January 2023 ESMC Newsletter
ED Column: How Eco-Harvest Keeps Agricultural Credits Within the Agricultural Sector
This month, I highlight how ESMC’s market program, Eco-Harvest, helps agricultural companies not only reduce their overall environmental footprint, but also make investments in regenerative agriculture. To understand how our program works, I’ll provide a brief explanation of how greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are categorized and accounted for in corporate reporting.
Due to increasing investor, stakeholder, and customer demand for the private sector to reduce its overall environmental footprint – in particular, GHG emissions that contribute to climate change – companies have made commitments to decrease GHG emissions from their direct and indirect operations. Many of ESMC’s members have these types of commitments.
Indirect GHG emissions are those attributed to the operations of external partners within a corporation’s supply chain, and in carbon accounting language are known as Scope 3 emissions. In the agriculture sector, food and beverage companies can work with the farmers and ranchers they purchase goods from to achieve lower Scope 3 supply chain emissions and make claims about these reductions in their annual environmental, social, and governance (ESG) reports. Since few corporate food companies produce their own raw materials – and some agricultural products have large GHG footprints – many of these companies often have significantly higher indirect, Scope 3 supply chain GHG emissions as compared to their Scope 1 (direct) or Scope 2 (purchased energy) emissions. It is common for a food and beverage company’s Scope 3 supply chain emissions to account for upwards of 90% of its total annual GHG inventory.
ESMC’s Eco-Harvest market program is focused entirely on reducing agricultural Scope 3 GHG emissions and achieving improved water quality, water quantity, and biodiversity outcomes. Our program generates reportable verified GHG outcomes that corporations in the agricultural supply chain can use to document and claim annual increases in soil carbon (aka carbon removals) or reductions in GHG emissions to meet their Scope 3 commitments. The outcomes are tracked in Eco-Harvest as supply chain impact units, which are analogous to carbon insets. These outcomes achieved in Scope 3 supply chain reporting are absolute and do not allow for GHG emission increases elsewhere (compared to Scope 1 carbon offsets, which do allow for emissions increases elsewhere). This is an important distinction when we look at how agricultural carbon programs account for GHG reductions and removals. Focusing our program on Scope 3 emissions ensures that reductions and removals made within the agricultural sector are accounted for within the agricultural sector, and that supply chain actors who make investments in these outcomes can appropriately account for them in their annual supply chain reports.
To achieve Net Zero, we need to not offset emissions, but reduce them absolutely. This requires an increased focus on and collective action within Scope 3 supply chain carbon removals and GHG emissions reductions. As an example, the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) requires that to meet criteria for net zero, 90% of a company’s decarbonization must be achieved by reducing emissions (Scope 3) — not just by offsetting GHG (Scope 1).
Over the next few months, I’ll discuss other topics along these lines. One such topic will be differences in requirements for independent 3rd party certification of outcomes in Scope 3 supply chain reporting compared to offset market activity. Thanks for your time – please let us know if you have comments or questions on these or other topics in these important discussions.
Join Our Team
ESMC/ESMRC is hiring for four positions – a Chief Scientist, a Research Program Project Manager, a Project Manager and a Policy and Engagement Manager. Read more on the positions and apply. All positions are excellent opportunities to join our dynamic team.
The Chief Scientist will lead the Ecosystem Services Market Research Consortium (ESMRC) Research and Development (R&D) department which is ESMC’s innovation program that serves to improve and expand our market program operations. The Chief Scientist guides the strategic development and growth of ESMRC’s science, innovation and R&D programs, projects, partnerships, and assists with fundraising with the goal of providing the best available information to support scaled beneficial outcomes from agricultural operations, including improved ecosystems service outcomes that are quantified and verified.
The Research Program Project Manager will assist ESMRC’s Chief Scientist in planning and execution of RDD&D projects that meet ESMRC goals and objectives as established by grant awards, ESMC market development priorities, and technical working group input and guidance. The position will draft ESMRC Requests for Proposals (RFPs) and Statements of Work (SOW) for RDD&D projects, coordinate solicitation of responses, and lead review of submitted proposals. They will also facilitate and lead ESMRC Working Group activities.
The Project Manager will join our team in a virtual office environment and will serve on a team of Project Managers to plan, coordinate, implement and lead pilot projects and market projects. The Project Managers will work collaboratively as part of the larger ESMC/ESMRC team and with ESMC/ESMRC members and stakeholders. This is an ideal position for candidates experienced in working with producers to implement regenerative agricultural practice changes and who are interested in joining a quickly growing and innovative organization. This is a remote position.
The ESMC/ESMRC Policy and Member Engagement Manager will serve as ESMC/ESMRC’s lead on public policy issues that are relevant to ESMC/ESMRC’s mission and vision and the success of our agricultural ecosystem services market program. The Policy and Member Engagement Manager will identify public policy opportunities, obstacles, and barriers to a fully optimized ecosystem services market program and work to engage our members and stakeholders to achieve beneficial outcomes. The position is a contract position based in Washington DC.
Look for ESMC At…
National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) 77th Annual Meeting
February 11 – 15, New Orleans, LA
NACD’s Annual Meeting is a premier event for leaders in conservation, from district officials and agency representatives to industry professionals. Each year, the meeting draws over 1,000 conservation leaders from across the United States and its territories. ESMC’s Director of Product and Business Development, Jack Jeworski will present with General Mills colleagues in a session entitled Participating in Eco-Harvest by ESMC – an Ecosystem Services Market Program. Read more about the meeting.
February 14 – 16, Scottsdale, AZ
Join the dynamic GreenBiz 23 community to harness the knowledge of experts, peers and new voices to help you achieve net zero, advance the circular economy, elevate social justice, safeguard biodiversity, build resilient supply chains and more. Read more about the event.
ESMC in the News
The Importance of Digital Infrastructure in Getting to Net Zero
Forbes (January 23)
Writing in Forbes, Anastasia Volkova of Regrow.ag (an ESMC Legacy Partner member and technical contractor) highlights how understanding the necessary data, finding the right tools to gather and distribute data, and ensuring compliance with standards and regulations can be difficult challenges for any organization working in supply chain emissions reductions. Working with trusted climate advisors can help companies understand which questions to ask, and referencing climate-related working groups (such as Ecosystem Services Market Consortium or Keystone Policy Center) can help guide companies in the right direction. Read the full article.
ESMC Member and Funder News
USDA Moves to Crack Down on ‘Organic’ Fraud
Washington Post (January 19)
The US Department of Agriculture, an ESMC funder, announced new guidelines for products labeled “organic,” a term that has been increasingly abused as shoppers have sought healthier, environmentally friendly food. Read the full article.
Research Could Simplify Process for Calculating Soil Carbon Credits
Science Daily (January 5)
A study led by researchers at the Agroecosystem Sustainability Center at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign provides new insights for quantifying cropland carbon budgets and soil carbon credits, two important metrics for mitigating climate change. The results, outlined in a paper published in the soil science journal Geoderma, could simplify the process for calculating soil carbon credits, which reward farmers for conserving soil carbon through crop rotation, no-tillage, cover crops, and other conservation practices that improve soil health. The project was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), an ESMC funder. Read the full article.
Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) has Science-Focused Positions Open
FFAR, an ESMC funder, has key positions open for Chief Scientific Officer, Scientific Program Director, and a Scientific Project Manager. Read more about these opportunities.
Other News of Note
Can Changing Your Mindset Change Everything?
GreenBiz (January 30)
As we crossed the threshold into 2023, a question echoed in the sustainability community: What are we going to do differently this year to turn things around? To reverse biodiversity loss, to get on track for the steep emissions reductions needed, to legitimately address the devastation climate change and extractive industry are having on the historically excluded. Read the full article.
Soil Health at No-till on the Plains
Progressive Farmer (January 27)
While fertilizer prices are coming down, Ohio farmer and no-till legend David Brandt said high input costs are at least one factor driving some farmers to look more at no-till systems and cover crops as a way to reduce nutrient and chemical needs. Read the full article.
Can We Increase the Carbon Content of Agricultural Soils?
Phys.Org (January 25)
There are a number of different actions that could affect the soil’s carbon storage potential in day-to-day farming. However, a reliable assessment of the carbon storage potential of different farming practices requires a lot of information. “First of all, one relies on long-term field trials where the management practices are studied. This is necessary because soil carbon content changes slowly—over a number of years,” says Professor and Section Head Jørgen Eriksen also from the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University. The problem is that such long-term experiments are rare and valuable. Aarhus University has a trial that was set up in Foulum in 1987; results from this experiment were recently published in Geoderma. Read the full article.
Study Aligns Regenerative Farming with Human Health Benefits
WSIU (January 25)
A Chicago-based group with ties to central Illinois established to promote “regenerative” organic agriculture has issued a new study showing a link between regenerative farming, soil health, and human health. Read the full article and access the report.
A Class-Action Wave Is Coming for ESG Claims
Bloomberg (January 25)
In-house counsel all over the world are bracing for a greenwashing lawsuit tsunami amid tougher disclosure requirements. Read the full article.
My State Is 1,000 Miles Long, and Not Everyone Living in It Hates the Rain
New York Times (January 23)
The great deluge of 2023 has come and gone and left Californians wondering what to make of it all. In a state 1,000 miles long with 100 million acres of wildly different landscapes inside it, the way we tell the story depends on which California we call home. Read the full article.
Offsets’ Promise and Peril
Politico (January 20)
Voluntary carbon markets are unregulated, rife with reputational risk — and booming. That combination of attributes is creating a volatile set of perspectives. To some, carbon offsets are a scam — a way for industry to say it’s reducing climate pollution without any official way to check it. To others, these markets are one of the best ways to get the business world on board with climate action. Avery Ellfeldt of POLITICO’s E&E News has a look at the international groups that are trying to bring order to the $2 billion market that Shell and Boston Consulting Group said is going to expand fivefold by 2030. Read the full article.
Aligning Regenerative Agricultural Practices with Outcomes to Deliver for People, Nature and Climate
Food and Land Use Coalition (January 18)
Although a universal definition of regenerative agriculture does not exist, regenerative agricultural practices generally aim to improve soil health, enhance water infiltration and storage, increase the resilience of farms, and reduce reliance on chemical inputs. But there is currently an inconsistent understanding of what “regenerative agriculture” is, the practices it entails and outcomes it can achieve. A new report highlights the need to create an outcome-based framework for measuring, assessing and scaling regenerative agricultural practices that benefit people and planet. It includes a review of evidence on how specific practices link to three important farm-level outcomes: biodiversity, climate change mitigation and yield, along with recommendations for stakeholders. Read the full synopsis and download the report.
Our Future Climate Depends Partly on Soil Microbes — But How are They Affected by Climate Change?
Science Daily (January 17)
The largest terrestrial carbon sink on Earth is the planet’s soil. One of the big fears is that a warming planet will liberate significant portions of the soil’s carbon, turning it into carbon dioxide (CO2) gas, and so further accelerate the pace of planetary warming. A key player in this story is the microbe, the predominant form of life on Earth, and which can either turn organic carbon – the fallen leaves, rotting tree stumps, dead roots and other organic matter – into soil, or release it into the atmosphere as CO2. Now, an international team of researchers led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst has helped to untangle one of the knottiest questions involving soil microbes and climate change: what effect does a warming planet have on the microbes’ carbon cycling? Read the full article.