Candace Vinke, Verra
This International Women’s Day (IWD) and Women’s History Month, we’re sharing profiles of some of the outstanding sustainability leaders around the world. Read the profile of Candace Vinke, Senior Director of Nature-based Innovations at Verra here.
The individuals we’ve interviewed come from a variety of backgrounds and their areas of expertise and responsibility are equally diverse. We’ve learned a lot from them in these conversations and are excited to follow their progress.
Q: Hello! Tell us a little about what you do at Verra.
A: I’m Senior Director, Nature-based Innovations at Verra. Verra is a mission-driven, non-profit standard setter that manages programs to certify the impacts of environmental and social actions. For example, Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program measures the impacts of activities to reduce and remove emissions. The VCS Program is the leading GHG crediting program globally.
I lead our cross-cutting nature-based innovation work and supply chain innovation work.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about your background and why you chose to work in this space?
A: I spent about ten years in consulting before I joined Verra, working primarily in compliance markets on agricultural carbon credits. I also worked with corporations on their emissions management strategies.
I didn’t start out in school thinking I’d work in carbon markets. Carbon markets were just getting started when I was studying at university. I studied geography and environmental sciences. I focused on GIS and remote sensing in my undergrad, and then actually focused on spatial epidemiology and international development in my masters.
Immediately after university I spent a few years working in poverty alleviation before taking internships at the UN in New York and then with the International Institute of Sustainable Development and World Agroforestry Centre in Peru. This is where I first got exposed to the carbon markets. This was still in the relatively early days of carbon markets when mechanisms for crediting REDD+ projects were just starting to form. That’s when I saw the opportunity to link my interest in the environmental sector and my interest in social justice issues. Carbon projects aren’t just about the carbon, they are also about the other environmental and social outcomes they achieve. It was a nice way for me to merge my two interests.
The role I now have at Verra was an opportunity to work with the leading voluntary carbon standard in nature-based solutions, and building on my previous comment, also a way to bring together my interests in environmental and social issues since Verra’s standards programs ensure that projects’ environmental and social outcomes are robust. And then last, it gave me the chance to work alongside a group of incredible people who share my values and who are committed to finding solutions to the most pressing environmental problems.
Q: What skills do you think are particularly vital for your role and team?
A: Back when I started, I’d say it was less competitive because people didn’t have specialized degrees, for example, in GHG quantification. So companies had to hire more generalist environmental scientists.
For a role like mine, it’s important to have foundational knowledge of environmental sciences and biological systems. But GHG quantification expertise is also very valuable. There are now masters programs that you can do that focus on GHG quantification and carbon markets, such as Colorado State University’s program.
I also think understanding carbon market policy and how markets work is important. Last, a lot of our work involves science: working with scientists, hearing their input and determining how we apply it to our methodologies. So you must understand the scientific method to make sure that your decisions are based on credible science
For people starting out their careers in the sustainability space, you should have a rough sense of what you want to do because there are a lot of different options. You can focus on policy, science, technology or communications. It’s important to build core competency in one of these areas and then you can apply it to your sustainability work.
Q: Who are some of your role models or peers you admire?
A: There are so many incredible people in the space, I don’t just want to name one individual. I admire a lot of my colleagues for both their abilities and their willingness to face the climate crisis head on. When you’re faced with these huge issues, it’s easy to want to ignore them or feel overwhelmed. So I find it inspiring that they are motivated to find solutions. Overall, I work with really talented problem solvers, compelling speakers, and all around incredible people so it’s a very nourishing environment.
Q: What are some challenges and opportunities related to your work?
A: I really feel like the opportunities are unlimited right now. The voluntary carbon markets (VCMs) have been growing like crazy, which has created opportunities for new project types like biochar and kelp farming/sequestration/conservation.
There are also technological advances, like the work that Sylvera is doing, which are creating opportunities to streamline project development, increase transparency, and monitor for things like permanence over the long term.
As a mission-driven organization that sets standards, what we are trying to do is create rigorous, credible and practical standards that allow people to implement projects that result in real emissions reductions and removals. The challenge sometimes is finding the perfect solution that is both rigorous and practical, so that integrity is maintained and climate action can occur. It’s an ongoing learning process and journey of improvement.
Q: What are some trends you’re seeing in the sustainability space?
A: It’s much different compared to how it looked 3+ years ago in terms of the level of interest and action.
It’s a time of disruptive change, in a good way. A lot of exciting things are going on. There are people interested in new approaches. Take permanence for example, which is one thing I work on. There are now insurance companies interested in developing products that could present alternatives to the buffer, which is a pool of carbon credits that is used to compensate for losses when there is a reversal event, such as a forest fire, that re-emits carbon back into the atmosphere. Then, there are technology advances that would enable us to remotely monitor projects for permanence over the long-term.
There’s a growing focus and interest in removals. There are challenges associated with that. Protecting standing forests is more important than planting new forests at this stage. But ultimately we need both, so it’s not necessarily an either/or.
There’s an increase in companies focusing on abating their own emissions. They have set targets to reduce their own Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions, and they are starting to prioritize these reductions before they purchase carbon credits. This paradigm shift is positive and is more in alignment with how Verra has always envisioned that carbon credits should be used.
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