What makes a good climate protection project?

Pina Earth x Polarstern: Thinking beyond the energy transition

Reducing our own emissions must always be the first step in the fight against climate change - whether as a company or privately. The remaining energy requirements must then be covered with energy from renewable sources. Polarstern is a green energy supplier that only supplies 100% green energy. The social business applies particularly sustainable criteria to its operations and offers green electricity exclusively with a German certificate of origin. At the same time, there are also unavoidable residual emissions in the Polarstern office and during business trips. To account for them, Polarstern makes a climate contribution with Pina Earth to turn monoculture forest in the Schlegel climate protection project into a climate-resilient and biodiverse mixed forest.

Polarstern offers 100% green energy from renewable sources in Germany. The social business is pursuing the vision of changing the world with energy, one of the key issues in the fight against climate change. By the end of 2023, Polarstern has already saved over 240,000 tons of CO2. The three founders got the idea for founding Polarstern in 2009. They wanted to use their manpower for something meaningful and sustainable. Just like the founders of Pina Earth, Gesa and Florian, the idea of shaping the future sustainably was at the heart of the founding idea. 

"Energy is one of, if not the biggest lever in climate protection. To heat buildings, to power appliances, to be mobile or to produce things - energy is needed everywhere. Nothing works without energy. But with more and more fossil fuels, nothing will work in the future. The switch to renewable energies therefore opens up many opportunities. That's where our vision comes from: changing the world with energy." - Florian Henle, Founder and CEO of Polarstern

The challenge: effectively protecting the climate beyond the own value chain

As a social business, Polarstern goes beyond its core business: each tariff promotes the expansion of renewable energies in Germany and supports climate protection projects in developing countries. Photovoltaic systems are built in Germany and innovations such as green hydrogen are promoted. Internationally, Polarstern supports the construction of micro-biogas plants for households in Cambodia and solar power supplies for entire villages and small towns in Madagascar. Through these initiatives, Polarstern gives more than 50,000 people access to clean energy (as of the end of 2023).

Reducing carbon emissions is truly part of Polarstern's DNA. That's why Polarstern also keeps its footprint as small as possible in its own business processes. 

"In addition to our offer, we pay attention to sustainable criteria in our business activities, in our actions at Polarstern. This includes energy-saving measures such as efficiency settings on computers, timers on electrical appliances and multiple plugs, avoiding plastic waste by providing reusable lunch boxes and glass bottles, buying reusable office supplies as well as refurbished electrical appliances and, of course, switching to electric vehicles. The cars are already electric, and the buses and caddys of our electric master craftsmen will be too." - Florian Henle, Founder and CEO of Polarstern

For the remaining unavoidable footprint, Polarstern wanted to support a long-term project and raise awareness about it. The connection to regional forests quickly becomes apparent when you read Polarstern's magazine: It explains why forest protection is so important in the fight against climate change and how switching to green electricity also protects the forest. By using renewable energy, households can reduce their carbon footprint and thus slow down climate change. At the same time, other pollutants such as particulate matter, which can otherwise weaken the forest, are avoided. Polarstern and its employees are fans of regional forest protection for their own footprint, namely where a climate contribution has the greatest impact.

The solution: climate contribution in certified climate protection projects from German forests

Polarstern supports the 'Schlegel' climate protection project in Germany in order to make an effective climate contribution for its own residual emissions. In contrast to reforestation projects, this project is not about planting or replanting forests, but about saving the forests we still have - through forest adaptation.

In the Schlegel forest adaptation project, over 470 hectares of a single-layer spruce forest in Thuringia are being converted into a near-natural and species-rich permanent forest. To prepare the forest for the future challenges of climate change, climate-resilient tree species are being introduced and the stability of the forest is being promoted by diversifying the tree heights. The project was certified by TÜV Nord in accordance with ISO 14064-2 at the beginning of 2023.

Satellite image of the 'Schlegel' project area

To guarantee a high standard of quality, all Pina Earth forest projects go through five steps in the development and certification process:

  1. Selection of suitable forest areas and measures for the climate protection project in close contact with the forest owners and forestry service providers:
    Forest owners know best what works on their land and sites in the long term. That is why we work closely with them to find suitable project areas and measures for forest conversion. The initial state of the forest areas and the target state after 30 years are crucial here: which tree species are currently dominant and which site-appropriate tree species will be established? How, when and to what extent? Using a detailed questionnaire and current forest data, we evaluate the potential of possible forest areas.
  2. Scientifically sound calculation of CO2 sequestration performance over the next 30 years using our AI-based forest growth simulation:
    To calculate the additional carbon stored, we simulate two scenarios (the baseline and the project scenario) over a 30-year period and compare the carbon sequestration performance in the two scenarios. This is necessary to show the climate additionality of the project, an important principle of the voluntary carbon market. For the simulation of the baseline scenario, we assume that the forest is managed according to the data of the Federal Forest Inventory - primarily as a monoculture as before. In the project scenario, we simulate how the forest develops as a result of the implementation of the agreed adaptation measures. The difference between the two scenarios over a period of 30 years results in the additional carbon storage capacity generated by the project measures and thus the number of carbon credits. All assumptions for our calculations are based on current scientific studies, e.g. the climate models of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. For the calculation itself, we have extended the open source tool TreeGrOSS from the Northwest German Research Institute.
  3. Verification and validation of the carbon offset project by an independent auditor in accordance with a relevant standard and/or methodology:
    Every Pina Earth forest project is audited by an independent auditor. For this purpose, we prepare detailed project documentation in accordance with the specifications of a relevant standard/methodology for climate protection projects, e.g. ISO standard 14064-2 or the Wald-Klimastandard. The standard specifies the overarching rules that a project must meet in order to be certified under this standard. In the project documentation, the status quo of the forest area and the plans for the duration of the project are described individually for each forest conversion project. Our calculations are also documented and justified there. After an area visit by the auditor to verify the information, the project is certified according to the selected standard.
  4. Implementation and documentation of the measures on the area by the forest owners and forestry service providers:
    When the project starts, the measures on the project area also begin. These include, for example, regular thinning, planting, promotion of natural regeneration, removal of competing vegetation and wildlife management. The measures will be implemented over the entire project period of 30 years. They aim to create a structurally diverse and climate-resilient mixed forest that can withstand the challenges of climate change. All measures are documented and published by Pina Earth.
  5. Regular monitoring and re-certification of the forest project area:
    At least every 5 years, new data is collected on the forest areas of the climate protection project and/or project visits are carried out by an independent auditor. Based on new qualitative and quantitative data, Pina Earth updates the calculations and reviews the predicted climate impact of the measures. The baseline scenario is also kept dynamic in order to continuously reflect the latest scientific findings.

To finance the measures over the duration of the project, the forest owners receive additional income through the sale of carbon credits by Pina Earth. The more long-term the commitment through the climate contribution, the more security and predictability for the forest owners, so that the measures can be implemented successfully and quickly. 

Polarstern also aims to think and act for the long term. To achieve this, strong partnerships are essential as a counterweight to the conventional economy. Like Pina Earth, Polarstern is also part of the German Sustainable Economy Association (BNW). And Polarstern is no stranger to regular certifications: the B Corp company is continuously audited on the extent to which it works towards an inclusive, fair and regenerative economic system that takes into account the interests of all stakeholders.

Florian Henle, Founder and CEO of Polarstern
Florian Henle, Founder and CEO of Polarstern

"Preserving and protecting our natural resources on earth is very important to us at Polarstern. It's not just about breaking new sustainable ground, but also about using and strengthening existing resources in such a way that the impact grows. Protecting native forests with Pina Earth and adapting them to environmental and climate conditions so that they continue to act as valuable carbon sinks is in line with our ideas of forward-looking, sustainable action." - Florian Henle, Founder and CEO of Polarstern