On penciling out projects, baselining, and accessing federal funds

Christophe Jospe
Carbon A List
Published in
5 min readAug 31, 2023
Photo credit: my dad

Welcome to the August 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 penciling out projects

When trying to “pencil out a project”, what you really want to know is whether the effort you put into doing something new, again, or differently is going to be worth it. From a financial perspective, it boils down to having a balance sheet — or at least some formulas and assumptions you can put on a napkin to think about what you might owe and own in terms of liabilities and assets. To help the Foundation for Regeneration answer this question in the design of the Urban Ecosystem Standard, we’ve been working on a holistic financial model that links clear assumptions to the different costs and value of the project over time. What becomes clear in this, and other value-stacking work, is that a credit alone is often insufficient to stand up a project, or motivate a new behavior and often there are other viable income streams to make it worthwhile. At the same time, there is a gap in the models themselves to estimate outcomes (read: models to estimate carbon typically are often conservative and wrong, opaque, or rigid), and the full extent of indicators is not linked directly to income. Nonetheless, going through the exercise of defining your assumptions and projecting out scenarios to consider and act on new ideas, and updating as you have more accurate information is a useful endeavor. It also allows you to internalize externalities into economic assessments.

On baselining

Baselines are more than just starting points to see if something “pencil’s out”; they’re your compass for driving environmental improvement. Think of them as your reference markers for tracking changes, from GHG emissions to air and water quality and the foundation for market based incentives. A recent article, “Navigating the Baseline: A Guide to Environmental Assessment and Decision-Making,” dives into the art and science of baselining, offering insights into how this process shapes your sustainability journey. On the one hand, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, as baselines have been useful gauges to determine policies, markets, and change. On the other hand, the lack of context and inappropriate use of metrics make their usefulness tenuous. The way to improve them is to be more transparent, using longitudinal data and multiple metrics for greater feedback and awareness, and actually use them for scenario generation.

On accessing federal funds

In the landscape of federal funding for climate action, although there is a historic amount of dollars available, accessibility isn’t always as straightforward as the resources themselves. Having secured two winning proposals for our clients and another for ourselves in the past year, we’ve gained firsthand experience that goes beyond the numbers. This journey has equipped us with battle-tested strategies, templates, and systems, making the process of responding to proposals more efficient while maintaining a winning edge.

When it comes to unlocking federal grants, a key piece of advice stands out: distill your idea into a single image. This image serves as the linchpin, conveying your concept in a way that resonates instantly with reviewers so they can advocate for your proposal. We’ve found that crafting this image — clear, concise, and impactful — can significantly bolster your chances of success.

What we’re working on

  • We’re not just here to navigate the intricacies of federal funds or consider ways to make projects pencil out with impactful baselines; we’re here to streamline the journey and amplify climate action. Our experience is your advantage, and we’re ready to brainstorm, strategize, and support your pursuits. Please get in touch to learn about any of the templates we’ve created (around financial models, grant templates and more) and learn more about our services.
  • We’re thinking a lot about definitions and finding patterns in the ways we benefit from using the same ones. Our next off the climate record will be on the topic of definitions — be sure to join this list to get an invite.
  • We wrote a short response to the USDA’s request for comments to the latest “Blue Book”. These changes have huge implications for how baselines might be established and improved in the future and it is critical for more stakeholder engagement at this stage.
  • We continue to gear up our grant work developing the systems and structures in place to successfully execute on our program. We’re excited to be meeting in person in Denver next week!

What I’m reading

Can you help?

  • We’re looking for people to talk to about water risk with us. We have an exciting project coming up. Please send us a note if so.
  • We continue to look for talented people looking to pick up work. We are seeking qualified people for a number of roles as contractors on new and existing projects, as well as people we can vet and work with as we land additional project based work. If you are interested in contract work with us, or to be considered as we respond to proposals, please fill out this form.

Something Personal

The picture in this email was recently taken by my father. For me, this image speaks to the love that my parents instilled in me of being outside and finding the joy and wonder in peaceful forests, watching light play across the canopy. While many of us live our lives in front of screens, easily distracted by any number of stimuli, I hope for myself — and others — to be able to prioritize moments of serenity and reflection in the outdoors as summer starts to cool.

Christophe

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Christophe Jospe
Carbon A List

Climate change entrepreneur and consultant. Recovering from carbon exuberance. I like to stir the pot.