Published 1 year ago.
About a 7 minute read.
A recent Innovate4Climate workshop focused on technology’s role in improving carbon accounting verification processes. SustainCERT and INFRAS explored how digitization will revolutionize emissions-reductions verification in both voluntary and compliance markets.
The world is seeing rapid automation, thanks to algorithms and artificial
intelligence; but in the carbon-offset space, PDFs and spreadsheets are still
king. It’s surprising that such an important space still relies on
number-crunching to generate offsets. Under this manual process, good
verification and issuance is necessarily a tedious process to avoid
inaccuracies, but it's also notoriously inefficient.
Thankfully, the emergence of digital monitoring, reporting and verification
(DMRV) is creating higher-quality offsets in a fraction of the time. A May
focused on technology’s role in improving carbon accounting verification
processes. Carbon standard certifier
SustainCERT and consultants
INFRAS and a project developer explored how
digitization will revolutionize emissions-reductions verification in both
and compliance markets.
The concept behind DMRV is beautifully simple: As long as the data is input
correctly into a system that is 100 percent verified, anything that comes out of
the verified platform is pure as gold. It’s a process of validating steps, not
every single keystroke — thus, vastly increasing efficiency and offset
“The goal here is to get as close as possible to real-time verification and
issuance of carbon credits,” said SustainCERT CEO Marion Verles. “It
shouldn’t take months to generate offsets.”
SustainCERT is moving from a process that is 100 percent manual to one that is
80 percent digital. The remaining 20 percent of the process will be spent
verifying the system itself. This will shift the industry away from
project-by-project verification to platform verification — a process that feeds
data directly into a verifier, which automatically ensures the data meets offset
standards. If it does, a digital offset is automatically generated.
Under manual verification, one officer can verify 100-150 projects a year,
Verles said. With DMRV, one officer can verify 10 projects a day. SustainCERT
expects to see its first digital offset generated by the end of the year.
Verra, Gold Standard,
SustainCERT and INFRAS are actively working to bring DMRV to market at scale.
While Verra and Gold Standard write the rules for what makes a great carbon
offset, SustainCERT ensures projects comply with the rules. The old carbon
market did a good job providing separation between developers, verifiers and
issuers. That division needs to be maintained in the new digital carbon economy,
providing the key to solving the climate crisis: Trust.
“Climate action is about trust; and that’s what we provide as an independent
verification partner — proving that progress is being achieved as it’s being
claimed,” Verles said. “Without trust, we’re not going to be able to deliver
that transformational change that is required.”
are being poured into the climate solutions space, and Verles wants to see
robust verification ensuring every one of those dollars’ impact can be verified.
And that will require a fundamental transformation of the verification sector.
“This is the future, we think — of more robust, transparent, automated
processes,” said Toby Janson-Smith, Chief Program Development & Innovation
Officer at Verra.
This technology is already working in the field. Seshagiri Rao with
India-based renewable energy company Greenko
Group said these platforms help integrate data from
renewables projects across India. Projects are monitored from a central location
— providing benefits such as a digital paper trail, reduced travel time, energy
conservation, faster turnaround times, and cost savings.
Verra plans to have operational DMRV platforms within the year, starting with
proof-of-concept projects in
and renewable energy. An internal working group is collaborating with numerous
stakeholders — including SustainCERT — to develop protocols, guidance and
frameworks enabling third parties to develop DMRV platforms for use in various
projects and regions.
Janson-Smith is particularly excited about DMRV’s potential to eliminate the
need to verify individual projects. IoT and remote sensing provide nearly
infallible data points to the platform — so, if the platform is verified, the
offsets it generates from remote/IoT data are verified, too. Multiple steps in
the verification process, including triangulation with different data sources,
help to ensure all is on the up-and-up.
“Technology isn’t making the verification bodies irrelevant; it’s just requiring
them to be able to technologically interface with a new generation of players,”
If there’s an incongruity or a gap in the automated verification process, the
verifier steps in to resolve the discrepancy. Good old manual labor will still
be needed for smaller, more nuanced projects or those that lack resources for
remote sensing or IoT.
The offset space has been theorizing about digital verification for years, said
Owen Hewlett, Chief Technical Officer at Gold Standard. From startups to
established national frameworks, DMRV is applicable to almost everyone.
But there’s a caveat: While efficiency and a short gap between credit
verification and issuance are good reasons to progress, Hewlett doesn’t want to
create a barrier to entry for others who can’t access the needed tech.
“That can be tricky,” Hewlett said. “It’s not just a case of replacing a
traditional methodology with a [new] platform.”
It’s a balancing act between real-world limitations and the limitless potential
of digital accounting. Hewlett suspects DMRVs will put the entire carbon economy
on its head; and good data governance will be required to make a smooth, just
transition. It’s the verifiers’ job to make sure no one falls through the cracks
in a new digital carbon economy.
Manual inputs could allow unscrupulous parties to cook the books to their
advantage, especially when selling more offsets means greater profit. With the
combined qualifying/verifying platform, this becomes almost impossible. A second
version of DMRV protects against potential corruption by integrating data entry
and data verification under one platform. Key in this process is the
independent party’s disinvested interest in the verification outcome.
With this method, project developers send IoT/remote data into a digital,
independent qualification and verification platform where data is
algorithmically checked against other data points.
The platform also has merit in less predictable modeling platforms, such as
forestry or regenerative
It’s also optimal for smaller developers who lack the resources to provide data
qualification/verification, freeing up time for developers to focus on carbon
Last week’s discussion related specifically to the carbon offset market, but
Verles told Sustainable Brands™ afterward that SustainCERT sees
digital verification platforms scaling into other sectors requiring robust,
automated verification. DMRV can be utilized to quantify scope emissions and
climate-benefit claims of goods and services. Carbon accounting on a truly
global scale necessitates completely automated, digital, real-time data
verification. Less than four
of emissions are subject to carbon pricing, but Verles sees a near future where
80 percent of emissions are accounted for and independently verified.
Regulatory changes in the
confirm that sustainability reporting and commitments are inevitable — with a
raised bar in terms of quality of reporting, verification, and transparency.
“There is going to be a very high demand for verified data,” Verles said.
Heavy investments in climate tech break records every year, and she sees the
final capstone as a robust rehab of the verification sector.
“There’s consensus on the fact that, if it’s not verified, it’s just not true,”
she said. “Everyone should be able to access verified information — information
they can trust.”
Verra and Gold Standard expect DMRV to unlock other sectors that can’t currently
be served by manual systems. Both are working with SustainCERT to create nimble
DMRV platforms that can migrate across the private and public, voluntary and
The digital clock spins quickly, so the human learning curve is alarmingly
steep. But addressing the climate crisis needs to happen now, begging the
question how the rapidly changing digital carbon economy can be governed
effectively to ensure accurate verification without burdensome regulatory
Co-creating good governance across sectors is essential, Verles said. Both Verra
and Gold Standard are looking to implement rapid thinking in tandem with
respecting the nuance of individual projects, with governance centered on clear
“We need to be super clear in our expectations,” Hewlett said. “Our aim is to
get out of the way as much as possible after that.”
With barriers cleared, the world is opened to a digital transformation in the
carbon economy, creating unfettered opportunities for rapid scaling of
climate solutions the world desperately needs.
Published Jun 2, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Christian is a writer, photographer, filmmaker, and outdoor junkie obsessed with the intersectionality between people and planet. He partners with brands and organizations with social and environmental impact at their core, assisting them in telling stories that change the world.