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How Companies Can Go Beyond Carbon Offsets To Actually Help Reverse The Climate Crisis

How Companies Can Go Beyond Carbon Offsets To Actually Help Reverse The Climate Crisis

by ESG Business Institute -
Number of replies: 0

As the climate crisis has pushed the evolution and growth of the clean energy industry over the last two decades, NativeEnergy has been among the companies on the frontlines. The Vermont-based company develops wind, water, biogas, solar, and other renewable energy and clean water projects that generate carbon offsets and partners with other businesses looking to mitigate their climate impact. Increasingly, the projects go beyond taking carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere to create environmental benefit and mitigate the effects of climate change.  

This transition from doing less harm to having a positive impact will be necessary to avoid the worst predicted impacts of climate change. And for people and companies looking to have a hand in mitigating the climate crisis — whether to de-risk a company’s outlook, protect future markets and supply chains, or to build a resilient, human-centered approach to the business’s development, or otherwise — learning how to approach the full scope of a company’s emissions along the supply chain and understand how carbon offsets can be more or less effective depending on the project are two huge and important pieces of the puzzle. That’s where specialists like NativeEnergy, which also provides funding to establish more innovative solutions not currently supported by the market, come in.

By developing projects that address and act to reverse the
accelerating climate crisis, NativeEnergy creates benefit for communities across North America as well as collective benefit for the environment and the companies is works with — a winning multistakeholder approach for the Certified B Corporation, a designation that reflects creating benefit for people and planet as well as the bottom line. As more companies realize and act upon the need to address their climate impact, NativeEnergy has seen interest in its projects grow in scale and build a cumulative effect. Its projects meet internationally recognized standards, align with relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals, and produce measurable results, giving companies looking to go beyond buying offsets a meaningful option. 

As part of my research of purpose-driven companies, I recently spoke with Jennifer Cooper, vice president at NativeEnergy, to learn more about its latest projects that are helping companies take climate-positive action through regenerative strategies. She explained how companies can look to their own actions, supply chains, and climate responsibility and take effective steps to make meaningful change. 

Chris Marquis: Can you explain the history of the company and how its projects have evolved through the years? 

Jennifer Cooper: Since Native began, the focus was on how to enable and fund change, with a structure to help create and make projects happen that the voluntary carbon market at that time was not supporting. So the model that NativeEnergy used then and continues to use today is to anticipate and bring forward the amount of money that would come from carbon credit sales over the life of the project — bring them to the people on the ground, doing the work, in year one and year two of that project. And not just because, but specifically in order to, unlock the types of changes that people, communities and business wish to see. 

There are a lot of carbon projects out there that work with the current voluntary carbon offset market — where the changes are made, the climate and other benefits are measured, the credits are issued and sold, and then money returns to whomever took that action. The focus for NativeEnergy is on the types of changes, projects, where that does not work. By creating projects with companies who are looking to do more than simply offset, we bring money forward to catalyze more climate action and create change that otherwise would not happen. B Corps supporting this approach include Allbirds, Beautycounter, Happy Family, Reunion Island Coffee, Stonyfield Organic, StraightUp Solar, W.S. Badger Co., and Winderlea Wine to name just a few.

Marquis: What are some of NativeEnergy’s newer projects? What’s ahead for you and your partners?

Most recently we are focusing on regenerative agriculture, although admittedly that’s a broad, poorly defined term. “Soil is the new wind” in some respects, as our co-founder Tom Stoddard says, because there is great potential for it to be at least part of the solution to high levels of CO2 in our atmosphere and improved soil health has so many benefits for farms and ranches and our food systems. 

Specifically our team is excited about rotational grazing to increase carbon sequestration in grasslands. Changing grazing practices pose important barriers, like access to upfront capital and uncertainty for farms around the timing of returns and productivity gains as carbon is sequestered into soils and soil health improves over time.. Finding ways to bring upfront funding and de-risk change as much as possible for the farms and ranches can catalyze that shift to regenerative more quickly. Climate finance is by no means the only way to do that, but it’s certainly one way to help catalyze that transition.

A recent example of a regenerative agriculture project is operating in Montana, in the northern Great Plains region of the U.S. We are working with ranchers and our nonprofit partner in this region of Montana called the Western Sustainability Exchange to adopt certain practices that draw carbon down into the soils degraded by decades of overgrazing.  

Each rancher creates grazing management plans, which involve grazing more cattle on a smaller plot of grasses for a short period of time and allowing longer periods of rest and regrowth for each plot before it is grazed again. This prevents what commonly happens, selective grazing, when the cattle roll over thousands of acres picking their favorite grasses but never chomping everything thoroughly . This also allows for a lot more trampling of the grasses and manure into the soil, which are good things for grassland and soil health.

With grasslands, it can take a few seasons of grazing you have an  amount of carbon in the soil that can be ‘sold’ to provide a return to farms and ranches – the costs occur at the outset, while the carbon and soil health benefits occur over decades. We, collectively, should not be asking first-mover farms and ranches to take on all the costs and risks of figuring out which practices work for their farm.

Marquis: A lot of the larger companies I’ve talked with are trying carbon offset work with companies like yours. How does your work differ between large and small companies in your portfolio?

Our work, our aim to help create more positive change, remains the same. We work with companies who want to identify causes of emissions in their sourcing and supply regions. To identify practices or activities causing emissions, and take action on those we are able to help change. The companies we work with are not looking to simply purchase offsets and claim carbon neutrality. Their priority is rather to  cause positive change in the regions that matter to their business, and in many cases, to support positive change that addresses the impacts related to their sourcing and supply regions  

Often offsets are one end result, as a third-party verified mechanism to measure the impact in a format companies can report that will be recognized. It’s really that group of companies that is looking to make change that is meaningful, measurable, verifiable. The smaller companies are looking for ways to connect to the things they buy in the places that they do business, and we always try to make that connection when we can. But they are not directly digging into specific sourcing regions and analyzing that.

Marquis: It seems your approach is to more holistically understand the impacts of the company and then create a system to address that in a more fundamental way. Does this need to be a bespoke type of work that you do for companies or can it be more off the shelf? What type of variation do you incorporate to make sure it’s really substantive?

I will speak specifically about the projects for which we are the developers. We have over 80 projects to which we and the companies we work with have brought over $40 million of investment. The projects we develop are those we understand to be unlikely to happen in current conditions. We ask ourselves early in our development process, “Does this activity need our particular model of finance to occur at pace and at scale?  

Marquis: What has being a part of the B Corp community meant for your company? How has that helped create key partnerships and relationships?

Becoming a B Corp and then a benefit corporation was a natural extension of our aim for community-level action and support, and I think I know many other B Corps could say the same — that they embodied that B Corp mindset before they became B Corps. With that starting point, what being a B Corp has taught us is there is so much more we can do. That is the highest praise that I can give to the B Corp community. We are a company focused on climate and doing good, but the bar is so high in the B Corp community. It is a great place to keep yourself challenged and striving to achieve more. 

The B Corp community has a respected voice and can use that voice to advocate for changes in society, changes at the state and federal level, and otherwise influence the systemic infrastructural level change that we need to make. It would be important that the B Corp community understand, especially those newer to the topic of climate, that purchasing a certain number of offsets to address a calculated emissions footprint cannot be the end goal. We have to work, as companies and as a collective, to advance and cause lasting change. The good news is that members of the B Corp community are well-suited to do this in collaboration.