Think of all the crucial environmental projects of the world. From coastal mangrove habitat restoration to urban policy requiring more integrated nature into cities, the amount of good work being done in the world is vast. Yet, it can be tricky to measure the exact impact — both short-term and long-term — of these projects.
Enter Ecological State Protocols, or what we like to call, ESPs.
An ESP is a context-specific assessment of ecological health using a localized and universal set of indicators like GIS and remote-sensing. ESPs output either one or multiple quantifications of a shift in measurable ecological outcomes, such as pollinator density. Thus, it represents a basket of different indicators appropriate and applicable to the local context. The outcome is not a defined final number, but a holistic approach to defining a shift in the ecological state.
Ecological State Protocols will grow regenerative land use and climate change reversal through ecosystem regeneration.
ESPs offer immediate value to:
- mission-driven companies seeking verified ecological practices in global supply chains,
- governments and nonprofits seeking verified ecological claims,
- farmers and land stewards seeking compensation for their ecological improvements,
- the scientific community wanting to link practices to outcomes,
- verification agencies looking to streamline their process,
- and myriad other applications.
In recent conversations with organizations such as World Resource Institute, the UNCCD, Danone, Dow Chemical, Costco, and The Nature Conservancy, we found that all are seeking to develop or are in the process of developing ESPs. Regen Foundation offers domain-specific expertise and can serve as the connective tissue between global organizations to accelerate this ESP development.
In addition to the corporate interest in open ESPs, our team recently participated in a Yale Open Labs Design sprint and found huge interest in the methodology we’ve developed to create trust in greenhouse gas emissions claims!
As a charitable organization, Regen Foundation is pursuing the development of these critical regenerative tools in an open-source, collaborative manner to ensure immediate and equitable access to mission driven organizations around the globe.
What is an ESP?
The health of an ecosystem can be assessed by analyzing changes in different ecological indicators, such as Soil Organic Carbon, for example. Ecological State Protocols (ESPs) are deployed to analyze the health of our planet’s ecosystems.
In other words, an ESP allows a person, organization, or business to track a shift in an ecological state (an ecological outcome).
Examples of Regen Foundation ESPs include Biodiversity, Above Ground Biomass (AGB), Soil Organic Carbon (SOC), Net Primary Productivity (NPP), Water Quality, Pollinator Density and many more. All of these ESPs are built to analyze specific datasets, and from such data sets, derive the information necessary to identify changes in the indicators specified by that particular protocol.
For example, by executing an Water Quality ESP, it becomes possible to track the health of the waterway in question. This ESP functions by first analyzing different layers of public data, then cross-correlating such data with other sources until it arrives at a conclusion with a high statistical probability of being correct. What data, you ask?…
The Provision of Data
The different layers of data that can compose the ESP algorithm are:
- Satellite (both public and private) data
- Drone imagery
- Public GIS datasets
- IOT sensors
- Ground truth data (user- or verifier-derived)
Whether or not an ESP uses all five layers of data depends on a number of factors.
- Can the indicators give accurate results with a limited set of data sources? For example, in our development of a Till / No Till verification algorithm, we have been able to achieve very high accuracy simply using remote sensing (Satellite) data only.
- What is the desired outcome is of the ESP? Does it aim to do an exact quantification of a particular ecosystem service, or produce a simple yes/no? Or does it act as a way to illustrate a shift of one indicator in a particular direction?
- Does the ESP get executed on a country-wide level or does it only act on a farm level? By building a set of ESPs and inviting in partners to collaborate, Regen Foundation aims to catalyze the creation of an open source repository of ESPs that can be selected and upgraded based on the context-specific needs of the parties deploying them.
Executing ESPs makes it possible to infer the ecological outcomes of a particular method of land stewardship while connecting to a global database of similar practices in similar contexts.
Practice-Based vs. Outcome-Based Assessment?
ESPs are an approach aiming to transcend and include the current approach of verifying practices and use models to assume the impacts. An ESP studies both the immediate, short-term, visible impact (in order to assess regeneration on a local and bioregional scale: Did this practice occur — yes or no? And at which scale? For which amount of time? In which location?) and the longer-term ecological indicators (AGB, NPP, SOC…).
This combined approach of identifying a land management practice (like no-till agriculture or mixed agroforestry) while tracking its various different ecological outcomes (AGB, SOC, etc.) creates a unique opportunity to contribute to the global wisdom about the real-world impact of land and ocean stewardship.
It is possible for ESPs to target either just short-term or long-term impact, such as sediment runoff or soil organic carbon, respectively. But more commonly, the two will be observed simultaneously as part of a process to understand the full-spectrum impact of a particular set of practices.
The creation of ESPs is not something that Regen Foundation can or wants to do alone. It involves bringing together ecologists, agronomists, programmers, farmers, geospatial data analysts and IOT experts.
- leverage existing and emerging data products of satellites, GIS and drone imagery,
- utilize peer review by the wider scientific community,
- require a fairly robust understanding of agricultural and ecological management practices,
- draw from sensor networks and ground truth data.
To properly incorporate the cross-disciplinary knowledge into our planned array of robust protocols requires a dedicated team and a community of support. This is not something we will do alone, but invite your expertise as a participant in this work.
Concrete Use Cases
An ecological outcome approach towards assessing impact of no-till agriculture
By analyzing public satellite data through an ESP designed to determine tillage practice outcomes, it becomes possible to identify the value of no-till agriculture and for various parties to engage in agreements that encourage farmers to adopt this practice. There are two variants of this ESP that may be useful depending on the parties involved and their agreements in an Ecological Contract.
The first, most simple version of this ESP, may be deployed simply to evaluate whether a farmer is practicing No-Till agriculture or not. The layers of data in this ESP would simply be tracking soil disturbance. This may be useful as part of a certification process or as part of a compliance process.
A more complete ESP would collect additional data, like soil organic carbon, and make an ecological outcome declaration associated with the verified practice of no-till agriculture. This may include sequestered atmospheric carbon or less runoff in local waterways, and could be used in agreements that value the ecosystem services produced from such practices.
ESPs as part of a rainforest stewardship program
There are many communities around the world stewarding large sites of forest. Current market conditions offer strong financial incentivize cutting down trees for timber, which leads to mass deforestation. Regen Foundation is currently working with the Rainforest Foundation on an Afforestation/Deforestation ESP which track the status of forested land under management, allowing participating governments, conservation organizations, and even private individuals to create stewardship incentives based on sustained or regenerated forest health.
We truly need a network to make this work.
Most readers of this post have domain-specific knowledge that could be important to us as we work on developing ESPs. If you have ideas, suggestions, or a desire to help, comment on this post or, bring up the topic in our Telegram channel, or contact us through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.