4. Net Positive Forest Impact

Forest biomass is an increasingly important and sought-after input for durable carbon removal projects. Terrestrial forest systems photosynthetically fix carbon in the fast cycle, storing it in aboveground biomass (wood), belowground biomass (root structures and soils), and supported secondary biomass, such as mycelium networks. Large-scale sourcing of forest biomass has often been damaging in practice, degrading critical ecosystems and disrupting biodiversity. For biomass-based carbon removal projects to reach their intended mitigation effect, effective land management practices and transparency into the origin of biomass sources are required, along with a comprehensive consideration of the potential indirect effects or secondary land use changes associated with the procurement of the given material. It is critical that standards for sustainable biomass use in carbon removal activities continue to be developed at an industry level, and that early practitioners such as Running Tide help to set best practices that can be modeled and replicated.

Forest biomass is the largest material input in Running Tide’s current system.

Forest biomass evaluation

Running Tide believes that forest resources should be evaluated, and use cases prioritized, for the benefit of forest and Earth system health. Whether this means preserving standing forests to provide critical ecosystem services or habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species, or engaging in ecological forestry practices to optimize forest health and carbon sequestration potential, Running Tide is committed to being an active partner in responsible wood sourcing.

Running Tide targets low-grade forest residues – material that would otherwise largely be burned or left to decay – and, in doing so, diverts carbon from the fast cycle to the slow. We ensure that none of our material is sourced from illegal forestry operations, old-growth forests, endangered tree species, or in any manner that threatens any of the six values identified as High Conservation Values (HCVs) under the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) system. We seek to be fully transparent in our sourcing and provide our customers and auditors with the ability to trace the material inputs that enable carbon to be removed back to a specific supplier and point of origin.

Forest biomass certification requirements

Running Tide prioritizes sourcing from operations that are FSC certified, which is widely considered to be the preeminent industry standard in sustainable forestry certifications. We prioritize biomass from natural forest management, recycled wood, and where absolutely necessary, from FSC-certified plantations. FSC certification protects High Conservation Values, and in natural forests, it maintains balanced age class distribution (i.e. the age of trees across a given landscape), protects old-growth forests, and encourages the regeneration of late-successional old growth forests (LSOG). Though in certain circumstances we may consider materials from FSC-certified plantations, our preference will always be to support natural forest conservation and management practices or utilize recycled wood.

In the event FSC certification is not in use in a given jurisdiction or with a given species, an equivalent certification system will be utilized. We are currently exploring sourcing from operations that are committed to the same values as FSC, including Master Logger Certification (as implemented by the Trust to Conserve Northeast Forests), the American Forest Foundation and The Nature Conservancy Family Forest Carbon Program (AFF/TNC), as well as new FSC models for working with family forests and community/indigenous operations under the FSC New Approaches effort.

Potential forest biomass sources

  • Residual Feedstock: Residues are materials that are produced as the byproduct of producing a primary material. While some residues may have alternate beneficial uses, most are considered waste and are often landfilled, combusted, or otherwise disposed of. Examples of forest residues include lower economic value tree tops, branches and bark, as well as fuel reduction residues, which are removed from wildfire risk areas to improve forest and climate health. When targeting forest residues, it is important that such utilization only happens after coarse woody debris best practices and targets are implemented in the forest, as decaying organic materials often provide important . Other residual feedstocks include mill residues (sawdust, shavings) from primary plants (e.g., sawmills), secondary plants (e.g., furniture factories), or tertiary plants (e.g., where offcuts from other kinds of post-secondary mills are processed).

  • Purpose-Processed Feedstock: Biomass that has not been intentionally grown or commercially harvested for Running Tide activities, but has been purchased and processed for the purpose of carbon removal. This category could include a number of potential feedstock eligibility, collection, and processing requirements. Several examples of this category include:

    • Already-collected residue tree branches that require additional processing to meet operational specifications.

    • Wildfire fuel reduction, including standing or fallen dead trees and the collection of forest thinnings used to eliminate potential sources of wildfire fuel.

    • “Unmerchantable” material – i.e., forest material that is unsuitable for traditional harvesting or economic use, especially in the case where there is no clear market for that biomass.

    • Material sourced from ecological forest management, in which the removal of a non-native or disruptive species may help to improve the net carbon stock or biodiversity of a given area of forest.

  • Regardless of their origin, materials in this category are subject to the same requirements and environmental considerations as all potential Running Tide materials, and in certain cases will require additional visibility into the impact of the material’s sourcing on soil carbon stocks, effective nutrient cycling, and water retention. Supplier attestations are particularly critical to provide transparency into the likely alternative end state of these materials, such as for bioenergy production.

  • Purpose-Grown Feedstock: Biomass that has been intentionally grown for the purpose of Running Tide activities. Best practices around purpose-grown feedstocks are currently evolving, and Running Tide will avoid sourcing purpose-grown feedstocks until stronger industry standards are developed. In instances where Running Tide sources purpose-grown feedstock, emissions associated with land use change must be accounted for and reported. Running Tide will continue to prioritize residual feedstocks over purpose-grown feedstocks, and at no time will we purchase purpose-grown feedstocks that convert natural ecosystems or HCV-designated areas into managed systems.

Running Tide acknowledges the risks associated with sourcing forest biomass for our carbon removal efforts. The table on the following pages, which is not comprehensive, lists several key categories of risks that we consider, and what mitigating measures we take.

Table 1: Potential risks - and mitigation measures - associated with sourcing forest biomass.

Running Tide is also actively exploring alternative biomass feedstocks, such as agricultural residues, to reduce demand on forest residues and in consideration of the comprehensive climate impact associated with a given feedstock. We will implement resource stewardship and social-environmental screening when and where alternatives are used, and consult with external experts to ensure material-specific industry best practices are followed.

How we measure net positive forest impact

  • The FSC performs an annual audit on all certificate holders to ensure conformity with FSC Principles and Criteria. Running Tide will review these audits on an annual basis to confirm that our suppliers remain compliant with FSC standards.

  • Supplier attestations related to the additionality, alternative end state, and origin of biomass sourced are required to confirm material eligibility, alongside records related to material transportation, processing, and storage. Running Tide has the right to audit and inspect supplier operations to confirm compliance. Running Tide works with a range of external experts to evaluate individual suppliers and conduct due diligence, both before and after signing a sourcing agreement.

  • In the future, if Running Tide sources meaningful quantities of non-residue forest biomass, locally-specific land use change and soil carbon modeling will be needed to effectively evaluate the impact of material sourcing on the net carbon stock of the area in question.

  • As we scale, a more holistic evaluation of the impacts of residue sourcing on the market for waste materials will also be required to ensure proper forest incentives remain aligned.

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