NCX Scientists Series: Dr. Spencer Meyer
Cassidy Hopson
Cassidy Hopson
4 November, 2022 min read

The scientists at NCX make our work connecting American landowners with net-zero leaders possible. With their expertise, we are redefining the forest carbon space, delivering high-integrity climate impact with speed and scale. 

For this installment of the series, I interviewed Dr. Spencer Meyer, Head of Science at NCX. 

Spencer is responsible for working with stakeholders to link the science and business of natural capital markets. He also leads the company’s development of new ecosystem service credits including biodiversity, habitat, water quality, and wildfire mitigation. 

Spencer is a climate champion and leader with 20 years of experience working collaboratively with NGOs, government, private sector, and academic partners to solve natural resource challenges. He is a co-founder of Sebago Clean Waters, an advisor to conservation NGOs and private foundations, and a frequent speaker on forest management, watershed protection, natural climate solutions, conservation finance, and partnership development. 

Spencer previously worked at the Highstead Foundation, Harvard Forest, Yale School of the Environment, University of Maine, and The Nature Conservancy. He earned his A.B. from Dartmouth College and his M.S. and Ph.D. in forest management and sustainability science from the University of Maine.

Q: Why did you decide to join the NCX team?

A: Throughout my career, there has been this holy grail called “payments for ecosystem services (PES)” The basic idea is that the people who help create the clean air, clean water, climate mitigation, and other services we rely on from the forest, soil and water should get compensated, so they are incentivized to keep it all healthy for us. I’ve been frustrated, impatient even, about how slowly this idea has been to become reality. The carbon market was created to address climate change and is the first sizable example of PES. Yet 15 or 20 years later, the carbon market is still much too small to be meaningful at the scale of the problem and is rife with problems. And yet, as the climate crisis came into focus, I knew I had to devote my working life to finding climate solutions at scale.

I had followed NCX’s rise in the forest data business and the scalability of the technology was truly remarkable. What I saw NCX striving to do by putting technology to work to combine cutting-edge remote sensing with good old-fashioned forestry principles really excited me. I knew leveraging that capability to give all forest landowners access to carbon markets in a way that truly makes a difference for the climate was a game-changer. Once I started talking to the NCX team, I quickly realized I had found a hard-to-ignore vision and a team of exceptionally passionate people bringing their breadth of expertise to bear on climate. That’s my kind of team!

That is my professional raison d’etre, but climate change is also personal for every one of us. Like so many, my family and I experience climate change on a regular basis. These days, two of the three roadways to our home flood at least once a month from rising seas in Long Island Sound in Connecticut. And with more frequent storms, we’re seeing more power outages and blocked roads from downed power lines. We talk a lot about climate change in our home, whether it’s deciding which way to bike or drive to school or why we’ve invested in converting our home to renewable power and heat. 

Q: What are you working on at NCX?

A: A big part of my job at NCX is to ensure that we’ve designed our program to deliver the greatest climate benefit possible. That means working with our internal team of scientists, as well as external academic collaborators, to get the measurements right for every project, and then to ensure we deploy the program to the most number of landowners possible.

I am really lucky every day to work alongside our data scientists, as well as our communications teams to ensure we’re putting forward cutting-edge new ideas based in the latest science. We’re working right now on two very exciting projects we’ll be sharing more about soon. First, we are about to launch a revised forest carbon methodology after a lot of really helpful public feedback and engagement with our pilot methodology. Second, we are doing a lot of deep R&D on measuring biodiversity at scale. As we like to say, measurements make markets and we’re taking what we’ve learned in the voluntary carbon market to begin to address the looming biodiversity crisis.

Q: Can you tell us about your work with the organization you co-founded, Sebago Clean Waters?

A: About five years ago a small group of us from NGOs, land trusts, a foundation, and a water utility in Maine were working on a conservation plan for the Sebago watershed, which supplies water to one-sixth of all Mainers. The Sebago watershed is one of only about 50 watersheds in the U.S. where the water is so clean thanks to the natural filtration of the surrounding forest that the EPA says it doesn’t need a special filtration plant. We were largely focused on private land protection since the vast majority of the land is owned by small family forest owners, when we came up with a bigger vision to connect the people in the greater Portland, Maine region who get their water from Sebago, with the families and communities who own and manage the forest land that helps create the clean water.

So we formed the Sebago Clean Waters coalition to bring together innovative public and private finance to accelerate the pace and scale of forest and watershed protection. This idea caught on quickly, especially once several national and regional breweries, and effectively their huge customer bases, signed on to support the effort. In just a few years, the team, number of business partners, and the acres protected have grown considerably. One of my last acts before I joined NCX was negotiating an $8 million award from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service that will leverage another $10.5 million in public and private finance to drive watershed protection for the next several years.

Q: What do you see for the future of natural capital markets like biodiversity, water quality, and wildfire mitigation? 

A: Strong natural capital markets – the evolved version of payments for ecosystem services – require us to both measure the carbon, biodiversity, water quality, etc reliably, and create the right incentives for the people who control the assets to manage them for the public good. At NCX, we’re pioneering how to measure these things at really big scales, which brings down the cost for people to participate in the market. The biodiversity market is a generation behind the voluntary carbon market, but it’s growing rapidly. As more corporations and governments realize just how much they rely materially on healthy ecosystems, there will be growing incentives for them to reinvest in the lands and waters that sustain them. NCX will be there as a matchmaker.

Spencer is just one of the many talented scientists on the NCX team helping to shape the future of forest carbon. Keep an eye out for our next blog in the series highlighting another NCX scientist!

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about the author

Cassidy Hopson

Cassidy Hopson

Marketing Coordinator
Cassidy is the Marketing Coordinator at NCX. She helps to keep the marketing machine moving to deliver a great brand experience for NCX customers, including event and social management. With a journalism degree from the University of Florida, Cassidy has written for outlets such as Jacksonville Magazine and The Independent Florida Alligator. She has also worked in a marketing capacity for the healthcare, career services and animal welfare industries.