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Where Does Forest Carbon Fit into Corporate Sustainability?

Melissa Vernon | 25 September 2018 |

If you want to understand how conservation efforts and corporate incentives can align to ensure forest carbon fulfils its potential, a panel of Microsoft, Workday, the Wildlife Conservation Society, Nature Conservancy Canada and standards body, Verra, is hard to beat.

Where Does Forest Carbon Fit into Corporate Sustainability?

Moderated by Natural Capital Partners’ Managing Director, Jonathan Shopley, the panel “Where Does Forest Carbon Fit into Corporate Sustainability?” during the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) in San Francisco, discussed the importance of forest conservation and restoration in achieving global climate goals and corporate sustainability objectives.

Three key themes emerged during the discussion.

The role of nature-based solutions

The Governor of California, Jerry Brown, kicked off GCAS 2018 by signing a new bill to achieve 100% renewable electricity and carbon neutrality for the state by 2045. This catalyzed conversations around the need to open up a portfolio of solutions, rather than focusing solely on specific technologies such as wind or solar power, to meet the goal of net zero emissions.

Given that 37% of the emissions reductions needed by 2030 can be provided by nature-based solutions such as reforestation[1], it is essential to include them in the mix. The panel discussion reflected a shift in conversation throughout multiple GCAS sessions, that while we need technological solutions such as renewable energy and CO2 capture and storage, they are not the silver bullet. In fact, we need to embrace many types of solutions, including those grounded in nature, to address climate change and keep warming under 2 degrees Celsius.

The combination of nature and technology is also critical for speed and scale: Elizabeth Willmott, Environmental Sustainability Program Manager for Microsoft, showcased how tools like Microsoft’s AI for Earth have the potential to provide large data sets for water conservation, biodiversity protection, agricultural land use and more, enabling quicker and more efficient data collection and analysis. Watch this space for an acceleration of forest carbon innovations.

Forest carbon supporting a carbon neutral goal

GCAS reduced emissions from the event to net zero by working with Natural Capital Partners, as Offset Sponsor of the Summit, to purchase carbon credits from The Yurok Tribe Project. The Project was launched by the largest American Indian tribe in California to preserve nearly 29,730 acres of forestland in their home of Humboldt County, California.

Throughout the week, additional announcements rolled out from hundreds of leaders from corporations, cities and investors committing to carbon neutrality, as well as aggressive climate action and renewable energy targets.

A question was raised regarding how and when offsets should be used in a carbon neutral strategy and the role of forestry projects in achieving corporate reduction goals. Many companies, including Workday and Microsoft, use a portfolio approach and invest in multiple carbon offset project types.

Willmott urged companies not to wait for regulation: “In the absence of regulations on carbon neutrality, we adhere to the CarbonNeutral Protocol.” She shared that Microsoft, a carbon neutral company for six years, is not going to take the risk of inaction: “If we did, we’d miss out on significant momentum to tackle climate solutions.” As Microsoft set aggressive carbon reduction goals such as cutting operational greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2030, Willmott realized that carbon finance projects are a necessary tool, and today refers to offsets as “the crown jewel” of Microsoft’s carbon program, which includes offset purchases from forestry projects in Madagascar, Malawi, Kenya, Brazil, Peru, Indonesia, the U.S. and Canada.

The role of forest carbon in sustainable development

David Antonioli, President of Verra, emphasized that well-designed forestry projects not only protect trees but also address community economic development. In fact, it’s often a vital part of the program: “Transforming local economies is what is protecting forests,” he said. A successful project builds awareness in local communities, demonstrating the value of protecting forests, thereby reducing the desire to cut them down. This approach to economic development also tackles leakage, a concern that protection of a forest just moves the threat to an adjacent area.

Many of the carbon offset projects in the forestry sector, especially in the developing world, contribute to multiple UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and help improve livelihoods for people and communities.

Todd Stevens, Executive Director, Markets at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), described how the organization primarily works with existing forests and focuses on stabilizing local economic conditions and alleviating poverty. In addition, its smaller scale projects provide hands-on learning to inform policy, enabling local action to inform a national baseline. For example, in the Makira region of Madagascar, economic opportunities are limited and communities have historically relied on illegal logging and land-intensive rice farming for survival. These activities result in significant deforestation in an area recognized as a biodiversity hotspot and leave local communities trapped in poverty. The Makira Project, which contributes to nine SDGs, is the largest carbon emission reduction program in Madagascar’s land use sector, partnering with local communities to incentivize forest conservation by introducing sustainable high-earning cocoa and clove farming opportunities, as well as eco-tourism, new rice farming techniques and aqua-culture.

Reforestation projects, on the other hand, require funding in addition to carbon finance, as it takes ~ 7 years for the trees to mature to a point of sequestering carbon and thereby generating carbon credits. Projects need to demonstrate an ROI, so there is an opportunity for innovation to quantify and value the sustainable development benefits that are occurring during the early years following replanting.

So, where does forest carbon fit into corporate sustainability? Microsoft and Workday demonstrated that forest carbon has a significant role to play in carbon neutral and carbon offsetting programs as part of a company’s approach to climate action. Purchasing credits from forestry projects brings multiple benefits to the environment and surrounding communities, enabling corporates to meet their reduction goals, deliver sustainable development impacts and align with conservation efforts delivered by projects on the ground throughout the world.

To learn more about how your business can support forest conservation and sustainable development while reducing carbon emissions, contact us and visit our page: How can my business support global forests?

The full list of panelists:

  • Elizabeth Willmott, Environmental Sustainability Program Manager, Microsoft
  • Erik Hansen, Senior Sustainability Manager, Workday
  • Todd Stevens, Executive Director, Markets, Wildlife Conservation Society
  • David Antonioli, CEO, Verra
  • Robert Wilson, Director of Conservation Finance, Nature Conservancy of Canada

Moderated by: Jonathan Shopley, Managing Director External Affairs, Natural Capital Partners

[1] Nature’s Make or Break Potential for Climate Change, The Nature Conservancy, 2017. Available at:

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