Pina Earth x Earthly: Interview with Oliver Bolton

How to assess high-quality carbon credits: An interview with Oliver Bolton, co-founder & CEO at Earthly

Earthly is a platform that offers a science-backed project marketplace, climate certifications, and innovative visualization tools for companies to protect and regenerate nature. In this way, Earthly empowers companies to remove carbon, restore biodiversity, and support the communities most impacted by climate change. 

Earthly's marketplace features nature-based solutions from around the world that directly address climate change by reducing and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, restoring biodiversity, and enhancing livelihoods. To ensure transparency and integrity of the marketplace, all projects pass a thorough assessment of 106 data points on carbon, biodiversity, and people. 

Recently, Pina Earth’s project “Luckaitztal'' completed the assessment and onboarding process. As of now, Earthly’s clients can purchase Pina Earth’s carbon credits directly from the marketplace. In the following interview, we take a deep dive into Earthly’s project assessment. Oliver Bolton, co-founder and CEO of Earthly, provides insights into Earthly's high-quality climate projects and their commitment to increasing transparency and reliability in nature-based solutions.

As a ClimateTech entrepreneur, Oliver is deeply committed to tackling climate change, restoring our planet, and paving the way for a healthier Earth for future generations. Before founding Earthly, he launched Europe's first B Corp drinks company and received the Virgin VOOM award from Sir Richard Branson.

Earthly has developed its own assessment for the evaluation of high-quality projects. Why did you decide to develop your own assessment? What did this process look like? 
The voluntary carbon market is undergoing rapid expansion; however, it has faced challenges in terms of transparency and realistic estimates of project capabilities. Although certain certifications and standards exist, our goal for absolute quality led us to seek independent evaluations for all projects. Our methodology enables you to compare verified and unverified projects that follow different standards and bodies (i.e. Verra, Plan Vivo, Gold Standard).

An effective, transparent scoring system needed to analyse issues such as risk, additionality, and permanence of project solutions - in areas beyond just carbon.

We had a team of in-house experts to develop the criteria, but also sought the support of an independent scientific board from across academia, law, governance and ecology with backgrounds from the FAO, IUCN, UNFCC, Climate Law & Policy, UN-REDD+ and the Blue Carbon Initiative.

Let’s dive a little bit deeper into the assessment. The questionnaire consists of 106 indicators in the categories of carbon, biodiversity, and people. How and why did you choose these three categories? How do these categories and indicators address your diverse project portfolio, consisting of various project types in different locations?

The assessment analyses 106 data points, aggregating information from several data partners, including BeZero, Earthblox and Google Earth Engine. It is transparent, scores across a wide range of aspects, and creates a clear methodology for assessing impact.

Corporate social responsibility leads businesses to contribute to wider areas, beyond carbon. Poorly designed offset schemes can negatively impact people and nature – something we believe must be avoided at all costs. 

This is what our project assessment does. The three impact pillars of carbon, biodiversity, and people contribute equally to the total project score, as all strongly influence the long-term positive impact of investments in nature-based solutions. However, within each impact pillar, individual criteria are weighted differently. 

All high-quality nature-based solutions must have core practices in place that ensure negative impacts are avoided, whether this is in calculating carbon credits, planting trees in the right places and limiting threats to biodiversity, or following a rights-based approach with indigenous peoples’ local communities. This builds the foundation for delivering a positive impact. 

Positive impact, assesses the true delivery of benefits from the project alongside how robustly and transparently this is governed. Impacts take time to be delivered, and are likely to improve over time as a project matures and applies best practices. 

The goal is to compare, fully understand, and communicate the impact of projects, such as the species protection and flood alleviation benefits of mangrove planting in Madagascar or livelihood programmes focused on employment, education, energy, health and equality in local villages of Indonesian Borneo.

As a result of the assessment across these three categories, you can define whether a project is of high-quality. How did you define the minimum standard for the indicators but also for the overall score? 

The Earthly Project Score analyses carefully chosen weighted criteria, applying both a confidence and maturity score. Only projects exceeding a minimum standard pass the screening process. 

The confidence score addresses the risk-perception aspect of the project based on the quality and quantity of evidence provided. 

The maturity score involves each category being given a rating from 0-4 to detail the extent to which it is developed enough to meet the targets and to reflect the likelihood of its delivery. 

Each criterion is also assigned a weight which reflects its relative importance in determining a project’s positive impact. It ensures that projects excelling in the areas most indicative of high-quality nature-based solutions and are most aligned with our values, receive the highest scores in our assessment. 

The assessor gives each impact pillar (carbon, biodiversity, people) a score as a result of the above process combining maturity, confidence and weighting. This score is then normalised to give a 1-10 scale value. To get the final score for the project, we take the average across all three impact pillars of carbon, biodiversity and people, which all contribute equally to the score. This provides an indication of project quality at a glance, going beyond just carbon. Scores vary from 0 to 10, with 10 as the highest possible score and 6 representing the approximate average for the projects within the voluntary carbon market. A score greater than 7.5 signifies the implementation of best practices.

Pina Earth’s projects are the first German climate protection initiatives on your platform. What potential do you see in regional projects, and how does Pina Earth's project contribute to your high-quality portfolio in the three categories of carbon, biodiversity, and people?

Introducing Pina Earth's initiatives to our platform has been a significant milestone, marking our first foray into German Nature-based Solution projects. The prevailing trend in Europe suggests a strong inclination among companies towards local investments, not only advancing the preservation of nature but also providing an opportunity for our German customers to actively contribute to a project right in their homeland.

Pina Earth’s project reflects the high standards we aim for. Achieving an overall score of 7.4, the project positions itself notably above the industry average. This high score, combined with your holistic approach, gives us confidence in the project's potential to bolster biodiversity, offset significant amounts of CO2 emissions, and ensure the forest's sustainable future for communal benefit. Furthermore, your collaborative efforts with forest owners, by educating them on climate change and refining forest management practices, resonate deeply with our mission.

Another promising aspect is the scalability of the project. We recognize a vast potential of implementation of Pina Earth’s objective to transform monoculture tree plantations into diverse, ecologically vibrant habitats. Monocultures are prevalent not just in Germany, but across Europe and the globe. Our partnership with Pina could very well lead the way in transitioning from monocultures to complex, biodiverse, and climate-resilient forest stands. Together, we envision a future where our forests are not only green but also diverse and sustainable, benefiting both nature and people alike.

Pina Earth's project listed on Earthly's platform.

Further info on our assessment can be found here:
Project Assessment Explainer
Technical Guide to the Project Assessment