Grassroots Team on July 23, 2021

A Microsoft-funded study by Carbon Plan, an independent non-profit that reviews and rates carbon credits, recently released a buyer’s guide with their assessment of 14 soil carbon certification storage standards. The BCarbon standard was one of only two methodologies to be awarded the highest rating (tied with Verra Soil). Despite this powerful acknowledgment of the scientific rigor behind BCarbon and the work of its 140+ stakeholders, many have never even heard of BCarbon. Since we at Grassroots Carbon are big believers in the rigor of the BCarbon standard as the highest quality carbon credit offering on the market, we wanted to address some of the frequently asked questions about this new standard.

  1. What is BCarbon?

BCarbon is a new soil carbon storage standard. The organization is an independent 501c3 that has its origins at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, one of the most prominent think tanks in the world. Recognizing that existing standards were not getting the buy-in necessary to succeed from both carbon buyers and landowners, the Baker Institute convened over 140 different stakeholders, that include carbon buyers, landowners, soil scientists, environmental lawyers, and others in order to create a carbon storage standard that works for both buyers and sellers. You can read a general overview of the BCarbon standard and its guiding principles here

  1. What makes BCarbon different?

Existing Kyoto-based protocols do not work for landowners – if they did, we would have seen the development of the soil carbon market years ago. Three fundamental issues for landowners when looking at existing standards are that they:

  • Prohibit participation if a land steward is already practicing regenerative agriculture;
  • Prohibit participation if regenerative agriculture is a common practice in the area (i.e. if your neighbor is doing it, you can’t participate in the market); and
  • Prohibit participation if it makes economic sense.

Something is fundamentally broken with the standards that promote these characteristics. These factors are a massive disincentive for people to shift from conventional to regenerative agriculture and punish early adopters, who should be rewarded for their pioneering and good practices.

Instead, under the BCarbon standard:

  • Anyone can participate: BCarbon seeks to incentivize more people to implement regenerative changes and support those who are already doing so in order to demonstrate the viability of regenerative agriculture.
  • There is a rolling approach to additionality: under BCarbon, land stewards do not make one practice change and call it a new project (which has questionable impact). Instead, land stewards are constantly pushed to improve their soil carbon storage because BCarbon only certifies the actual increase in storage.
  • Only the actual increase in storage is certified: this means that there are no questions about the impact or what would have occurred. 
  • There is no specific project management requirement: landowners simply need to manage for soil health using best practices and avoiding known destructive practices (ex: tilling, synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, etc.). BCarbon recognizes that land stewards know their land best and that what works for south Texas may not apply to the Dakotas.
  • Certification is based off of measurements: BCarbon requires a baseline measurement in Year 1 and a second measurement between Years 3 and 7 (on average, expectation is for Year 5). These measurements must be taken in accordance with VMD0021 and cores must be 3 feet deep, a depth which offers a comprehensive view of soil health. As noted above, only the actual increase in soil carbon storage is then certified, meaning that there is no question about the quantity of drawdown and storage under BCarbon.
  1. Why is it important for a standard to be measurement based?

Reliable data matters. With the impact of climate change being felt every day around the world, businesses need to demonstrate quantifiable drawdown in order to show how they are mitigating their impact on the climate crisis. Many companies have been burned by less rigorous credits – we need to build trust in nature-based solutions and the best way to do that is to demonstrate, in a quantifiable way, the actual decarbonization impact. 

Many other standards allow unreliable drawdown estimations, such as shallow modeling and remote sensing. Although these methodologies may have a place in the future, we are not there yet. At this time, taking physical soil depth measurements matters when it comes to determining the actual carbon capture and storage in soil.

  1. If there are no project changes required, is there really any additionality to BCarbon?

Currently, schools of thought regarding additionality are tied to the old engineering mindset. BCarbon breaks that way of thinking.

Under BCarbon, landowners are encouraged to continuously improve their practices because they are only compensated based on the increase in soil carbon storage that they achieve on their land. They cannot do a single chance at the start of the project and expect to be rewarded for that change – they must constantly work to sequester carbon.

  1. If BCarbon only certifies the measured increase in carbon storage, does that mean that landowners have to wait until the second measurement in order to be paid?

No, BCarbon recognizes that waiting for the second measurement would cause landowners to become disenchanted with the carbon credit marketplace. So that landowners do not have to wait several years until the second measurement in order to be paid for their soil carbon storage, BCarbon will certify land based on an extremely conservative pre-assessment of the property. This pre-assessment takes into account the climate, soil types, ecological assessment from the measurement, and land management practices. When all of these factors are considered, BCarbon still will not certify more than 50% of the literature-based expectation for the land’s increase in storage in the pre-assessment phase. 

  1. Why does BCarbon only use a 10-year permanence requirement?

It’s important to note that BCarbon uses a 10-year rolling permanence – this means that for every year in which a landowner sells their carbon storage, they commit to maintaining their soil health for another 10 years. As a result, this rolling commitment could carry over from year to year indefinitely as long as the landowner continues to sell their storage. Although 10 years doesn’t sound like much time in the overall scheme of things, it’s important to remember that if landowners are not on board, then the whole point is moot. A 10-year commitment is significantly more palatable to landowners than multi-decade commitments. 

  1. How does BCarbon meet carbon buyer needs?

BCarbon offers measured and quantifiable decarbonization:

  • BCarbon offers guaranteed atmospheric GHG reduction because they only certify the absolute carbon drawdown and storage. There are no avoided emissions or “offsets” (in the “carbon hostage” scenario of “pay me or I will cut down this tree”)
  • Measurement-based certification based on actual 3 feet deep measurements conducted after rigorous stratification in accordance with Verra VMD0021. At this time, other methods, such as shallow sampling, modeling only, remote sensing, or handheld near infrared (NIR), are simply not reliable enough yet to quantify soil carbon storage. With the high-quality data collection mandated by the BCarbon standard, carbon buyers can be sure that they are obtaining high-quality credits that show quantifiable decarbonization.
  • Independently verified and certified credits ensure accuracy and transparency in the carbon accounting process.
  1. Why should landowners certify their soil carbon storage through BCarbon as opposed to another standard?

BCarbon offers a landowner-friendly standard that encourages participation from both those already engaged in regenerative agriculture while working as a “carrot” to entice other land stewards to make the change towards regenerative agriculture. Under BCarbon:

  • Any landowner can participate: BCarbon considers storage of carbon in soil an element of property rights. Participation is no prohibited if you are already engaged in regenerative practices, if your neighbors are practicing regen, or if it makes economic sense.
  • Landowner is in control of their land: the landowner knows their property best and they determine how to manage for soil health. Since BCarbon wants landowners to be successful in increasing their soil carbon content, they also offer many ways for landowners to get involved and to benefit from their research efforts, such as their stakeholder groups.
  • Realistic permanence: Instead of an onerous multi-decade requirement that extends beyond the expected lifespan of the landowner, BCarbon simply uses a 10-year forward rolling commitment, at every annual sales, thus building up realistic long-term protection.

Are you interested in learning more about how BCarbon-certified storage is a good solution for you? Visit our carbon buyer page to learn how to purchase BCarbon-certified storage from Grassroots Carbon or our landowner seller page to learn how to join the Grassroots Carbon network in order to sell your carbon storage.

Sign up for our newsletter.
Get the latest articles on all things regenerative delivered straight to your inbox.