24 Hours Carbon-Neutral in Cape Town | Inspire
24 Hours Carbon-Neutral in Cape Town
Things to Do
Things to Do

24 Hours Carbon-Neutral in Cape Town

Can you be truly carbon-neutral for 24 hours? Ray Leathern tested the green credentials of four Cape Town attractions, all at the wheel of the new C-Class plug-in hybrid.

There's no denying a palatial-spec luxury saloon used to send the wrong message to the Save the Planet generation. But that's before the Mercedes-Benz C 350e – East London's first locally assembled plug-in hybrid – rolled into view. Even the most hardcore greenies can't help prick their ears when this electrically-aided sedan glides past noiselessly, majestically and yet earth-friendly – the a-ha! effect cemented by the full-scale PLUG-IN HYBRID lettering on the flank and distinctive blue brake callipers.

The fact is, more than 15 gigatons of carbon is released into the atmosphere each year, and if you want to start an e-revolution, you're going to need a holistic approach to neutralise your carbon footprint. At the helm of SA's most environmentally friendly saloon – it returns an astonishing 2.1 L/100 km, emitting just 54 g/km of CO2 on the industry-accepted NEDC test – I wanted to discover if you can truly live carbon-neutral for a full 24 hours. But just like the Mercedes-Benz C 350e, having an environmental agenda shouldn't mean having to compromise on opulence.

With the 6.2 kWh battery pack topped up, giving me 25 km pure electric range and a lovely 60 kW/350 Nm of extra punch on the motorway to go with the 155 kW/350 Nm petrol turbo, I enter my first destination into the sat-nav – Darling Brew in Darling, 90 km from Cape Town.

It's a bit far for your average pub-crawl, but it's a favourite destination for devotees of the flourishing craft beer scene. Here my wife, Carri-Anne, samples Africa's first carbon-neutral beer – the Blood Serpent.

Offset through the Kariba REDD+ project (an acronym for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation), I'm reliably told its "lagery, hoppy and delicious". The trendy bar's long benches overlook the working brewery buzzing away below, and there are 14 tasty craft beers on offer.  

Our next rendezvous is across the Cape at Backsberg Wine Estate, SA's first carbon-neutral winery. Along the way to Paarl through the scenic Paardeberg, I start to feel emboldened by my carbon-neutral mission – the C-Class feeling like a vehicle for change, a sensationally advanced saloon for 21st-century citizens with a social streak. At Backsberg we get lost for more than an hour in the tranquil, leafy grounds.

And no wonder – if you’re a member of their Wine of the Month club they plant a tree for you every year. What’s more, all their farm trucks use biodiesel and their Tread Lightly range is bottled in PET recyclable plastic. This estate is a testament to carbon neutrality. 

With hungry lithium-ion cells needing feeding, I set course for a free hook-up spot – the V&A Waterfront. The relative infancy of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in SA means the V&A's entire 220V recharging infrastructure – six bays – isn't exactly oversubscribed... yet. And that's got to be another plus of plug-in ownership – not just social acceptance from diners at the adjoining café, but the best parking bays this side of "Moms with Babies".

Batteries brimmed, we join Cape Town's well-worn tourist trail and glide up Kloof Nek. Destination: Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. The new inductee into the New 7 Wonders of Nature has had a carbon footprint of zero since 2015 – thanks to its water and waste recycling initiatives and investment into the low-carbon Kuyasa Housing Project in Khayelitsha that's installed solar water heaters and energy-efficient lightbulbs in 2 100 homes.

The surprise and delight as we hush past cueing tourists on Tafelberg Road is profound. And the cable-car ride to the top is the most scenic five minutes you can spend in Cape Town – but get there early to avoid the tourist trap.

For an eco-friendly overnight halt there's only one hotel in Cape Town that really ticks the box – Hotel Verde, Africa’s first carbon-neutral hotel. With its 220 photovoltaic panels and three vertical-axis wind turbines that save 2 million kWh of electricity each year, a grey- and rainwater recycling system plus ingenious Cobiax void formers in the floor slabs that eliminate 1 279 tons of concrete (34% of the building's construction), this 4-star hotel is the carbon-neutral leader.

Its carbon footprint per room per night is only 22 kg, which the hotel offsets through the Kariba REDD+ project. And on Wednesdays you dine by candle light during Earth Hour.

All that's left is to calculate the Merc's carbon footprint on this journey with Food & Trees for Africa's carbon calculator – 298 km at a consumption of 7.9 L/100 km equates to just 0.2 trees. Plant it yourself (as we did) or simply make a donation of R130 per tree.

This experiment leaves me remembering the words of adventurer and environmentalist Robert Swan: "The greatest threat to our planet is to think someone else will save it." I feel satisfied knowing that with the help of the first C-Class plug-in hybrid, I've done my bit – for 24 hours anyway. 

Food & Trees for Africa, established in 1990, is the first South African social enterprise to address sustainable development through planting trees. Visit their website to donate.

Book your Mercedes-Benz C-Class test drive today.

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