Me And My Partner: Dan Morrell And Sue Welland

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The Independent Online
In 1989, Dan Morrell thought of planting trees to offset carbon dioxide emissions. He met Sue Welland, a marketing consultant, and in 1995 the pair started Future Forests, persuading clients as prestigious as Mazda and EMI to become "carbon neutral"

DAN MORRELL: My father was managing director of Tesco, and taught me how to sell,how shops laid floor tiles so people would walk slower or faster, and how bakery smells near the door would attract customers. He also had shares in a toothbrush firm, so I went to school with my bags packed with toothbrushes and undercut the school shop prices.

My activities always had to be enjoyable; I remember getting fascinated by video games, and I bought containers of them from Tuscany to sell to a supplier here. I sold my games business, set up a nightclub on a riverboat and looked after clothing designers. At 23, I had a car crash and suffered a serious head injury; I had to give up business and spent three years convalescing.

During that I came up with the idea of trees - I wanted to get people to take responsibility for the pollution they pumped into the air, but give it a real marketing edge. Future Forests was designed to give a tangible side to "green" which could be used by companies. It was also about empowering individuals.

When I met Sue, I was an agent for an artist, and Sue was with the PR firm Charles Barker, working on a campaign for the Barcelona Olympics. She was a fantastic, solid business person who knew what she was doing and was extraordinarily focused. With Sue, I felt the project had a much better chance of happening because she would get it under control. I could tell I was working with someone who was going to be entertaining; there was a lot of us looking sideways at each other, and giggling.

I took my trees idea to the AA and they bought it, but sat on it. I signed a confidentiality agreement, but I did talk to Sue. It was fantastic to have someone of her calibre looking at the idea. After three years, I managed to buy it back, then saw the RAC, who didn't really believe in the science behind the idea.

That took two more years. Sue gave me tremendous support, especially in the early days when the easiest thing would have been to have another idea and give up on the one I had.

One day I was on the train to London, and Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of Unison, sat opposite. I had him to myself for three-quarters of an hour and went on and on about my trees. I was really fired up. Then Robin Cook, now Foreign Secretary, got on board the train, and Rodney said: "Meet my new friend, Daniel. He's a trees man." At the end of the journey, Rodney said: "I can't wave a magic wand, but I might get you a bit of publicity." He mailed details to 1.25 million union members, and my letter-box began filling with cheques from people who wanted to plant trees.

We realised we needed to change the focus from the corporates to the people who actually bought their products. This way we might turn company indecision into a yes and build a public following. In 1995 Sue and I became co-directors of Future Forests. Our first challenge was to get anyone to take us seriously. We got a lot of cool opinion-formers on our side, including Damien Hirst and Keith Allen, friends who believed in it. The challenge then was to get companies to do something. We found we were pigeon-holed into environmental budgets, which tend to be small.

We got our first big break when Mazda launched the concept of carbon- neutral driving with their Demio range. Suddenly things began to move. We were able to show customers were interested. That meant we could be relevant for brand-building and direct business generation. One individual at Avis picked up on this and argued through the proposition. Now Avis's carbon offset is funded out of marketing, environmental and sales budgets.

Future Forests or tree planting is not a panacea, but a gateway which might help people to run their lives more sustainably. Sue and I are commercial people with a passion for the environment, but we've had to ask: "Can you build a brand from it? Do people trust Future Forests?" The key is that they do. We're not about showing pictures of disaster and begging for money; it's upbuilding, fun and energising.

There's a dynamism and a chemistry which kept Sue and me together. I will go off on a creative rant, and she's a balancer. She makes it work and delivers. We're impatient. I remember one tetchy phone call, when we eventually discovered we were arguing for the same thing. We have similarities in our lives.

Sue had a stroke when she was 24 - that makes me think even if things went horribly wrong, it would be nothing compared to what we've pulled ourselves through already.

SUE WELLAND: The first time I met Dan, he had an enormous plaster on his lip. It wasn't something you could ignore. I said: "What's the problem?" He said: "I went to kiss my parrot this morning and unusually, he bit me." I really liked Dan for his eccentricity. I've always loved to work with true individuals.

I'm a good lateral thinker, especially when somebody sets me up with an idea; I can pull it together and network to make it happen. I'll never let something drop until I've flogged it to death. Dan has 100 ideas a day, and 99 will be non-starters, but he won't know which is which - that's where I come in.

My father lost his business at 45, and started again. I come from a family where you don't like being told what to do, so I haven't settled into a corporate structure. I left university with a First in English and went into TV, working for Greg Dyke, but I'd resigned and was going to join British Airways when I had the stroke.

I have always had a lot of drive, but now I also know how fragile life is and how it could disappear. You have to take risks. Life's extraordinary. That's an instinct we share - we both get slightly impatient with people; you want to say: "Wake up and look at what's going on."

When I recovered, I became an advertising director at BA, looking after a budget of pounds 26m; I got BA involved in sponsoring international art fairs in Los Angeles and Tokyo. But it started to get comfortable. You never know you're alive until you're pushed to the edge, and I didn't want a 10-year career plan.

I've never told myself I must have my own business. I'm more interested in projects than in structure. Dan was secretive about the trees at first, giving me little hints. Then he started talking. I wasn't 100 per cent behind it because our styles of working weren't similar. Dan would get excited, but I like to follow through detail. He would rush around and do things that looked expensive and I couldn't see how the business could make money.

I was working for Eurotunnel when I turned up for work one day and realised some people had been taken off the e-mail system - the 1990s version of being shown the door. I thought: "I've had it with corporate life; it's not about empowerment, there's not enough control over my destiny and I'm working to other people's values." I resigned.

I needed to do other things to earn money, but Future Forests became part of a portfolio for me. At BA, we spent piles of money persuading people our seats were superior to competitors' seats. At the end of the day, who cares?

Future Forests makes a difference to the planet; individuals can improve their environment. It's a story with real depth and real benefit. I make no apologies for the fact that we're developing a marketing platform for Future Forests. As we move towards a carbon economy our aim is to be the key responsible player globally in carbon-offset. We've developing eco- commerce through our Internet site, where you can log in from anywhere in the world and arrange to have your CO2 offset by planting trees.

Dan and I can be quite brutal with each other. I can be headmistressy and harsh with Dan, but he's equally direct. Frankness is a strength. I've never disengaged our work from our friendship; it's about growth without the complication of sex or envy.

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