On GHG accounting, microbes, and solution orienting
Welcome to the February edition of the Carbon A List newsletter. Do you know someone who would enjoy our newsletter? Forward this email to them and they can subscribe here.
On smudging (and cleaning) GHG accounting
One of the perennial challenges with sustainability claims and greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting is that the goal posts can be shifted to reflect only part of the story, and what might otherwise be a good intention turns into a greenwash. Indeed, the general lack of consistency and harmonization makes it difficult for individuals, companies, and governments to identify where and how to make a difference. The World Wildlife Fund released a hard hitting thought piece unpacking some of these ideas entitled Greenhouse Gas Accounting Efforts Undermined by Disparate Tools and Frameworks outlining some of the inconsistencies across data, protocols, tools, and systems boundaries and how they have been manipulated to tell an artificial story.
The good news? Transparency, better technology and harmonization is on the way, and the more people can understand how a greenhouse gas footprint of a product might fit in the broader context of a supply chain, the more meaningful metrics there can be. The bad news? Without an inclusive process that addresses issues in a way that can be accessible to a variety of stakeholders, and gets us closer to accuracy, we might just end up with even greater amplification of the current siloes and greenwashing. From a Carbon A List perspective, we believe that there are three immediate things anyone can act on to address the bad news: first, share your assumptions. Second, generate completeness with sustainability metrics by using production metrics, not made up counterfactual data of what would have otherwise occured. In other words, by leveraging data used to make goods, it’s not “sustainability data”, it’s just data to support continuous improvement. Third, follow the FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Repeatable) principles for any program or initiative to ensure linkages.
On the connectivity between microbes and planetary health
There are many efforts working to create linkages between microbial communities, plants and planetary health. There also exist many products and methods claiming to support microbial, plant, human and even planetary health. Some of these are based in science, most are anecdotal at best. Carbon A List Principal, Dr. Nick Goeser, will be joining soil and human microbiology experts Dr. Becky Bart and Dr. Drew Schwartz at South by Southwest (SXSW) to discuss the real links as well as the misinformation surrounding these important connections. A critical piece in this effort is understanding the facts from the fiction, and where the marketing is credible. Can we really implement changes to the soil microbiome that create changes in human health? Likely, but we are not there yet with credible science. We are still in the diagnostic phases working on understanding which communities are present and what their functions are (cue the ecological form and function discussions). The diagnostic work becomes more difficult when working across soil, plant, human and planetary systems, but there is promise in the work and impacts these links will create.
On orienting toward climate solutions
What do the two above sections have in common? They both relate to finding a pathway in service of planetary health. On one of Director of Innovation Blake Atkerson’s recent camping trips he had a thought:
Each of us pass through the same point attempting to reach our individual destinations, with some of us using the same trails, while others blaze their own trails. However, the forest, mountain, stream, and valley are the same. We all traverse over the same natural wonders, the same planet.
With that in mind, what we realized was orienting ourselves and our clients around complex problems was not much different than orienteering through forests and mountains: you need the right gear, to understand the terrain, and prepare for things out of your control like storms or bears. Climate problems present many challenges that are best approached with planning, experience, and thought, essentially a guide.
As we find patterns amongst our work helping clients unlock climate action, we are excited to discuss a new service offering called Trailpass currently in its early genesis at our next Off the Climate Record event where we will explain more about how it can orient your organization around your biggest climate related challenges. We hope you can join us!
Where we’ll be
- Join us online at our Next Off the Climate Record on March 2, 2023 at 1 PM Mountain to discuss the above mentioned Trailpass. Check out the event details to find out more.
- We’re rolling deep to the Commodity Classic in Orlando, Florida from March 8–11 to bring education and impact to commodity farming. We will be connecting with farmers about our work on gaps in soil health programs, critical needs in quantifying land use conversion and collaboration across USDA Partnership for Climate Smart Commodities projects. Will we see you there? Please get in touch if so.
- Thank you for voting to support a SXSW panel we are presenting at. If you’re in Austin, Texas on March 11th, please come hear Dr. Nick Goeser along with experts Dr. Becky Bart and Dr. Drew Schwartz on the Plants, People & Planet: Microbes Rule Health panel.
What I’m reading
- Ken Ferrie’s Big 10 Agronomic Lessons. This AgWeb article is a useful grounding for folks in the production agricultural sector working on sustainability initiatives to be reminded of what might be producers’ biggest concerns.
- Soil energetics: A unifying framework to quantify soil functionality. This technical paper presents a way to consider the interrelationship between biological, physical and chemical systems in the face of new management techniques to improve soil health across different climates and changing weather patterns.
- Referenced above, World Wildlife Fund’s article: Greenhouse Gas Accounting Efforts Undermined by Disparate Tools and Frameworks
Can you help?
- We’re running into a lot of red tape as it relates to definitions. Sometimes, good ideas that a funder should care about don’t seem to matter because they aren’t included in strict definitions or because terms such as “climate smart agriculture” are poorly defined. Do you have experience or similar frustrations seeing where progress has or hasn’t been made in service of practicality? We’d love to hear from you.
My partner is part of the local Search and Rescue (SAR) team where we live in the North Fork Valley in Colorado. Last weekend I had the opportunity to accompany her on an SAR hut trip focused on avalanche rescue training. It was a humbling and inspiring experience that reminded me of the importance of general preparedness, recreating responsibly, the first responders who selflessly act when disasters arise and citizen self-organization for societal well-being. When life is at risk, harmonization and unity quickly come into play and priorities shift away from self-centeredness to acting to save lives. Experiencing that unity was powerful: it was a transcendence beyond political, cultural, and class differences, something I yearn for in the climate space.