was made for each Rotarian in order to answer a few questions in an estimated time of 2 minutes.

And despite the wonderful enthusiasm shown by all the Rotarians present, the truth is that during the first 48 hours very few Rotarians filled in the form. In the following days we had to go after many members, almost like policemen, to ask them to answer the questions. At first, I thought, they did not respond due to a lack of environmental commitment. But then we realized there were other reasons: some members did not respond because they did not want to reveal the way they got to the event. In other cases, the members simply did not know in which vehicle/model/engine they had arrived. This is a very important variable, because not all cars of the same brand pollute the same: it depends on the model, engine and year of manufacture. Without this data, it is impossible to access the emission factor of the vehicles (grams of CO2 emitted per kilometer driven) in the “Emissions Factors” handbook of Spain’s Ministry of Ecological Transition.

Although it may seem comical now, a feeling of desperation overcame us, because transport to Rotary events is by far the biggest source of CO2 emissions. Without data on the transport used (personal car, plane, etc.), number of accompanying persons and kilometers (outward/return) traveled, it is difficult to calculate the carbon footprint. As an improvement measure for the following events, it was decided to include the NetZero Coalition form in all communications associated with each Rotary event. We even took the opportunity, during each Rotary event itself, to briefly explain what the program is about and the importance of answering the questions before the end of the event.

From September to December of 2022, we calculated the carbon footprint of all District events, and during the inauguration of the Tauste forest on April 26, 2023, I received the NetZero Coalition Certificate for partial neutrality in 2022, as this was not done for the whole year.

An almost inaccessible site, but ready for reforestation: I chose the site above Tauste because it was one of the most disadvantaged and arid areas of our District, and the environmental licenses and administrative authorizations were in place to be able to reforest during the year as my mandate as governor. It’s extremely difficult to visit the site because of its steep slopes requiring all-terrain vehicles.  For this reason, we took two steps:

  • We produced this Rotary Forest video to help Rotarians and the wider public understand the true magnitude of the project and its complexity.
  • We held a ceremony to inaugurate the Tauste Forest in the town of Tauste itself, 17 km away from the reforested land.  At the inauguration ceremony, a symbolic planting for Peace in Tauste took place, with the collaboration of the Mayor, municipal authorities, District Rotarians, and citizens of Santa Engrancia (Tauste).

In the first part of the inauguration video, you see how we also carried out a symbolic planting with our D 2202 Rotary Youth Exchange students on May 6, 2023 in the Rotary Forest of Jaizkibel, Hondarribia, hosted by the Rotary Club of Irún Bidasoa, D 2202. 

Group of people planting trees.

D2202 tree planting. Photo credit: Alfredo Valero.

This was a unique and unforgettable experience for the studentsWhat is certain: as of today, these young participants of 13 different nationalities are already our best ambassadors for our reforestation programs and Rotary values. Another symbolic planting of 50 trees in a forest of 3,905 trees has already been carried out in honor of the Zuahitz Eguna (Basque for “Day of the Tree”) program in Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa.

Partnering with Rotary Forests to reach Net Zero: Thanks to the generosity of Rotary Forests, all the necessary resources to calculate and offset the carbon footprint of major District events during 2023 were provided, both during my term as governor until 30th of June 2023, as well as during the current Rotary year with Governor Raül Font-Quer. During this time our District participated in many important events including the Tarragona Assembly, the visit of Rotary International Presidents Jennifer Jones (17-18 May, Barcelona) and Gordon McInally (1 October, Tarragona), the Castelldefels Congress, the Trans-Pyrenees TriDistrict Rotary Conference (Spain-France), and the training seminars.

Following the calculation methodology recommended by the Ministry of Ecological Transition (GHG protocol and ISO 14064 standard), we reached a total of 9.74 Tons of CO2 emissions during the year 2023, mainly related to transportation, which gives us an idea of the impact of our personal actions in travelling to Rotary events.

The offsetting of our emissions during the year 2023 has been carried out by Rotary Forests through Naturklima, which is the Climate Change Foundation attached to the General Directorate for the Environment of the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa. In this way, our district obtained the certificate for the total compensation of CO2 emissions during 2023, a task initiated during my mandate, and which continues with the current Governor, Raül Font Quer. 

To achieve the NetZero / Carbon Neutral goal we must calculate the carbon footprint and then look for mechanisms to reduce and offset it.  As Rotarians, our real goal is to raise awareness of how we can take action,with passion for Rotary, by participating in projects to mitigate the effects of climate change. This also gives us more visibility in the media and at the social and institutional level, which will help us to be more appealing (especially among young people) and attract new Rotary members to our clubs – as we say: to make us irresistible.

We can achieve great impact like meeting the Rotary Forest challenge to plant 100 million Rotary trees in 20 years, really scaling up at an international level. “The ESRAG initiative ‘Every Club Climate Friendly – Become Sustainable!’ assists clubs and districts that want to become climate friendly and carbon-neutral,” says ESRAG Europe Co-Chair Dr. Michael Koch, who is leading the project. “If you are interested, please send an email to with your name, your club name, your district, and your phone number. 

Finally, I would like to express my sincere thanks to ESRAG for allowing me to publish the story of our extraordinary and pioneering experience, but above all for being there. ESRAG, with the first-class publications, is a point of reference which is inspiring many Rotarians and which, at crucial moments, has helped us to make the right decisions. 

Thank you, Rotary.

Ingrid Steinhoff served as District Governor of D 2202 from 2022-23 and is the 2023/26 Rotary Coordinator for Spain and Portugal. She is a member of the Rotary Club of Barcelona.