Evergreen portfolio

Soil

Using specific farming techniques that increase soil health and its ability to store carbon

Temporary carbon removal

9% of fund spend

Soil is one of nature’s most powerful carbon storage solutions. Plants make food with photosynthesis, using sunlight and water to turn carbon dioxide into sugars. Lots of that sugar travels from the plant down into its roots, feeding all kinds of organic matter in the soil and pumping carbon into the earth. But humans have done quite a number on this natural process.

When the Industrial Revolution began, farmers changed the way they treated their land. They needed to increase their yields to meet the growing demand for food as the world’s population grew. So they began using fertilizers and pesticides, inadvertently killing off the microorganisms in the soil. They started tilling their fields with machines, but doing so exposed shy soil and leaked its carbon into the air. These unfortunate side effects were necessary to feed the planet—but now we know better.

Since these agricultural practices began, more than half of the carbon in the Earth’s soil has been released into the atmosphere—about 80 billion tons.Footnote 1 The agriculture industry now produces the second-highest greenhouse gas emissions after the energy sector (which includes power generation and transport).

Agricultural emissions come from things like using fossil fuels to power equipment, producing fertilizer and adding it to the soil, and even cow burps that release methane. How could we change this?

Our soil could store so much more carbon if we restored it to its natural state. We can do that with regenerative agriculture techniques, essentially going back to the old ways of farming. Sometimes you need to regress in order to progress.

The most effective methods of regenerative agriculture include:

  • Less tilling: Disturb the soil as little as possible during the planting, growing, and harvesting process.
  • Cover crops: Plant crops that cover and protect the soil after harvest. These crops provide a variety of nutrients to the soil, reduce weeds, and provide food for animals.
  • Diversify: In nature, you don’t find fields with only one type of plant. The more biodiversity you allow, the more you’ll improve the soil’s health and resilience to pests and diseases, and the more organic matter (and carbon) you’ll add to the soil. You can also achieve this with crop rotation—letting fields rest and regenerate instead of farming them with the same crops season after season.
  • Less inputs: Use as little fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides as possible. Each additional percent of carbon stored within soil is considered equivalent to $300–$600 worth of fertilizer.Footnote 2 If the soil becomes healthy enough, you can use less chemicals and still increase crop yields.
  • Livestock: Animal hooves gently compact the soil, crushing leaves and stalks into mulch that adds more organic matter into the earth. Plus, manure adds powerful nutrients to the mix.

There are so many benefits to using these techniques. With them, soil can:

  • store more carbon
  • hold more water
  • become more resistant to drought
  • retain more nutrients
  • protect native species that graze on the land
  • increase crop yields

Early studies show that one acre of pristine soil can store more than four tons of carbon.Footnote 3 Building up healthier soil around the world would create a virtuous cycle that’s good for the environment, farmers, and humans who eat food (that’s all of us!).

Since agricultural practices began, more than half of the carbon in Earth’s soil has been released into the atmosphere

Company spotlight

Indigo Ag

Indigo Ag was founded with the mission to help farmers sustainably feed the planet by harnessing the power of nature. They began by innovating with microbes, which are good for plant health in the same way probiotics are good for human gut health.

Since their launch, Indigo Ag has expanded their business to cover the whole agricultural supply chain. In 2018, they launched their grain marketplace, an ecommerce platform that is modernizing the way grain is sold. Usually, grain from different farmers is mixed and loaded into one silo, with no regard for its source or how it was grown. This eliminates any incentive for farmers to produce high quality, environmentally friendly products. With Indigo Ag’s marketplace, grain is evaluated and priced based on how it was farmed. Its quality is measured by things like protein, water, or carbon content.

In 2019, Indigo Ag began a carbon program, paying farmers for the amount of carbon they’ve stored in their soil or the amount of emissions they’ve avoided. This is a new revenue stream for farmers who often suffer through bad weather, droughts, and trade wars.

Farmers within Indigo Ag’s network have submitted more than 20 million acres of land for this program, receiving a payout per verified credit. This financial incentive, paired with Indigo Ag’s educational resources about regenerative farming, leads to higher-quality crops, improved soil health, and more carbon in the soil.

Indigo Ag’s regenerative soil efforts are a step toward the company’s ambitious goal of turning agriculture from one of the leading contributors to climate change into one of the leading solutions. Our goal is that Shopify’s purchase moves the needle on this ambitious initiative, driving awareness and increasing demand for carbon storage through regenerative agriculture.

“Agriculture is one of the last industries to really see a digital disruption. Our marketplaces are designed to change that.”

—Ed Smith, VP of Carbon, Indigo Ag

Company spotlight

Soil Value Exchange

Soil Value Exchange believes that carbon storage is a service landowners should be paid for. They’re focused on changing animal grazing methods on US-based ranches. Over 40% of America’s land (more than 650 million acres) is dedicated to livestock and the crops that feed them, so there’s lots of room to work with.

Their method is fairly simple: simulate the way bison would eat on an open prairie. Flexible electric fences around multiple enclosures herd livestock around fields. The animals feast in one area for a short period of time then move on so the land can rest and regenerate for long periods. Plants, insects, and soil microbes thrive in these fields, allowing the soil to capture much more CO₂.

If these regenerative grazing methods were used on 50% of US grasslands, Soil Value Exchange estimates these lands could store up to 25% of all US-based CO₂ emissions annually. They aim to work with 2,000 ranches by 2025 and broker 100 million tons of carbon credits by 2030.

Shopify is Soil Value Exchange’s first customer. The goal is to demonstrate value and demand for grassland soil carbon storage, and support ranchers who choose to adopt regenerative grazing practices.

“We consider storage of carbon to be an element of property rights, just like growing potatoes. If you grow potatoes, you can sell them. If your grasslands remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in the ground, you can sell the carbon storage service you have provided.”

—Jim Blackburn, Soil Value Exchange cofounder

Company spotlight

Nori

Nori founder Paul Gambill began his exploration into the field of carbon removal by starting a Seattle-based community group in 2015. The goal of Carbon Removal Seattle was to self-educate on the topic and network with experts around the world. It quickly became clear that while carbon removal technology existed, very few people were experts in the field and the industry was struggling to scale and commercialize.

Paul took his engineering expertise and began building Nori, a marketplace for carbon removals. This is a key differentiator—95% of offsets sold are avoidances, where some CO₂ is avoided or removed, but it doesn’t bring net emissions down to zero. Carbon removal credits negate emissions entirely. Only 5% of offsets sold currently provide carbon removal.

Nori currently focuses on soil-based credits, connecting farmers with buyers looking to negate their emissions. Since the launch of their pilot program in late 2019, Nori’s marketplace has enabled farmers to get paid for removing about 14,000 tons of CO₂. Soil carbon removal isn’t always permanent, and can be re-released into the atmosphere. While Nori is starting with soil, they plan to scale into other permanent removal credits soon.

Nori’s long-term vision is grand: to build an API for carbon removal payments, making it easy for companies to offer carbon removal services to their customers at checkout. Paul believes carbon removal needs to be built into the background of everything we purchase so it becomes normalized and common.

Often, carbon offsets involve a lot of changing hands—a farmer issues credits, for example, and sells them to a broker, who sells them to a trader or buyer. This makes the process vulnerable to double counting, high price markups, and even fraud. With Nori’s API, the carbon credit is only ever sold once, then immediately retired.

Nori’s bold goal is to help reverse climate change, with people all around the world earning income for removing billions of tons of atmospheric CO₂ through the Nori marketplace. We love seeing entrepreneurs solve problems using technology, and our investment is meant as a vote of confidence for Nori’s strategy.

“We think of carbon emissions as a waste problem. We’ve been throwing our garbage out on the streets for years but we can’t see it or smell it, so we ignore it. What Nori enables is garbage removal for our atmosphere.”

—Paul Gambill, Nori CEO