Q&A: the Accounting for Natural Climate Solutions Guidance team talks collaboration, piloting and public release

This month Quantis released the ground-breaking Accounting for Natural Climate Solutions: Guidance for Measuring GHG Emissions from Land, Forests, and Soils Across the Supply Chain (formerly known as the Land Use Change Guidance). The Quantis communications team sat down with our very own Global Director of Services + Innovation Jon Dettling and Sustainability Consultant Michèle Zollinger to talk about this unique pre-competitive, multi-stakeholder initiative with 40+ diverse partners. We covered the process of defining the Guidance and piloting the 12 recommendations, as well as next steps for the Accounting for Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) Guidance – which includes contributing to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol’s eventual accounting standard on the topic.

Jon Dettling

Jon Dettling,
Global Director, Services + Innovation,
Quantis

Michèle Zollinger,
NCS Project Coordinator,
Quantis

A solid accounting approach to including greenhouse gas emissions from land, forests, and soils in their corporate and product footprints

Congratulations, Jon and Michele, on launching the Accounting for Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) Guidance after 2 years of great work! Let’s go back to the beginning: How did this idea take shape?

[Jon Dettling] The NCS initiative emerged the same way many of our collaborative initiatives do, during conversations with our clients. We recognized a number of them were expressing a shared and urgent need for a solid accounting approach to including greenhouse gas emissions from land, forests, and soils in their corporate and product footprints. This would allow their climate and forest efforts to be mutually supportive, bringing more intelligence to each topic. A robust methodology would not only help tackle deforestation in their supply chains, it would also help companies tap into natural climate solutions as part of their corporate carbon strategies, including science-based targets. We knew this Guidance would usher in a new era for sustainable management of forestry and agriculture in corporate supply chains, and I’m thrilled that it’s launched!

[Michele Zollinger] It has been a challenge for companies to apply GHG accounting rules to land-related emissions in their supply chains. Results vary significantly according to the accounting methodology a company chooses. The Guidance was developed to ensure greater consistency in calculating and accounting for land use and land-use change emissions in corporate supply chains. This is key because ambitious corporate commitments and science-based targets rely on the credibility and comparability of their supporting metrics. The NCS Guidance was launched to assemble, align and complete existing GHG standards.

For a deep dive into the NCS Guidance with IKEA + Braskem, watch our webinar replay.

The decision was made to develop a Guidance with recommendations rather than a standard. Why?

[Jon] As pressure for ambitious corporate climate action and deforestation-free supply chains rises, companies have a pressing need for a shared methodology to account for land-related emissions. Because of this urgency, we chose to develop recommendations rather than a standard, which can take several additional years to produce. Quantis isn’t a standards-setting organization, so our intention with the Guidance is to empower companies to take immediate action while serving as a resource for eventual standardization through our partners at the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, supplier of the world’s most widely used greenhouse gas accounting standards.

How has this work already impacted conversations or projects in the field of land use and land-use change?

[Michele] Throughout this two-year project, interest from companies looking to integrate land-related emissions in their climate strategies and target setting has continued to grow, so these methodological resources and pilot projects are very timely. The Guidance is also shaping the field by inviting further conversation on important issues where the industry is not yet aligned.

Yes, can you explain a bit more about the “topics under discussion”?

[Michele] Specifically, the Guidance highlights two topics requiring further discussion: biogenic emissions and accounting for indirect land use change. The purpose of the Guidance was not to determine or reach consensus on all land-use change issues – that’s what a standard does. We’ve included them in the Guidance in hopes of driving the conversation forward.

Last year, 11 projects piloted the methodology. How did these inform the final document?

[Michele] It was critical to pilot the Guidance across various applications including supply chain strategy, commodity footprints, soil carbon, and bio-based product assessments. Eleven pilot projects were implemented with Braskem, IKEA, PMI, General Mills, CDP, WWF and others. Key insights from the pilots were integrated into the final Guidance, allowing to refine the methodology and feature as practical examples throughout the document.

When you started this project two years ago, it was entitled the “Land Use Change Guidance.” Why did you decide to change the title to “Accounting for Natural Climate Solutions”?

[Jon] Since we launched this project, much has changed in the global conversations on land use change and corporate carbon strategies. We wanted to ensure that the title encompasses all the topics that are addressed in the Guidance: not only land use and land-use change, but also the key role soils can play in carbon sequestration, for example, as well as to highlight the ultimate goal of finding and applying solutions to the climate challenge. Working with nature can provide effective solutions to urgently address climate change. Natural climate solutions – from forests, agriculture, soil and land – have been recognized as key levers in mitigating the negative impacts of climate change.

There are 40+ stakeholders that participated in the project. How did you integrate inputs from diverse organizations?

[Jon] Over the years, Quantis has developed a leadership role in coordinating pre-competitive initiatives (ex: the Sustainable Packaging for Cosmetics (SPICE) initiative, the World Food LCA Database and the World Apparel and Footwear LCA Database projects…). This was, however, the first time Quantis convened such large group to address a topic with that level of urgency. I’m grateful for our partners’ active contributions. Through 3 full review sessions, 6 specialized working groups, and 11 pilots, we’ve managed to create a truly groundbreaking Guidance.

What’s next for this Guidance and for the topic of natural climate solutions? How can companies leverage this resource?

[Michele] Accounting for GHG emissions from land-related activities is rapidly growing topic and this Guidance will help companies keep up to speed. Recommendations from the Guidance are poised to shape GHG Protocol’s accounting standards on the topic in the coming years. By integrating this approach in their assessments, companies can not only identify new climate solutions in their supply chains, but also prepare for new mandatory disclosure frameworks that will develop.

[Jon] This Guidance opens doors for new solutions to refine GHG impact calculations. For example, as more and more companies integrate land-related emissions into their science-based targets and look to quantify and track progress on their sustainability efforts at ground-level, data granularity will become critical. Quantis and our partners are developing an online tool that gives companies and other stakeholders a spatially-sensitive footprint of major commodities everywhere in the world. It’s called the geoFootprint Project.

More broadly, we’re looking to connect this accounting framework with corporate climate strategy to make sure there is the recognition of the importance of protecting our forests and restoring our land in such strategies.

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