My name is Francis Eaton and I’m a Greenhouse Gas verification forester here at SCS Global Services.
Briefly tell us how you got into the sustainability industry and became an auditor?
Professionally, I got in to the sustainability industry with my job here at SCS. Personally, I have cared about sustainability, the environment and forestry for a long time. I grew up on a cattle ranch in Florida and I saw all the sustainability practices taken to preserve the land as much as possible so it was ingrained in me from an early age. As an adult, I moved to Oklahoma and began to wonder about the lack of forests. After leaving Oklahoma, I moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, where I was reintroduced to forest ecosystems. There was a lot history of history of mismanagement and wildfires in the southwest U.S. and it truly opened my eyes. I went on to get my undergraduate degree in Forestry and my graduate degree in Forestry Science. I made a choice to follow this path and I haven’t looked back since.
What kind/s of auditing do you do and what standards do you certify clients to?
The auditing we do is under our ISO accreditation for greenhouse gas verification. I work mainly in the forestry division of greenhouse gas focusing on improved forest management, avoided deforestation, afforestation, reforestation, avoided conversions and Grassland management. We did the first avoided conversion of grasslands and shrublands for developing greenhouse gas offsets in the U.S. in North Dakota.
What is the best part about the work you do?
From the outside looking in, it might be hard to see how we are making a difference because we are objectively looking at other people’s work but in reality we are ensuring that the projects we verify are able to continue. We get to uphold the credibility of these standards we verify and certify to. When people say “oh the stock prices fell because of lack consumer confidence,” I realize it’s similar with us here at SCS, we work to instill confidence in the systems that allow sustainability programs to continue.
Another benefit is working with local communities and seeing the difference the projects are making in their lives. Lastly, I get to travel the world! I get to go to the places I would want to go anyway – it’s my kind of fun because I get to do the things I care about and learn so much along the way.
What values do SCS certifications bring to clients?
We make sure we uphold the standards and protocols but we also educate our clients. If they are doing something wrong, we educate them on what the rules are. There are so many rules and criteria that people have to adhere to and some are quite technical, but we get to inform them. When we catch flaws, we don’t just say the client is wrong, we go further and educate them on the standard and why projects are meeting requirements or not. SCS provides a high level of customer service, accuracy review and we ensure long-term irreversibility of these projects that are successfully meeting the requirements to which the projects are held.
What challenges do you face?
Some of the challenging parts of my job are moments when I realize that some of these projects that have required so much time, effort and care are not going to succeed. We are objective with our certification but sometimes you see communities that stand to benefit from these projects but they fall short on following all the rules or lacked financial backing and because of that they don’t get certified.
For me personally, there is always the uncertainty of missing something. We do risk analysis so there is some risk in itself but I always have to be super careful and meticulous to ensure I don’t miss something that is potentially troublesome for meeting the rules and requirements. Another challenge is being able to walk the fine line of a verifier when these projects are doing all the great things that I actually care about. I have to constantly stay removed from these projects. Also, I work a lot on avoided deforestation so we go to places with a lot of deforestation. It’s very challenging for me when you see beautiful areas of forests that have been cut down and burned because people need to use the resources. That’s hard for me to see time and time again.
What misconceptions are there about auditing?
A lot of people think we make the rules as auditors, but we verify to standards or rules already in place. It’s in our power to enforce the rules and allow for the correction of such things, but we can only audit against the standards/rules in place at the time. Our work does not go outside that. We don’t give our opinion at all. We are objective. On a personal level it may bother us but that’s not our job to say. Naysayers of sustainability don’t realize that these systems are constantly evolving. There is no perfect system because there are always ways to improve, but we audit against the standard of the day.
What motivates you to get in every car, train, plane or boat to head to an audit site?
Environmental Justice. My work is impactful. By me doing my job I’m ensuring the credibility of these programs. Doing it right will allow me to continue.
For material things: the right clothes, my compass and write-in-the-rain notepads that get wet but your notes don’t smudge. Others include the willingness to eat anything, mental and physical preparation for any situation. Sometimes I’m walking through swamps up to my knees or climbing mountains, sometimes I’m hiking for two days – I just have to be prepared for the unknown. Thankfully I’m not allergic to bees!
What impact/s do you believe your work makes on the world and humanity?
Working to mitigate the effects of climate change and finding ways to avoid emission GHG into the atmosphere!! Ultimately that’s what our work is; certification is merely the avenue we choose.
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