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Celebrating Arbor Day

Updated: Mar 27

Happy Arbor Day! The Stream of Conscience Podcast is thrilled to welcome Jeremy Manion back to the show for a deep dive into the environmental terminology mentioned in Arbor Day Carbon’s previous episode, “Preserving Plants with Profits”. Many terms surrounding environmental sustainability are used interchangeably – and sometimes inaccurately – throughout the business community, this bonus episode acts as an “evergreen” resource for all. Tune in for a breakdown on terms like environmental stewardship, carbon neutral, nature-based solutions, and more!

Listen to this episode here!

Scroll down for this episode's transcript:

If you haven't noticed the world is changing. Consumer and talent demands are evolving and businesses are being held accountable to a broader purpose. This is The Stream of Conscience Podcast, where we celebrate the businesses that are prioritizing purpose to achieve both financial returns and greater impact.

These stories highlight business as a force for good and good as a force for business.


[Kyle] Hey everybody. We are back with Jeremy Manion, Director of Forestry Carbon Markets at Arbor Day Carbon. If you haven't listened to his episode earlier this season with us, please make sure to go check that out after this. So after that episode, we realized that there is still a lot of opportunity to better understand the terminology as it relates to environmental impact in the context of business.

So we are grateful to Jeremy for taking another moment here to do a bit of a rapid fire glossary of terms with us. So Jeremy, I'm going to lay some terms on you to demystify and just get us and our audience to a fundamental understanding for some of these things.

Okay. Arbor Day, you are with the Arbor Day Foundation.

And I think maybe a lot of Americans take Arbor Day for granted a little bit. It's just kind of in our lexicon for, for awhile. So what is Arbor Day?

[Jeremy] Arbor Day is known as the tree planners holiday Arbor Day is a day for people to come together and recognition of the wonders of trees communities, schools, businesses, individuals can all join together to, to plant trees, distribute trees, provide education on tree planting and tree care and celebrate all the benefits that trees provide us air quality improvements, water quality improvements, clean habitat, rural rural economic opportunities.

All, all the things that are essential to supporting life on this planet. So that's one part of it. The national Arbor Day holiday in the US is celebrated the last Friday of April. However many states filler celebrate Arbor Day on different dates throughout the year, based on the best time to plant trees in their area.

Arbor Day is not just restricted to the US alone. There are many countries that also celebrate already a holiday and a little bit of a background on it is, you know, back in 1872. That was the first Arbor Day here in Nebraska. And so as, as, as pioneers, You know, beginning to move into the Nebraska territory.

This being a grassland state, you know, there were, there was a lack of trees. And so the new residents, you know, kind of came together to plant more trees for, to help, you know, create windbreaks to help, you know, minimize soil erosion to have fuel for wood cookstoves and building products, and then ultimately shade from the hot Nebraska summer sun.

So that was a little bit of the origin story. And so we're celebrating, celebrating the 150. Anniversary of the holiday this Friday and the 50th anniversary of the foundation. So it's a fun time right now.

[Kyle] Yeah, it's a good reminder of the multiple benefits of trees on, on human life, on society, on, on the world.

So thanks for that.

[Jeremy] Exactly. A benefit for whatever you care about.

[Kyle] Absolutely. So we, during our episode, we use terminology like stewardship balance and sustainability. And I just want, can you unpack those for us in the context of environmental activity?

[Jeremy] Yeah, happy to do so. So really there's, there's a lot of continuity between those three terms.

They're all somewhat synonymous, but we'll go through each one. And then how how, how we use them at the foundation with our partners. So, you know, stewardship quite simply is as nurturing something that you care about and teaching others to the same. So for example, that could be our, our, our, our public lands and parks, whether it's the national park, a state park, a local park in your community those are things that, that people have to try to take care of to pass on to future generations balance when it comes to we use balance and the sense of when it, when it comes to understanding the cycles of, of people, of nature and of, of the planet and living within those within those cycles.

And so if we look at. On, on, you know, the history of humans, the history of the planet, we can see that there are cycles that repeat itself. And so how do we understand those cycles to optimize how we create balance for an ecosystem instead of maximizing profit for, for one part of that ecosystem.

And then for sustainability I think the simplest, the simplest way that I've explained stably to people is, you know, sustainability practices support, not only environment, but, but humans and the economy making sure that all of those are healthy and vital resources again, are very finite on this planet.

And so we have used them conservatively and wisely for the longterm. And, you know, simply also sustainability is about preserving the. For current and future generations and keeping in mind the world that we want to leave them, try to create a better than we left it.

[Kyle] Yeah. I love that. So we also talked at the, in the episode about the difference between conservation and restoration and that they just have different functions and certainly different costs related to them.

Would you kind of break those two down just briefly.

[Jeremy] Absolutely. So we see these things as working together for sure. And, and broader landscapes conservation. Is protecting an intact or untouched landscape, such as a forest, a grassland, a wetland, or a body of water. So for example, here in Nebraska, the Sandhills region, it's still mostly a large intact grassland in Southeast Asia.

The island of puppet of Guinea is, is, is one of the largest intact forest landscapes we have left on the planet. And so that's kind of our view on conservation is so a really a natural landscape that's been minimally touched or untouched by humans. Then on the restoration side, Helping to repair or heal the landscape and ecosystem and its functions for, for, for water quality improvements, air quality improvements, habitat carbon sequestration really optimizing those functions that have been damaged.

Bye bye bye people or, or a natural disaster. So for example planting trees, unproductive crop land or pasture lands can be an example of restoration money that land heal and repair itself and getting back to the rhythm of its natural ecosystem functions.

[Kyle] Yeah. Yeah. I have to approach these activities on all fronts.

I see. Yep. So carbon, what do we mean when we say.

[Jeremy] Yeah. So carbon is a very common naturally occurring element. That's important to life on earth. But because levels of carbon emissions, carbon dioxide emissions in particular increasing exponentially the plan is no longer in balance. Again, with these kinds of greenhouse staffs and carbon cycles that we were talking about on the previous podcast episode.

And so this excess carbon emissions along with other greenhouse gases, such as methane are causing. A changing climate that are having significant negative impacts on people, the environment and the economy right now, when it comes to more increase extremes, hotter, hotter, colder colds More intense flooding events, more intense droughts.

These are all being driven by the imbalance of our current carbon cycles in the atmosphere. So adding to that, you know carbon, you'll see sometimes the carbon and carbon dioxide use interchangeably. When we're talking about. Climate change. It's typically typically the carbon dioxide, the gas itself.

So you know, that's becoming released when we burn fossil fuels and we cut down trees. So looking to account for those cycles at a higher level of detail than we have historically. And so. When it comes to land use projects and like forest carbon also refers to the power that trees have to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the tree itself.

An average tree by weight is about 48% carbon. And so nature has really kind of solved this problem for us already. And so we're just trying to use nature as a tool to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

[Kyle] Brilliant. Yeah. Use the tools that are, that are most naturally available. Exactly. So this, this is what I'm particularly interested in.

There's, there's a lot of terminology that goes around and again, the context of business and how it plays a role. So we've talked about in the prior episode, climate neutral versus carbon negative versus net zero carbon neutral. Just unpack those, those terms. How are they different? How are they.

[Jeremy] Absolutely. So we view a lot of these claims as, as you know, milestones that accompany or individual hits along their climate journey to being more in sync with these cycles we've been talking about. And so I'll unpack these these terms and what they mean right now, but I will note that there's, you know, with increasing scrutiny of how corporations make climate and conservation claims it's important for companies to, to frame.

These claims with integrity and context. And what I mean by that is avoiding partial communications that only focus on the carbon press themselves versus the organization's broader kind of climate strategy and ambition to also reduce their emissions and shift to more responsible means of production.

So, you know, you're going to see quite candidly there's, there's some initiatives right now that are in the marketplace to help bring more guidance to companies for how to frame claims appropriately. There's a, there's an organization called the voluntary carbon market integrity. It's being led by the UK and us government to help provide guidance for companies because we're also expecting governments to start regulating more of the claims that companies do make.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a new SDC potential rule released about how large corporations particularly need to disclose their emissions. Talk about their plan to reduce emissions, how they're using carbon credits, other investing in conservation, disclosing all that information. Publicly to investors.

So people know how to invest in companies knowing all the risks related to climate and their greenhouse gas profiles. So just wanted to give that context before we dive into definitions I'm going to start with the first big kind of milestone that most companies that we work with are trying to achieve which is carbon neutral which refers to achieving.

A net carbon footprint of zero most commonly with, with carbon reductions outside of a company's boundaries. And so since it's not possible for most organizations or individuals to completely eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions associated with their activities and products, carbon neutrality is typically the.

All based on the idea that using external greenhouse gas emission reductions to balance out their emissions, that can't be eliminated within your company boundaries. And so that's more or less the high-level definition of carbon neutrality. Carbon credits are the primary tool for achieving such reductions.

When you can't complete eliminate reduction, eliminate greenhouse gases in your company's bounds. And so carbon neutrality can apply to overall company can apply to a product, can apply to an individual's footprint like you and I and typically when someone's claiming neutrality it's for specific period of time, either a fiscal year a couple of years, you know, stretch the lifetime of a company in the sense that Google has gone back in time and tried to source carbon credits to mitigate.

And mission they've, they've admitted since their, their founding as an organization. So they're, they're not only carbon neutral for each fiscal year, but they've not gone back in time to compensate for historical emissions as well. We're seeing more and more companies do that as well as kind of expanding how they frame time we're making these claims.

So that's carbon neutral. I'll go through the other ones here pretty quickly because it builds upon carbon neutrality. So I think that the difference, you know, then, and climate neutral is. Everything we just talked about for carbon neutrality, but instead of just for carbon emissions, it's looking at all greenhouse gas emissions of an organization.

So diving into the methane and other, other, other greenhouse gas, Mormon, warming gases there for net zero. Again, that's the next milestone? Probably a little bit longer out for companies. Again, continue to look at all greenhouse gas emissions. But now we're looking at not only the direct impacts of the company and their products, but all their indirect impacts across their supply chain.

And so for example, we work with Proctor and Gamble and Procter and Gamble for their actual direct emissions for their own facilities and their owned assets at about 3 million tons of carbon, carbon dioxide a year. When we look at their scope three, how consumers use their products like tide and other, other products like that, that expands about 110 million tons a year.

And so net zero requires addressing all of those emissions, not just direct, but. And then going from shifting from. Actual reductions to address that to external removals. So when it comes back to our term conservation, protecting intact landscapes, that's typically a reduction of carbon emissions versus the restoration is going to be considered more of removal of carbon.

And so for, for the clients that we're helping, it's kind of shifting them over time from protecting forest and preserving those functions now restoring for us. So that's, that's a big thing. And, and net zero. And then the last one, I'll mention carbon negative again, building upon net zero, quite simply kind of going then and, and removing more total greenhouse gases than you're.

Then you emit across your entire value chain for a specific period of time. So, you know, ideally again, this gets to addressing the core issue. There's about a trillion, tons of excess carbon in the atmosphere. And so the only way we're going to truly stabilize the climate is by pulling that down and capturing it.

So getting to this net zero state, won't be good enough. We've got to remove ultimately more carbon than we emit. And that's where we're kind of going with the, some of the terms. You'll see carbon negative climate positive. Some of these things are used interchangeably and that's the need to bring more ready regulation and kind of clear a unified definition for these terms.

[Kyle] Yeah, I love it then. And that's, that's a lot, a lot of information and a lot of different like ways that the terms kind of interplay with each other. I think the key takeaway I took away there is a, if a company is engaging in this, in an ethical manner with integrity, that having an expert, having a partner at the table from, from a Arbor day carbon or a consultant of sorts would be.

Invaluable to be able to understand and truly under understand the impacts of the company and the ability to mitigate.

[Jeremy] You're exactly right. Kyle, I think, you know, these are also, again, I think what we try to do is sometimes, you know, it's going to take some companies potentially multiple decades to get to a net zero state.

And so that's why it's important to have potentially some other kind of like key milestones along the way. But we do suggest the companies, if they want to make one of these claims that they do go get that appropriately certified by a third. Just to make sure that we're having the proper checks and balances there.

[Kyle] I love it.

So you mentioned carbon credit in there. A number of times let's break that down as well.

[Jeremy] Yup. So carbon credit is quite simply, you also hear the term carbon offset. They're kind of used interchangeably, carving credit, carbon offset. What, what it is is a transferable instrument certified by a government or an independent certification body to represent an emission reduction or emission removal of, of one metric ton of carbon dioxide.

And so that's the kind of common unit of measure here is one metric ton of carbon. And so the, the the, the units can be traded from, from entity to entity, but once it's retired that means someone's claiming that that reduction or removal towards their own greenhouse staff targets. And that's what we kind of do at the foundation is to help companies claim these, these, these credits for their benefit.

Now, what, what creates a carbon credit or a set of rules and principles? One of them being additionality. So just referring to that these projects wouldn't happen without the financing coming from the private sector to support this work, meaning that there's no regulatory obligation to go plant trees or protect trees on a project without this types of finance.

It also refers to looking at what the common type of land use is in a region. And so if a forest, your activities, aren't common that typically agriculture. That's been converted from forest, you know, trying to go re-establish this forest again, across a landscape that's maybe more widely used as agriculture.

That's that's one example. Also what we have is, is permanent. So when we, when we, when we basically create a carbon. We have to share the carbon will be removed and stored for specific period of time. And so most commonly for forests it's between 40 to 100 years. We also have to make sure we create insurance buffers.

So basically every time we create credits in the marketplace, we hold back for reforestation projects, about 20% of those regrets that we never sell them a marketplace in case there would be some type of reversal event caused by a human or natural event, like a, like a flood or a fire. So we make sure we build in the proper insurance reserves.

We get all of these verifications of the carbon sequestration are validated by third party verifiers. And then also validated by, by independent registries. And then we also look at things like leakage. So if we do an activity in one landscape, does that just push deforestation or. Things like that to another landscape.

And so all these things are accounted for when it comes to creating a carbon credit. And now we're at a, at a state of really kind of accelerating these types of frameworks globally to scale up these markets and make sure we have integrity.

[Kyle] Yeah. It's a lot of work to create a carbon credit. I can tell.

[Jeremy] Yeah, it is but very valuable.

[Kyle] I wonder if you want to do a couple last ones. I think nature-based solutions versus non nature-based solutions. And then I want to close out the episode maybe by just giving a sense of what are the common carbon emissions of general business commerce and maybe even some examples of some average businesses and what that might look like.

[Jeremy] So, yeah. So nature-based solutions. We kind of organize this into four big categories for us agriculture. Wetlands and oceans. So between land and the oceans, they're already resort absorbing about half the carbon that we emit globally. So it's about protecting, improving and restoring those landscapes.

And then for non nature-based solutions that's where really renewable energy, wind and solar play a big role. But for example, wind and solar energy and hour so common in the us and throughout north America. So they're no longer additional. The carbon finance is not needed to make them economically viable, but it isn't other developing parts of the world.

So now we're noble energy products for carbon offsets really focused on international developing countries versus developed countries. The other one you'll hear about a lot right now is called direct air capture, basically large machines that, that. You know, suck the air and separate carbon molecules and pump them down into Wells and store them for up to a thousand years.

And so that is a technology you're, you're seeing a lot of, of funds going to right now for a lot of high risk investors of venture capital funds, large tech companies. You know, it's, it's, it's really about both these things working together to get us to where we need to go nature, providing a lot of term benefits to people, the environment and the.

And a lot of these, then longer-term non-neutral based solutions. Engineered technologies like direct our capture to then really kind of help us get to that last mile and quite potentially, you know, maybe even provide a backstop for climate change if we don't get the nature piece right.

[Kyle] Great. Very, very long time horizon there.

[Jeremy] And I think that's another key key takeaway here is this is, this is the thousand year, the 10,000 year problem where we're working towards today. Exactly. Yeah. And so finally what are some common causes by just a general business or commerce sector and maybe some examples.

Yep. So the two biggest kind of contributors for most US companies is going to be the energy that they purchase and consume.

So if that's coming from fossil fuel sources, such as coal or natural gas, natural gas that's, that's one, one big contributor. Then the other piece is transportation fuels in the US actually, because we've been changing so rapidly to renewables. Transportation fuels I think is now the largest single section for the US of, of emissions.

Again, the, the, the oil and gasoline that we use for our vehicles, but now you're seeing more and more electric vehicles become available in companies even, you know, like, like Chevy and others saying they're going to end the production of certain fossil fuel vehicles by like 2035 and shift all the electric vehicles.

So we're seeing the electrification of, of, of the transportation sector really start to kind of address that, that piece. And then I'll mention too, because we're here in Nebraska and we're a large agriculture state Agriculture globally is responsible for about 25% of global emissions. And so again, a lot of that comes from the land use change.

Deforestation is typically driven by agricultural conversion. Most commonly corn and soy beans. Palm oil production. And, and deforestation in particular has, has been the second biggest contributor after, after fossil fuels from, from climate change, they're taking carbon stored in soils and in trees and releasing that atmosphere.

And those things were converted to agriculture. Again, it's not about saying. You know, we can't produce food, we have to say force, but we're doing both these things, optimizing these things together. And that's where I'm really excited to work. That's where we're excited to work with farmers to help them.

So I got how to, again, create balance amongst the commodity they're producing. So not only food products, but also carbon and other types of ecosystem benefits, trying to get that right on, on a plot of land and across wider landscape.

[Kyle] Yeah, I love the, the market-based solution that, that Arbor day Carbon is promoting and creating the relationships with farmers with businesses.

I think, I think that's really potentially transformational for, for the sector and for, for our world. So thanks for the work that you are doing, Jeremy and for the work of Arbor Day Carbon and Arbor Day Foundation.

[Jeremy] Absolutely.

Yeah. We have a saying for the farmers and the land holders, if it pays, it stays. So, you know, they want to do things that are not only going to improve their environment, but are gonna allow them to maintain ownership of their land.

And as we get to working with land owners to optimize all of these different benefits and these different commodities over time, that creates a shift in our. Cultural core values of, of, of what we hold dear. And again, it's about kind of leaving this planet better than we found it. And it's a, it's a, it's a gym of a planet and we're, we're, you know, excited to be here on it, working with people to help think through different ways of creating economic prosperity and, and ways that we can kind of grow and balance with people in nature for the economy.

[Kyle] Yeah. Yeah.

We're definitely lucky to have our mother earth here. So well, Jeremy, thanks again for this context. I know I learned a ton and I, I believe it will be an evergreen resource, no pun intended there, a resource for companies as they start to consider their role in ensuring a healthy planet for generations to come.

So thanks again.

[Jeremy] Appreciate it.


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