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Accounting For Carbon in Hemp Production Systems

Updated: Sep 15, 2022

A GHG Auditor's Perspective

Industrial hemp exists at the nexus of environmental and economic decarbonization. Historically, we have eroded our agricultural production system’s ability to naturally self-regulate in pursuit of higher yields and wider margins. As a result, our ability to adapt to increasingly dramatic fluctuations in our climates temperature and moisture levels is handicapped at a time we need it most. Without the proper accounting and crediting methods, the environmental value proposition for cultivating industrial hemp remains a shallow narrative.

Like a financial auditor, the Greenhouse gas (GHG) auditors’ role is to inventory and account for the fluctuation of different emissions produced in a particular project’s operational scope. Scientific methods of systematic sampling, inventorying, and modeling are used to determine accuracy and performance. This data is compiled and reported in a Greenhouse gas statement which is denominated in “Tons of Carbon Dioxide Equivalencies”. More commonly referred to as ‘tC02e’, it is analogous to the reserve currency a business operates in and expects to see on any fiscal reporting. While many production systems produce a positive (+, as in “more”) amount of GHGs, some natural production systems containing carbon-based lifeforms, like forests or soils, can absorb GHGs over time. When audited properly, this amounts to a negative (-, as in less than zero) number. Many times, and especially in agriculture, other Greenhouse gasses such CH4 and N20 exist during the production cycle. As every greenhouse has as a distinct ‘global warming potential’, these gasses are converted into the base unit of measurement, tC02e. This is where the term “equivalency” comes from. These systems and mechanisms serve to de-risk and increase transparency.

As it pretrains to agriculture, and more specifically the cultivation of industrial hemp, GHG auditing must be viewed from a wider, more holistic lens. Managing GHG reductions depends largely on the permanence of storage. Success is determined by how well and how long a GHGs can be fixed in biological matter. This is expressed in two ways, “Ton-Year” accounting and “Ton-Ton” accounting methods. In the case of hemp, some GHG storage will occur in soils as roots and other microorganisms propagate. A Ton-year approach is best in soil enrichment. However, most GHGs will be stored in the bast fibers and leaves. This is best quantified using a “Ton-Ton” approach. Too often, a hard and fast number is attributed to hemps ability to sequester GHG, when in fact performance is a function of efficiency and growth rate. It is important to understand how an inventory is to be conducted in this context. While some sophisticated satellite imaging and modeling technology can be used to make accurate inferences at lower cost, direct sampling of soils and biomass volumes remains the most reliable method.

As we navigate towards a more sustainable future, the ESG “race to the top” mentality continues to solidify. Wise business leaders who think strategically will understand that success is determined not just by risk and reward, but ever increasingly impact as well. A case study in low embodied emissions products in the industrial hemp supply chain, IND Hemp and Hempitecture recently announced a cooperative partnership presumably to produce, process and manufacture domestic hemp fiber insulation. Science and logic concur that a product consisting of natural materials has a lower carbon profile (or footprint) than that of a synthetic material. These valuable products don’t just increase a buildings energy efficiency, saving costs over the long term, but also reduce the embodied emissions profile of a building overall. Traditional mineral wool insulation on the other hand requires massive amounts of fossil fuel energy to manufacture and increases the emissions profile of a building. While hemp is not the answer to climate change, it is an important component of the solution. The more we support similar operations’ capacity to cultivate, quantify and utilize hemp intelligently, the better our ability to mitigate the risks of global warming and track success. If you are a cultivator of industrial hemp, interested in cultivating industrial hemp, own a company that processes industrial hemp, please consider contacting a GHG auditor to learn more about GHG inventorying and decarbonization techniques in agricultural production systems. Without the recognized levels of assurance provided by a certified GHG auditor, leveraging your GHG impact is an exercise in greenwashing at your own risk.

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