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  • CarbonCrop Team

Managing carbon removals in a spreadsheet? Try this instead.

Managing supply chain carbon removals is a complex and demanding task that spreadsheets just aren’t cut out for. We’ve got a better alternative.

Two men at a table looking at spreadsheets

Many primary sector businesses in New Zealand are tapping into their supply chains to find opportunities for carbon removals. Carbon removals are good for your suppliers, your climate targets, and the planet. But they can cause more than a little headache to the people tasked with managing them — especially when they turn to spreadsheets for help.

Managing carbon removals within your supply chain is a complex and demanding task, and it’s one that spreadsheets just aren’t cut out for. “It’s essentially a massive new accounting exercise with a product that you can’t really see,” says Nick Butcher, CarbonCrop’s Co-Founder and CTO.

Complex accounting needs demand equally sophisticated tools, like CarbonCrop’s Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) software. Although spreadsheets are familiar and cheaper, the scalability, accuracy, and efficiency of MRV software make your removals measurement more robust, credible, and future-proof.

Here, we discuss the eight reasons spreadsheets don’t cut it for carbon removals and why purpose-built software is the smarter choice.

1. Software has the accuracy and precision needed to handle carbon stock measurement

Measuring natural carbon stocks is complicated — to put it mildly. But MRV software is designed to handle this precision and complexity. A typical farm on CarbonCrop’s platform might track more than a million individual data points to measure carbon stock. Without appropriate software, taking stock of this forestland might require hours to days of manual mapping by GIS or forestry experts. Combining aerial and satellite imagery with artificial intelligence enables accurate measurements of carbon stocks in native forests.

Compare this to manual spreadsheet entries, which are prone to human error. Any chance of error in your calculations reduces confidence in your claims, and the consequences of making unsubstantiated climate claims have never been higher. Software automation handles large datasets efficiently and consistently, ensuring absolute data integrity and, therefore, the integrity of your climate claims.

2. Software is built to scale

If you’ve been using spreadsheets to manage carbon removals thus far, you’ve likely run up against one or many limitations. But even if you haven’t noticed issues in your workflow yet, ask yourself: can this system scale? To reach your climate commitments, you’ll likely need to add far more removals. Could your spreadsheet handle data from 600 sheep and beef farms? 1,000 dairy farms? This is the kind of volume that many of our customers deal with, and it’s virtually impossible to do in a spreadsheet. Large datasets and spreadsheets are not a happy match.

Spreadsheets also have the appeal of being low-cost and easy to use (initially), but sustainability teams should pay attention to the enormous costs of human resources that it takes to manage workflows this way. Is it worth it?

3. Software takes the onus off your suppliers

Manually managing removals is a lot of work for your team, but it’s also a burden on your suppliers. Most teams that manually track their removals frequently send consultants out to visit farms and ask farmers to comply with yet another data collection requirement. Upgrading to software lightens the load on your team and suppliers, reducing the compliance and auditing burden for your valued suppliers. Remote aerial measurement easily replaces in-person site visits and manual data wrangling. Win-win.

4. Software tracks forest loss in real time

Even minor degrees of forest loss can affect how much carbon is stored in trees and soils, and these fluctuations are impossible to keep up with in a tool like Excel, which has no pipelines for automatically feeding in data. This means your spreadsheet can’t tell you if part of the forest underpinning your climate claims is no longer there. The old way requires that landowners detect forest loss and report it to their PSE (Primary Sector Exporter). The PSE then contracts the farm to be remapped to ensure claim integrity. It’s a cumbersome and admin-heavy approach, and even a slight miscalculation can lead to over-claimed carbon benefits.

Contrast that with a platform like CarbonCrop, which uses remote sensing to track forest loss year on year. We named our real-time forest loss monitoring system Flossy. Flossy will automatically alert you to any forest loss she detects, giving your team and suppliers insights into how land management changes or forest loss affect carbon storage.

You can also package up this data to share with customers, investors, and auditors in palatable ways, making it easy to give real-time updates whenever they’re called for.

5. Software automates complex carbon calculations.

How does a farm’s location affect carbon sequestration? What happens when a section of monitored forest is registered for the NZ-ETS and becomes unavailable for the voluntary market?

Measuring and monitoring natural carbon stocks requires hundreds of complex calculations on an ongoing basis. Even if your sustainability team had the time and expertise to continually compute the answers, it’s no job for a spreadsheet. MRV software offers analytical capabilities that spreadsheets simply can’t compete with.

6. Software improves credibility with stakeholders.

Spreadsheets can’t offer the level of detail and visibility that dedicated MRV can provide. Visibility is critical from a communications standpoint. When every last tonne of carbon removed is fully traceable, quantifiable, and can be backed up with real-time data, the end result is credibility. You can paint a full picture of your scope 3 mitigation, which boosts corporate reputation and improves your standing among stakeholders, consumers, auditors, and regulatory bodies.

7. Software is built for the long haul

While spreadsheets might be a useful stop-gap in the short term, long-term thinking requires a more sophisticated approach. For starters, spreadsheets are typically built and maintained by one or a handful of people. But turnover in sustainability departments is high, and with turnover comes a tendency to ‘reinvent the wheel’, whether out of necessity or personal preference. Software is the better choice to reduce key person dependence and maintain business continuity in the face of staff turnover.

Another long-term implication for sustainability teams is regulatory requirements. As corporate climate impact becomes a primary focus for governments and regulators, carbon accounting and reporting requirements are becoming increasingly stringent. Most sustainability teams will find it challenging to keep up with frequently changing regulatory requirements and the complexity of reporting demands — but those that stick with their spreadsheets will find it even harder. In the removals realm, leveraging MRV software means you won’t have to re-create spreadsheets whenever requirements change. CarbonCrop has extensive experience with the regulation environment of the NZ-ETS. We know how often changing regulations can impact carbon monitoring, reporting, and verification requirements.

8. Software helps sustainability teams focus on the future and capitalise on untapped opportunities.

Most spreadsheets look backwards, recording what has already happened. But sustainability teams should be focused mainly on the future. MRV software offers predictive analytics that helps sustainability teams forecast and plan to achieve long-term, mid-term, and short-term climate targets. This capacity also allows teams to uncover new opportunities they may not have otherwise discovered. For example, remote sensing can identify new areas or natural features on a supplier’s land with high carbon potential.

“There could be a south-facing gully out the back that’s got some scrub growing on it that you never thought was of any value,” says Geoff Ross, a station owner who uses CarbonCrop. Can your spreadsheet find that?

“Get the money flowing, get the trees growing”

When you’re just getting started, spreadsheets can be a helpful, quick-fix management tool. But at a certain point, ease and familiarity stand in the way of accuracy, complexity, and scale. For sustainability teams — which are almost always small, under-resourced, and faced with ambitious targets and heavy reporting demands — leveraging technology to do the heavy lifting will put you on the path to success. Investing in software can be a critical step to achieving your scope 3 goals and making a meaningful climate impact throughout your supply chain. We think Nick says it best: “Bring the integrity, bring the transparency, enable the claims, get the money flowing, get the trees growing.”

Say hello to CarbonCrop

At CarbonCrop, we don’t want carbon removals to give anyone a headache. Our MRV software helps sustainability teams measure, track, and monetise their supply chain carbon removals in near real-time.

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