Creating a new Riverse carbon credit standard for the circular economy?

March 17, 2022



Our vision
Grégoire Guirauden

Grégoire Guirauden

Chief Operations Officer

How and why did Riverse develop its methodology and its Carbon Contribution Credits?

In this article, you will find answers to the following questions:

  • Why did we decide to found Riverse on new methodologies?
  • What makes our certification compliant with the market?
  • How did we embed our vision into our carbon credit certification mechanism?

Starting from (almost) scratch

We have been working on the topic of companies' environmental impact and their residual emissions for over a year now. Seeing companies like Volvo, Microsoft, or Amazon declare that they would be carbon neutral in relatively near futures, we became very interested in companies' reduction trajectories and carbon offset mechanisms. It seemed important for us to delve deeper and better understand these aspects.

To get a comprehensive overview, we started reading three types of documents: existing label methodologies, guidelines from NGOs and consulting firms, and existing standards 📚.

Traditional carbon credit methodologies

From the Clean Development Mechanisms of the UN, which were established after the signing of the Kyoto Protocol (30 years ago!), to Verra or Gold Standard, established organizations for 20 years now certifying nearly 80% of the voluntary market's carbon credits,

To more recent initiatives, such as the Label Bas Carbone launched by the French Ministry of the Environment, or, which recently entered the certification of projects, notably through biochar production.

Reading through all of this, in addition to understanding why nobody understood anything, we felt like we kept finding the same methodological elements. That's why we quickly set out to seek simplicity, without compromising the robustness of the system.

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," as Leonardo da Vinci said.

standards map for circular carbon credits

Our main learnings about carbon credit standards

  • It's a voluntary market not regulated by any single actor or laws. The system relies on mutual trust among stakeholders.
  • There are 7 fundamental principles for carbon contribution that are consistently found: additionality, measurability, uniqueness, permanence, third-party verification, effectiveness, and co-benefits. The challenge is to build the system from the outset on these pillars to support them in the long term.
  • Despite hundreds of methodologies written over the years, few solutions can benefit from carbon credits, except for forestry, agriculture, and renewable energy sectors.
  • Establishing a methodology on a subject requires a consensus of scientific experts. The problem is that experts in BECCS, biochar, bio-based or eco-sourced materials are not readily available, and it always takes time to write, review, comment, debate, arrive at a consensus, and publish a scientific and methodological document.
  • There is a lot of repetition from one document to another, and some even refer to each other, but what ultimately matters is a solid assessment and consideration of greenhouse gas re-emission risks.
  • International standards exist and are shared by all, allowing reliable measurements of the impact of a product, service, or project: GHG Protocol, ISO 14065 and 14040 standards, SBTi.
  • Co-benefits are often difficult to measure, but the carbon prism is just one perspective, and it is crucial to integrate as many planetary boundaries as possible.

Aligning with standards

To gain perspective, we exchanged ideas with experts on carbon storage, its use, life cycle analyses of products and processes.

Our preliminary work to build an effective carbon credit standard

In parallel, we rolled up our sleeves to get into the details. We worked on evaluating low-carbon projects and met with them to understand their needs and challenges. Testing several tools, we realized that the one that best met all our constraints (the impact of a straw bale, tire pyrolysis, or IT equipment refurbishment—do they really have anything in common?) is Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Defining a functional unit, system boundaries, and breaking down all elements in the same way (extraction, production, transport, use, and end of life) allows us to measure a reliable, reproducible, and multi-criteria impact.

And it's a good thing! By delving into LCA methods with domain experts, we realized it was a discipline governed by an international standard, which has been subject to expert reviews worldwide.

However, just because we all have the same hammer doesn't mean we all use it the same way, which is why we added reliability criteria on the origin of LCAs.

How the Riverse standard meets all key carbon credit criteria

Convinced that we had the key that would allow us to generalize the approach, we established clear principles that meet market expectations:

  • Measurability: Based on the principle of life cycle assessment (compliant with ISO 14040) that takes into account all environmental and societal impacts of a project.
  • Additionality: Riverse carbon credits (CCC for short, Carbon Contribution Credits) finance the emergence of solutions and the substitution of carbon-based products that would not have been possible without this funding.
  • Co-benefits: Prove at least 2 co-benefits (according to the UN Sustainable Development Goals) and not harm any of them. If possible, quantify them through a complete LCA.
  • Verification by an independent third party: we always have our CCC certified by an Independent Third Party (ITP) to avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Integration of non-permanence risk, which can be broken down into three aspects:

1) The risk related to the reliability of the measurement: we take a 5 to 10% discount on the emission avoidance assessment to address this.

2) The risk that the project ends before planned: we take a 15% discount to address this. The 15% allows us to feed a reserve of credits.

3) The risk of re-emissions for capture projects: this is taken into account in the measurement, and the ability to sequester carbon for a long time should primarily be reflected in the credit price.

  • Uniqueness: ensure that CCCs are registered in a single registry open to all.
  • Effectiveness: every credit must undergo verification throughout the project's lifespan implemented by Riverse.
task for circular carbon credits

Definitely in line with pillars B and C of the Net Zero Initiative and compatible with SBTi Net Zero recommendations, our main focus was on meeting the standards. By adhering to these criteria, we ensured that our carbon credits would align with the requirements of ICROA (an organization that brings together major market players) and enable companies financing them to comply with the future ISO14068 standard on Carbon Neutrality.

Anchoring our vision

With these fundamental criteria common to carbon credits, we had a specification sheet that guarantees the reliability of our carbon credits. And because at Riverse we are convinced that we need to accelerate emissions reduction while increasing our capture capabilities, we added specific criteria to our methodology that anchor our vision of this tool and aim to maximize our impact:

  • Being able to quickly certify any low-carbon solution that is viable and whose positive impact is verifiable, to accelerate their deployment and thus address the urgency of the challenges.
  • Distinguishing between capture and emission reductions: by 2050, we need to reduce emissions by a factor of 5 and increase our capture capabilities by 100% to achieve our goals. The short-term challenge is really to reduce emissions (did you know that the greenhouse gases emitted today will still be breathed in by future generations in 5 generations?). Separating the two allows us to engage companies in reducing their emissions by meeting tomorrow's actors.
  • 5 years: we think long-term, but we also don't bet on the unknown. Can you imagine what you'll be doing in 15 or 30 years? It may be easier to ensure for forests (protected by the National Forestry Office) but difficult for tech. So we reassess baselines every five years, and we finance on short cycles.
  • Exceeding international reduction targets: the Paris Agreement or the SNBC set ambitious targets, and our job is to ensure that CCCs finance solutions that exceed these targets so that globally — we hope — we closely align with these goals.
  • Scalability: we love craftsmanship, but what we're really looking for is to maximize impact, so we target technologies and products that allow us to scale up.

So, I've detailed the content of our methodology and how we got there. I hope I've been clear. Know that we didn't do this locked up in our garage; we confronted our methodology with experts in the field of carbon finance and other specialties it relies on. If you also wish to contribute to the development of Riverse methodologies, don't hesitate to contact us!

sunset for circular economy

To go further: Let's go back to some definitions of terms used in the article:

  • A "methodology" in the field of carbon certification is a set of specifications that must be respected by a project, as well as a framework for calculating avoided or sequestered emissions.
  • A "label": a special label or mark created by a professional association and affixed to a product intended for sale, to certify its origin, guarantee its quality, and ensure compliance with manufacturing standards.
  • A "carbon credit": an equivalent ton of CO2 of greenhouse gas emissions avoided, i.e., reduced or captured (see ADEME's note on the subject).
  • Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a method used to evaluate the environmental impact of products, services, or organizations. There are other methods for assessing environmental impact, such as carbon footprint or impact studies. However, LCA has specificities that make its holistic approach unique. Indeed, used since the late 1990s and standardized in ISO 14040:2006 and ISO 14044:2006, this method aims to establish the ecological footprint of a product or service according to several key concepts: multicriteria, life cycle, quantitative, functional, attributional, or consequential.