This is the second installment in our blog series that will walk through each of the four monitoring components. In the first installment we discussed our use of geospatial data and remote sensing to track project quality. Today we’ll take a look at how Aspiration works collaboratively with our project partners to measure climate, environmental, and community impact.
What makes a good carbon project?
We believe it’ll take more than avoiding carbon emissions or removing them from the atmosphere to achieve lasting climate impact. We also need to influence the driving factors behind climate change: ecosystem health and resilience, and people’s ability to live and thrive sustainably off the land.
So at Aspiration, a “high-quality” project is one that not only follows the most scientifically-backed standards, but also holistically integrates climate, environmental, and community benefits throughout its lifecycle.
A key part of Aspiration’s Monitoring & Engagement strategy is gathering the data to measure and demonstrate impact across all three of these core pillars.
To collect data we work collaboratively with our project partners. They include project developers, on-the-ground implementing organizations, and the communities and participants directly involved in and impacted by the project. We also support them in their own analysis and quality assurance, and conduct our own data collection and analysis through Geographic Information Systems (GIS) monitoring and site visit project assessments.
Through these combined monitoring activities we’re able to ensure our projects are meeting high quality standards and provide a clear picture of their impact on climate, environment, and community. Let’s look more closely at those three pillars:
Farmland in Kenya’s Lake Victoria watershed is brought into a mixed polyculture of trees and crops as part of Trees for the Future Forest Garden program, giving farmers tools and creating biodiverse and healthy ecosystems within small-scale farms. Agroforestry projects such as this one provide climate, environmental, and community benefits.
Projects follow science-backed methodologies from vetted carbon registries to measure the metric tons of carbon dioxide (or CO2 equivalent) removed or avoided by their project. We review all carbon calculations used by our projects, providing additional support to ensure credits generated by projects are accurate and the climate impact is being achieved.
Climate data gathered from partners can include:
- Third-party verification reports of credits issued and metric tons of CO2e removed or avoided.
- Carbon sequestration estimates from GIS/geospatial analysis.
- Test and sample reports from third-party labs.
- Detailed calculations of removal and emissions reductions following registry methodologies.
Photo Credit: Eden Reforestation Projects
Geospatial analysis is a key part of Aspiration’s monitoring strategy for climate and environmental impact. Sharing maps and GIS data collected during field visits is an important part of ongoing partner collaboration and information sharing.
Through our nature-based projects, we aim to restore millions of hectares of degraded and deforested forests and natural habitats; protect existing forests and ecosystems; and improve management practices on working lands, ranchlands, and agroecosystems. In doing so we also provide habitat for wildlife and opportunities for species populations to grow.
Environmental and biodiversity indicators we collect from relevant projects include:
- Hectares restored, protected, or brought under sustainable land management.
- Number of trees planted and their survival rates.
- Above-and-below-ground carbon biomass, including soil carbon where applicable.
- Native species richness, population size, and habitat change over time.
A community member tends seedlings at a macadamia nursery as part of iRise rural development project in Malawi and Imperative’s carbon program. As part of our monitoring framework, we track environmental indicators such as trees planted and survival rates, as well as social indicators such as community participation and employment.
The success of projects relies on the participation of the communities residing within project areas and making their livelihoods off the land. Projects often occur within the Global South and among communities that are lacking in resources, traditionally marginalized, and vulnerable to climate disaster and disruption.
We ensure our projects not only happen with the willing participation of communities, but also adhere to a high standard of delivering direct community benefits.
Our project partners share data demonstrating these community impacts, including:
- How much carbon revenue is passed on to communities by project developers, direct employment of community members, or shared community benefits. Our projects share a portion of developer revenue with communities.
- The number of community members directly employed by the project, and how their wages compare with national living wages.
- Improvements to participant living conditions and removal of barriers to maintaining sustainable livelihoods — which could include time and money saved on household energy, capacity to implement sustainable farming practices, or improvements in crop diversity or outputs.
- Shared community benefits — if the project builds a school or community center, for instance, or the project funds a health education program.
Community members in Kasungu, Malawi live in an area that has been degraded by decades of tobacco production. Participating in the carbon project with Aspiration’s partners, iRise and Imperative, community members will have the opportunity to earn income through participation in commercial macadamia production, as well as to have their own subsistence farming plot and receive fuel-efficient cookstoves.
To glean all of this critical impact indicator data, we work with partners to track both short-term and long-term metrics. Thus we can verify the project’s immediate impact — think hectares protected, or training and employment opportunities for community members — as well as long-term sustainable change, such as species diversity, overall biomass growth, or increased food security for the community.
Like our process with GIS and geospatial data, Aspiration reviews partner results and conducts our own analysis with relevant data. By collecting this indicator data, we can aggregate learnings across our portfolio of projects and also provide support to our partners in assessing their impact.
And that’s what project quality boils down to for us: a wide spectrum of positive impact — for the planet, for the areas where the projects take place, and for the people who call those places home.
Stay tuned for the next two installments of our blog series as we explore the other elements of our monitoring system — like on-the-ground site visits and third-party assessments — that we use to guarantee the highest quality for our carbon projects.
Megan Bomba is the Carbon Program Monitoring & Engagement Manager at Aspiration. Megan has 15 years of experience in social impact project management and pilot implementation, with a focus on community nutrition and food security, market access for farmers, rural development, and monitoring and evaluation of clean cookstoves projects. She holds a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Oberlin College and a Master of Science degree in International Agricultural Development from U.C. Davis.