Corporate responsibility managers should take a look at forest carbon offset projects to maximize return on investment in climate, biodiversity, and community benefits
Companies that choose to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, contribute to biodiversity conservation, and contribute to poverty-stricken communities in the world should be applauded and encouraged.
Since CR programmes seldom have the time and money to actively participate in a project or monitor the claims of the project managers, a project with third party auditing and required public transparency through monitoring can simplify matters.
There is one type of project that meets all these criteria: forest carbon projects validated and verified through rigorous international standards like the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance. Costs for participating in a project can be relatively modest, and a small investment can make a huge difference in countries that desperately need the assistance.
Retention or restoration
Deforestation, primarily in the tropics, is responsible for 10-20% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions possibly a greater contributor to climate change than the world transportation sector. Forest carbon projects can be categorised in a variety of ways, but generally fall into either a strategy of retaining carbon in a forest, or restoring a forest. Projects that retain carbon in a forest can do so by conserving the forest completely or managing it carefully to minimise carbon loss.
Most commonly projects are conducted in the tropics where deforestation is high and loss of rainforest biodiversity is a challenge.
Each forest carbon project starts with a patch of forest owned by a community, a private individual/company, or a government. To be successful, the project must go through multiple due diligence steps to root out any potential problems with ownership, conflicts with indigenous people, liens, or other potential problems.
When the project area has been certified with a clean bill of health, the project owners must conduct a professional level survey of the trees and (optionally) other vegetation, and soil that contain carbon on the site. An analysis of risk to the site must be conducted by the project owners to determine whether the project area has a risk of deforestation and if so, at what rate and severity.
Once all the data is in, a project design document is prepared and audited by a qualified third-party audit firm to guaranty that the project is well-designed and well-justified. The project must also prove, with appropriate data, that the benefits claimed were actually produced.
This verification audit must occur before carbon credits are made available through a registry account for sale. A registry account is like an escrow account for carbon credits that insures the credits are handled properly and only one party can own a given credit at any one time (no double counting).
The best projects also pay close attention to biodiversity and community benefits and use an international standard for project design and reporting benefits from the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Standard Alliance.
Great care is taken to insure that biodiversity is protected and preferably enhanced. Community outreach must be conducted to make sure that the local communities are involved in the project, and receive demonstrable and tangible benefits from the project.
Free, prior and informed consent is accomplished through community outreach. Community benefits can range from jobs and training directly on the project, to educational benefits for school age children, health clinics, and other community activities that are suggested during the community outreach process. Monitoring of benefits is required and transparent just like the carbon sequestration benefits.
CR managers can use forest carbon projects to produce triple the benefits normally generated from a CR investment. If the goal is reduction of a company’s greenhouse gas emissions, then buying credits can offset emissions by preventing deforestation.
If the goal of the CR programme is to address biodiversity loss, then there is no better way to address biodiversity conservation than reducing deforestation in the tropics. Tropical rainforests are well known hotspots very much at risk, and concern over rainforest loss has been high for decades.
If a CR manager is more interested in contributing to sustainability in developing countries and supporting health, education, and human development, then forest carbon projects are a great way to reach the most impoverished people in the world.
There are many projects to choose from, but the best meet the VCS and CCB criteria of required monitoring and third party auditing. The VCS and CCB web-accessible databases now list several projects from multiple regions of the world that meet these rigorous criteria.
In addition, a new forest carbon project industry association has been formed – Code REDD – to make the availability of these high quality projects known to CR managers around the world.
Jeff Waldon is chief technical officer at Forest Carbon Offsets LLC and was formerly founder and executive director of the Conservation Management Institute at Virginia Tech University, Blacksburg, VA, USA.
Carl Gade is chairman of the board of Forest Carbon Offsets LLC and COO/president of the Penrod Group, an international production and trading group in wood, metal, and PVC products.