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For our first in a Leaders in Sustainability Series, Blockleaders reporters Lisa Gibbons and Jillian Godsil spoke with Ben Sheppard and Stanley Boots, Co-founders of Silta Finance, Todd Olson, CEO of dClimate and Mark Johnson, Founder of Cleanest Charge to hear about their vision for a more sustainable future. 

Here are some of the highlights of the discussion.

Ben Sheppard, Co-founder of Silta Finance tells us how Silta Finance connects impact projects with the liquidity of the crypto market. 

“The way we achieve this is by creating a system of examining project fundamentals using the basic techniques that you would use in project finance. But making those assessment processes simpler and clearer for the borrower so that the borrower can present their project to a larger crypto community who otherwise would not be able to find out about the project or make their own due diligence or assessment. So at the heart of our system is due diligence and a scoring system for projects based on the processes that we have been using.”

Mark Johnson of explains the practical vision to create EV fast, solar charging stations across the US. 

“Cleanest Charge is providing clean energy gas stations. It's designed to fast charge vehicles in the same amount of time it would be to fill them up with gasoline. There's funding in place for 500,000 of these clean stations, and you can't just plug them into the grid, it would blow the grid up. So you need to either do a grid interconnection upgrade, which is very expensive and takes a long time. Or our approach, which is a microgrid. It's an Island did independent from the grid, it is connected to the grid, but its primary purpose is to generate its own clean energy to charge vehicles with solar.“

Ben Sheppard explains why Avalanche protocol was a preferred blockchain for Silta to work with,“What we want to do is help direct decentralized finance towards projects that have a sustainable impact in the world. So it's very important that with the technology the decisions that we make are also aligned with the overall vision of a future. So when choosing a blockchain to build on top of we had quite a difficult decision to make, because Ethereum is arguably the most battle-tested out there, there's certainly a lot more liquidity with different Defi protocols but as many people know, it's not necessarily the best for the environment at the moment. And we really like Avalanche, not least because of the community, the community is fantastic. They seem to share similar values to what we have in Silta.”

Why are sustainable projects struggling to get funded sustainable projects?

Sheppard walks us through the difficulty in securing finance for smaller initiatives, 

“The methodology that's used for ascertaining the financial viability of projects is quite an archaic process with very long and drawn out costs. You have lawyers, financial transaction advisors, and engineers paid on a time and materials basis and the whole process can run into millions. And there is that same process regardless of the size of the project that's getting invested in.The methodology hasn't changed over the years. So when you have smaller projects that are only asking for smaller size sums of debt, there's a question of value for money that comes into play because of all the project preparation costs that these developers have had to basically put upfront, and then pay for lenders, transaction advisors that operate on behalf of the banks to pull apart their, their loan applications and look for all the reasons why the bank shouldn't support their application. 

“I think for the smaller projects, the whole process has to be optimized, but at the same time, not take away the importance of doing a proper job. So it's just about reshaping the methodology for doing Due Diligence to suit the smaller projects so that we can see a stronger throughput at a more reasonable cost during that project preparation stage” says Sheppard. 

Johnson notes that solar projects like his are working with partners to provide valuable access to new skills for prisoners in the US. 

“As we all well know, once you're incarcerated, it's very difficult to find a job and so they're looking for skills development. Training in something quite technical like assembling solar panels teaches them the technical skills but it also helps to provide a cleaner environment. These skills are transferable to other high-tech industries. There's a preference for building job skills with the infrastructure investment and jobs act funding the $1.2 trillion funding that's in place for the next five years in the United States. And using formerly incarcerated people we are helping with low unemployment, upskilling and most importantly, you're giving as I said job skills to very deserving people for a second chance,” says Johnson. 

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Increasing efficiency for funding government-led sustainable projects

Stanley Boots, Co-founder of Silta believes that there are opportunities for projects to get access to funding faster. 

“We've been speaking to some governments already about the possibility of them using our technology to accelerate the speed at which they can ascertain the viability of these projects. And I think there's a really exciting opportunity there to help them get portfolios of projects financed more quickly. We've spoken to some of the major international aid agencies as well and they've shown a lot of interest in what it is we're doing so there's certainly a different angle, which we talk about a lot, but there's also a TradFi angle and just helping them to improve their own processes for being able to finance projects more quickly,” says Boots. 

Todd Olsen tells us how dClimate has built a DAO that helps to track accurate climate data, allowing individuals and projects to access data that is helping researchers in relation to vital areas of the climate crisis. 

“What we are is a decentralized network for climate data, built entirely on blockchain to allow for better access to data. For us DeFi and blockchain technology represents accessibility. And that's what we're about. We want to make sure that everybody has access to climate data to help solve these issues that are coming up. And the climate data marketplace has typically been very opaque, hard to get access to and hard to work with. dClimate is a platform that anybody can use and also our historical data is basically free. So if you want to come and build an application, we welcome anybody to come and help and really help solve the issues that are going on in The world right now,” explains Olsen. 

dClimate is building tools to help us better track our carbon footprint, working with a range of projects to design measuring solutions. “Right now with what's happening with ESG. We get a lot of inbound calls from many different companies that are concerned about their carbon footprint, but really have no way of monitoring it. So we are developing products right now around those types of issues. You can't really solve a problem that you can't measure. So we want to provide the data that allows anybody to measure that kind of climate change that they're looking for, whether that's in a carbon footprint or carbon sequestration, or biomass, also in renewables. So we're developing multiple projects at the same time, which has been very exciting.”

How do we address Greenwashing?

“I think the best way to do that is by putting all of this data on-chain. If you're going to have carbon credits, look at certain other verification companies that are out there, they're not really scalable. So for us by putting these different types of carbon measurements on-chain it gives that traceability and immutability that's needed in trustworthiness that's lacking right now, in this space,” says Olson of dClimate.

Sheppard echos Todd’s sentiments, “By creating greater transparency on projects that are being funded and projects that hold themselves out as impactful. That's a community check and balance. And projects that are attempting to greenwash would find themselves identified fairly quickly, as doing so.”

Stanley Boots believes that there is more supervision and accountability these days. 

“With stakeholders, now there are the people checking up on you, which probably wouldn't have happened 20 or 30 years ago, but now, everybody knows in this, especially in the finance industry we're making some amazing pledges about being carbon neutral by 2030, 2040, 2050. But they're going to make sure they get there because people are going to check. And by putting things on-chain, it allows people that ability to look back and say, I can monitor it, I can check it, I can go back and look at what they're doing, and trust it and know that it's there. And that's going to be crucial.”

Key takeaways

“If you're someone that wants to make a difference in the world and you want to get behind sustainability projects and to see them getting financed, then become part of a DAO that has a focus specifically on that," Ben Sheppard, Co-founder of Silta Finance.

"A key challenge and driver for Silta is to bring impact assessment and impact measurement of a project on-chain and make this prove that impact can be a key evaluator when funding a project, not something to greenwash or just talk about," Stanley Boots, Co-founder of Silta Finance.

"We want to have an open platform that anybody can come and use. I was speaking on a webinar for a college about blockchain sustainability. And one of the questions was, what is the moat around your business? And my answer was that we don't want to build a moat, we want to build a bridge, we want to make sure that anybody that needs data can get it, and that accessibility is the key,” Todd Olsen, CEO of dClimate.

Thank you to all of our guests for the first in a series of discussions around sustainability and blockchain. For further information visit dClimate, Silta Finance, CleanestCharge and Next Earth who participated and supported this session. For our next Sustainable discussion join us on June 7th for an exciting session with the Sovereign Nature Initiative.