GHG Institute’s Tim Stumhofer: Professionalizing Emissions Experts

Posted on 10. Nov, 2009 by in Clean Tech, Entrepreneurship, Interviews, Politics

SmokeStacksblogphotoTim Stumhofer is a Program Associate at the Green House Gas Management Institute, which provides professional training in greenhouse gas emissions accounting and verification – the first organization in the world to do so comprehensively. Tim talked with Opportunity Green about why a lack of trained GHG management experts is a serious problem, how the US lags the rest of the world in this area, and why GHG accounting “is not rocket science.”

Opportunity Green: Tell us a little bit about the Green House Gas Institute.

Tim Stumhofer: The institute was launched in 2007 to support the evolution and professionalization of the industry. Our bread and butter are courses in GHG accounting, but we’ve moved into verification as well. We draw on a pool of world-wide experts for our instruction. Instruction is mainly online, but we also provide workshops.

We’re also actively involved in developing a certification standard [for GHG professionals], something we’re trying to build some interest and excitement in. While there is certification for institutions, we believe certifying at the individual level has a lot of benefits, and also serves to professionalize the industry. It’s the same process that other fields have gone through – accounting, law, and more recently the CFA [certified financial analyst]. We’re trying to move ourselves into the space of a professional society.

OG: In a recent article (PDF), you warned that a lack of qualified GHG professionals is a major problem internationally. Why?

TS: Climate policy, the design elements, the glad handing and working between industries, the hammering out of climate regulation – that is all an incredibly overwhelming task; the largest global collective action we’ll ever see. At the same time, however, it makes a lot of assumptions that ignores the human capital element of this. Policies and programs are great, but there’s no obvious way to implement them [because] there are only a handful of people on the global scale that have robust GHG expertise.

There’s also a massive opportunity for fraud, for things to slip between the cracks. When incentives to cheat appear, people are offered a moral quandary; they may take the wrong road out of greed, or just negligence. The result is people could lose faith in these programs – and if people lose their faith in the programs they may disappear. Professionalization adds a layer of accountability, but also provides some step-based program to build human capital.

OG: For the layman, how does GHG accounting work, in a nutshell?

TS: GHG accounting is on the one hand, pulling together lots of different information sources, mainly from the consumption side (as opposed to the emissions side, like measuring output from a smokestack). It’s about establishing what you have consumed, and establishing ownership. For instance, understanding who owns particular emissions. And it’s about learning how to go about gathering that information.

OG: The GHG institute was only founded in 2007. Where do you see the institute five years from now?

TS: Outside our curriculum, which is progressing quickly, our real vision right now is in our membership program. I really do think that in five years we will see ourselves as something of a professional society, similar to the AICPA [for accountants] or an engineering guild, an organization that will provide professional certification. Along side this is fostering a community for what, right now, is pretty globally stretched group of people.

Let me put it this way: It’s about ushering in a professional class.

OG: If there currently is no “professional class” of GHG experts, how did you come to the field?

TS: Everyone has their own story. While I was studying at the London School of Economics, the UK government was starting to think there might be some room for regulatory oversight of voluntary carbon offsetting, and I got involved with that process. When I returned to the US, I thought I would get involved in those issues here, only to realize the US has a real limited knowledge of GHG accounting. Even now, there’s quite a gap.

What brought me to the institute was realizing there’s this real, intense need for capacity building if we’re going to make this [carbon] market work as designed.

OG: Talking about your curriculum, who are your students? Is there a certain degree of technical knowledge necessary to do the course work?

TS: One way to look at who our students are is who organizations actually send to take the program: it seems to vary quite a bit, maybe because it’s such a new field. Sometimes organizations send us people from the compliance department, sometimes legal, marketing, or operations.

In terms of career background, they breakdown roughly into thirds: a third is working in consulting in some capacity. Some are carbon consultants, some engineering, oil and gas, waste, or marketing. Opportunity Green deals with sustainability consultants – many are getting into GHG accounting. Another third is people working for large companies. The other third is from governments and NGOs. The NGOs are anything under the sun. Governments include national, state, regional – super-national agencies down to townships.

As for the work itself, it’s not rocket science. There are certainly elements of science, engineering, accounting, but really it’s a matter of coordinating sources of information. Our classes are open to anyone…it’s not terribly complicated.

We’ve had about 500 students so far.

OG: How did you find out about Opportunity Green?

TS: I found out about Opportunity Green through your website. We’re trying to get out of our bubble, and Opportunity Green was one place that popped up – a general sustainability conference with a bit more emphasis on marketing, rather than the painfully wonky stuff of monitoring.

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One Response to “GHG Institute’s Tim Stumhofer: Professionalizing Emissions Experts”

  1. [...] without the calculus Inside the Institute Posted by Tim Stumhofer -No Comments In an interview the other week I made the lazy mistake of oversimplifying GHG measurement with a tired [...]

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