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World Wildlife Fund On Balance

  • Date: 25 September 2017
  • Author: Martha Stevenson

Recent months have witnessed a whirlwind of debate in the bioenergy space, with letters signed by academics on both sides, white papers and responses wielded between think tanks, civil society and industry groups squaring off in special reports, and a hung Science Advisory Board of the EPA unable to make a determination about their guidance on biogenic carbon accounting. It has been a confusing time, even for the experts.

At WWF, we follow these debates and review the scientific literature to inform our position, which is then grounded in the expert field experience of our global network. For those of you seeking to green-up your energy supply and navigate these confusing times, here is our best advice when it comes to bioenergy, while understanding that new studies are coming out every week and that the IPCC won’t issue their guidance on national inventories until 2019.

Use sources of sustainable renewable energy first.

If you are in a sector where there are commercially viable low/no-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels and bioenergy (e.g., solar[1], wind, geothermal) use those first and get creative on how to shift as much energy demand as you can to those systems through electrification. If you are in a sector where these solutions are not commercially viable (e.g., industrial process energy or aviation) then we have two additional pieces of advice.

Only use bio feedstocks that deliver significant climate benefits over fossil fuels and without compromising biodiversity.

The most important question to WWF in the bioenergy debate is “What types of bioenergy provide a significant climate benefit over fossil fuels and do not significantly impact biodiversity?” The first point is crucial given that there are types of bioenergy that, whilst technically ‘renewable’, can have higher impacts on climate change than the fossil sources they replace[2]. Additionally, the connection between climate and biodiversity is important to understand, because the concept of mitigating trade-offs is not so simple.[3] Climate change will have negative impacts on biodiversity and maintaining biodiversity will increase ecosystem resilience to climate change. A benefit to one at the expense of the other is not a sound solution.

With this as context, our cautious recommendation is to look to industrial or municipal wastes and byproducts that are available for energy production, while applying an approach of cascading use[4]. These classes of biomaterials do not increase harvest levels, are unlikely to cause displacement affects (i.e. remove feedstocks from other industries) or further impact soil or biodiversity conditions. These are the lower risk feedstocks for supply, but need to be assessed on a case by case basis while considering local supply, production management practices and potential alternative uses. Before investing in bioenergy infrastructure or long term contracting, develop a rigorous sourcing policy consistent with the above, including what feedstocks are acceptable and conduct an assessment of the availability of policy-compliant, bioenergy feedstocks for the duration of the project.

Assumptions of carbon neutrality leave you exposed to serious risk.

WWF supports life-cycle carbon accounting for any technology that is making climate benefit claims, so that the true impacts are understood and informed decision-making can occur. Assumptions of carbon neutrality limit your understanding of the system and the potential risks, leading to poor decision-making and unwise investments. Given the growing awareness amongst policy makers of the sustainability concerns relating to many types of biomass, they are also subject to significant regulatory risk. We would like to see more companies calculating and reporting their biogenic carbon emissions, including (when important): land use change; impacts to all five carbon pools; forgone sequestration and for forest ecosystems[1] carbon debt over a climate-relevant timescale. Calculation methodologies exist to do all of this and their intent is to understand the full picture of climate impacts, so we can design energy transitions in line with a less than 2-degree future.

There are not many simple answers on this topic given the interlinkage between climate impacts and competing land uses, including biodiversity, but these difficult challenges need to be addressed. WWF will continue to look to the science and engage constructively with other stakeholders to grapple with these complex trade-offs.

 

 

 

 

Sources:

 [1] Check out Quantis’ Guidance on calculating Land Use Change https://quantis-intl.com/lucguidance/ https://about.bnef.com/blog/global-wind-solar-costs-fall-even-faster-coal-fades-even-china-india/

[2] http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/one_planet_cities/key_messages/?302612/EU%2Dbioenergy%2Dpolicy%2D%2D%2Dposition%2Dpaper

[3] Biodiversity promotes primary productivity and growing season lengthening at the landscape scale. Jacqueline Oehria, Bernhard Schmida, Gabriela Schaepman-Struba, and Pascal A. Niklausa. PNAS doi/10.1073/pnas.1703928114.

[4] (https://www.worldwildlife.org/projects/cascading-materials-extending-the-life-of-our-natural-resources) 

Check out Quantis’ Guidance on calculating Land Use Change https://quantis-intl.com/lucguidance/

  • Date: 18 September 2017
  • Author: Stewart Van Horn, Director of Global Sustainability at Kimberly-Clark

The Renewable Energy Buyers Association (REBA) recently welcomed Kimberly-Clark Corporation as a formal member of its Buyers Principles and Renewable Thermal Collaborative. World Wildlife Fund had a few questions for Stewart Van Horn, Kimberly-Clark’s Director of Global Sustainability – Energy Solutions, about why renewable energy is a priority.

Why is Kimberly-Clark pursuing renewable energy?

Within Kimberly-Clark’s Energy & Climate strategy, we deploy both energy conservation and alternative energy programs to minimize climate change impacts, reduce GHG emissions and transform our financial performance. We believe that increasing our use of renewable energy is not just good for the environment, it complements our existing efforts to drive innovation in energy management that creates value for our business.

Power generation from renewable sources like wind is not affected by fluctuating costs for fuel such as natural gas. The fixed prices that come with a renewable energy PPA help reduce Kimberly-Clark’s exposure to volatility in the energy markets, and the potential savings generated by our energy efficiency and conservation projects reduces our operating costs and frees up funds to invest in the growth of our brands and businesses.

You just signed two wind PPAs, which combined is one of the biggest PPA announcements of any company to date. What impact does this have on your footprint?

The impact on our footprint will be significant. The power purchase agreements (PPAs) are a step-change in our energy and climate strategy helping us reduce climate change impacts and benefit cost savings for our business. These agreements mark Kimberly-Clark’s first use of utility-scale renewable energy. The 245 megawatts of wind-generated electricity supplied under these agreements is equivalent to about one-third of the electricity needed to power our North American manufacturing operations.

The renewable power supplied by these agreements will enable Kimberly-Clark to offset around 550,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, effectively reducing the company’s market-based emissions by 11%. Adding wind-generated electricity to the energy mix will enable the company to achieve more than a 25 percent reduction in GHG emissions in 2018, which is four years ahead of the original 2022 target to reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 2005 levels.

You came to REBA’s first meeting last year.  How did that set you on a renewables journey?

The insights we gained from the 2016 REBA meeting informed our plans to increase the role of renewable energy in achieving our climate goals.  We used the Renewable Energy Buyers Principles when evaluating the business case for pursuing our first utility-scale renewable energy agreements.  

We have now formally signed on to the Renewable Energy Buyers Principles and have endorsed REBA’s effort to simplify and streamline the way businesses purchase renewable energy, which will support further investment and development of wind power and other renewables.

Where will you go from here?

Our original 2022 absolute GHG reduction goal of 20 percent was location-based, that is, based on driving actual GHG reductions in our operations through energy conservation, increased operating efficiency and on-site alternative energy projects. We’re now in the process of setting a new market-based emissions baseline and emissions reduction target incorporating the benefits of the renewable energy credits from virtual power purchase agreements.

Kimberly-Clark will continue to evaluate alternative energy sources including renewables as part of our ongoing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency and reduce costs.

  • Date: 29 August 2017
  • Author: Daniella Foster, Sr. Director, Corporate Responsibility, Hilton

Just as water gives life to every person on our planet, the same is true for Hilton’s 5,000+ hotels: water is vital to their operations, supply chain, and their communities. In 2008, we started a journey to reduce water consumption in our network by 10 percent over five years. We met that goal a year early and eight years later we had almost doubled it with total reductions of 18.4 percent.

Fast forward to 2017 and we are proud to have celebrated World Water Day by announcing a new commitment to a comprehensive approach to water stewardship, covering our operations, supply chain, our communities and watersheds. This week we take another step on the journey and join other global organizations and leading water advocates at Stockholm’s World Water Week to share our lessons and progress.

To deliver on our new water commitment, we first had to create a baseline for our water stewardship efforts. In partnership with World Wildlife Fund’s Water Risk Filter, Hilton completed its first ever global water risk assessment for all of our hotels.

This assessment identified three high water risk areas in the United States, South Africa and China. Today we launch water pilot programs focused on training and empowering our Team Members on the water risks their communities are facing. Together we will work to mitigate those concerns by engaging in local programs to make a lasting difference.

Building on our strong operational management and existing water conservation efforts, our new water stewardship pilot programs will engage strategic suppliers beyond our operational boundaries. By extending our influence we can leverage our extensive partnerships and increase our ability to positively impact watersheds.

Hilton will continue to measure every drop of water consumed through our Corporate Responsibility performance measurement platform, LightStay. This enables us to collect and track water progress across all of our hotels, and allow us to refine and improve our efforts every step of the way.

Through our partnership with World Wildlife Fund, we are updating LightStay to provide hotels with information about their local risks and collect more locally-focused water data. This information will help us set contextual corporate water targets, and allow managers to make more informed water-related decisions. With better intel, we can continue to evolve and adapt our corporate approach to yield better results in our communities.

We have already made great progress in our journey, but we are just getting started. With World Water Week now in full swing, we are energized by the dialogue among our peers and partners. We hope that - before the end of the week - we will have unlocked the potential to achieve greater scale and impact in conserving and protecting the planet’s fresh water.

We believe that by helping our Team Members understand the role of water in our business and their role in its conservation, we can inspire our incredible teams on the frontlines of our hotels to be water stewardship champions, preserve our environment, and ultimately make a positive difference around the world!

 

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  • Date: 18 August 2017
  • Author: Anita Van Breda and Rebecca Feinberg

Cyclone Enawo hit Madagascar in March 2017, the strongest to hit the country in 15 years. It killed 81 people, displaced another 434,000, and caused an estimated $400 million in damages--4 percent of Madagascar’s annual economic output.

The country’s agriculture sector alone lost $207 million, much of it from the vanilla industry, which supplies up to 85 percent of the world’s vanilla. Prices spiked to an all-time high of $600 per kilogram, up from $100 in 2015. Since vanilla vines take about three years to mature and start producing, the industry and its largely smallholder farmers will continue to feel Enawo’s impact for years to come.

With support from McCormick, a global flavor company and major buyer of Malagasy vanilla, CARE was among the first humanitarian responders to provide emergency shelter, food, and water to more than 20,000 people. In the subsequent months, CARE supported reconstruction of homes through a program that trains local carpenters to use native materials to build cyclone-resistant homes and to pass on the construction technique to others in the community. More than 430 homes are now under construction.

Trancia, her daughter and mother can attest to the efficacy of such homes. Their home is one of the 115 “cyclone-proof” houses that CARE helped build as part of a disaster risk reduction program between 2014 and 2016.

World humanitarian day

Trancia in the doorway of her wind-resistant home with her daughter. Photo Credit - CARE Project Manager, Dasy Ibrahim

“We were lucky. Our house is strong and we were safe in it. The neighbors should learn lessons from this cyclone.”

Trancia
Cyclone Survivor

CARE is not only working with McCormick but also with World Wildlife Fund under the CARE-WWF Alliance to design a strategy to build resilience to environmental and market shocks among smallholder farmers in their vanilla supply chain in Madagascar. WWF’s Environment and Disaster Management program has been working to integrate environmentally responsible practices into disaster response practice and policy for the last 12 years. This means, for example, rebuilding shelters in safer areas, using building materials that are extracted without creating new hazards, sourcing and managing water responsibly for the long term, managing natural resources to support and sustain livelihoods, and avoiding human-wildlife conflict by understanding species habitat and migration patterns. 

Ultimately, green recovery and reconstruction empower communities to protect and manage the ecosystems they depend on for food, shelter, water, income, and jobs. Such efforts are critical to the ability of vanilla producers and other smallholders in Madagascar to adapt to a changing climate and reduce their vulnerability to future disasters that are growing more frequent and more severe. 

The Madagascar cyclone illustrates that disasters not only undermine local livelihoods but also disrupt critical business supplies, operations, transportation, and logistics. As a result, companies like McCormick are engaging more deeply in disaster response and humanitarian action. Indeed, in 2016, more than 400 private sector company representatives participated in the World Humanitarian Summit in part to identify and coordinate more responsible ways to manage disaster response. By collaborating with groups like the CARE-WWF Alliance, businesses can help disaster response actors make climate-smart and environmentally sound decisions to rebuild in ways that are not just immediately beneficial to local communities but also protect biodiversity, natural resources, and other ecosystem services over the long-term.

Businesses and NGOs bring distinct and complementary expertise to improving resilience in smallholder agriculture, including small-scale vanilla production in Madagascar. CARE, for example, engages directly with resource-poor smallholder farmers, including women, youth, and marginalized groups, enabling them to increase productivity, nutrition, and access to markets to improve livelihoods and equity. WWF is working to transform the supply chains of large multinational companies through policy advocacy, stakeholder engagement, and field interventions to mitigate the environmental impacts of the global food system. Companies like McCormick bring market access and opportunity, which incentivize producers and their communities to shift to more sustainable production and recovery practices.

Climate change must change the way we think about disaster recovery. Indeed, just as Trancia urges her neighbors to learn lessons from Cyclone Enawo, so too must we seize every opportunity to learn how we can better help smallholder farmers and their communities—not just to recover from storms, droughts, and floods, but to do so in ways that anticipate and reduce risks from disasters yet to come.

Anita van Breda is senior director of WWF’s Environment and Disaster Management program. Rebecca Feinberg is director of development, strategic partnerships, and alliances for CARE. 

  • Date: 02 August 2017

In the fight against climate change, we are focused on a key number: 2. A 2-degree Celsius rise in temperature is what we must avoid to limit changes in weather and sea level that could have catastrophic impacts on our planet.

But this year, there’s another 2 we need to worry about: August 2.

August 2 is this year’s Earth Overshoot Day – the day when we begin to use more natural resources than the Earth can replenish in a single year. That means in just over half a year’s time, we have already drained our planet of the resources it creates. And we get worse every year. In 1977, Earth Overshoot Day was on November 17. In only 40 years, we have bumped that timeline up 2.5 months. This is simply not sustainable.

We owe it to future generations, our own children and grandchildren, to better protect our natural resources and ensure they have what they need to survive. Even the smallest changes make a difference – taking the subway instead of your car once a week, finishing all the food on your plate, throwing your plastic water bottle in the recycling bin – there are endless easy ways to make a positive impact.

Protecting our natural resources is possible, but it’s something we must all do together.

To find out more about how you can contribute to a better, more sustainable future, visit our Earth Overshoot Day page.

  • Date: 01 August 2017
  • Author: Alexis Morgan, Water Stewardship Lead & Lindsay Bass, Manager of Corporate Water Stewardship, WWF

A win for (North American) water: Nestle Waters North America received recognition last week for its dedication to water stewardship.  The company was awarded the continent’s first ever Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) certificate from SCS Global Services for a work site in California. This milestone represents a commitment to collective action at the local level to protect freshwater ecosystems and ensure sufficient water for people and nature. It also sends a public call to other businesses across the state and country to follow suit.

The concept of water stewardship is one that WWF has played a formative role helping to shape. Nearly a decade ago, when this journey began, a group of NGOs came together to discuss whether it would be possible to codify what “good and responsible water stewardship” looked like and to test the idea of certifying good water stewards. In 2009, the AWS was born, and has now grown to become a global system with over 75 members and certifications on four continents – Asia, Africa, Australia and now North America.

Back in 2007, the corporate discussions around water focused primarily on ‘water management.’ Fast forward ten years, and most companies are speaking in terms of ‘water stewardship.’ This shift is a critical one: it takes companies from an ‘in the fenceline’ (management) response that is focused on minimizing impacts on others, to a ‘beyond the fenceline’ (stewardship) approach that is focused on addressing shared water challenges to reduce impacts and mitigate risks.

However, while risk awareness and terminology are critical starting points, actions speak louder than words. AWS is a standard that can guide appropriate action, and a verification system that can ensure action and measure impacts. Certification ensures contextually-appropriate actions start with a company’s own operations and stretch across their supply chains. Certification provides an important stepping stone toward WWF’s ultimate goal – basin sustainability. In this regard, WWF is pleased to see Nestle Waters North America “walk the talk” and certify its sites to the AWS Standard, putting in place a process for continued action and community engagement on important shared water issues. However, though certification is a key milestone, there is still much work to do to ensure holistic basin sustainability.

In recent years, many companies have started to push back against certification calling it ‘burdensome’ and saying that proprietary codes of conduct are the way of the future. While standard systems must always listen to corporate challenges, in our opinion, standards and certification remain critical. Standards are the thin red line upon which many sustainability claims are made and supply chains respond. Unlike company codes, ISEAL standards, such as AWS, must enforce monitoring and evaluation of impacts. Furthermore, these multi-stakeholder systems also provide a common framework for supporters to rally behind. Certification is as much a testament to transparency and collaboration as anything.

Freshwater ecosystems remain under threat around the world and the ability to restore them is beyond any one actor. Working together, through collective action, is the only pathway to ensure that nature and people can flourish side by side. Water stewardship lays the foundation for such collaboration and those who certify to the AWS standard are making a statement of intent to not only address their water risks, but to address the shared water challenges facing communities across the globe.

WWF toasts the first (of many) AWS certificate(s) in North America!

 

  • Date: 27 July 2017
  • Author: Jill Schwartz

When U Zaw Htun Myint drives by or walks in Myanmar’s forests, he sees great potential for them to be the world’s safest and healthiest places for tigers, elephants and other wildlife.

That’s why he travelled to neighboring Thailand this month with a dozen people from his country. They were on a mission to learn more about the natural rubber industry—including how to create such an industry without harming prime forest habitat. As the largest producer and exporter of natural rubber, Thailand is the perfect classroom for learning what to do. And what not to do.

Woman talking

Sudarat Sangkum of WWF Thailand talks to U Zaw Htun Myint about sustainable rubber production during a Thailand rubber plantation tour organized by Dr. Buncha Somboonsuke of Prince of Songkla University.

On the trip, organized by WWF, U Zaw Htun Myint and his group of government and private rubber industry leaders learned about the entire natural rubber production supply chain. They visited a rubber plantation created on degraded (not prime) forest land, a cooperative where latex is processed into sheets of rubber, a market where rubber sheets are sold, an industrial complex where rubber sheets are used to create shoes and other products, a university where rubber research is conducted, and more.

“I have so much hope for the rubber industry. If done right, it can be a great way to improve livelihoods and protect wildlife habitat.”

U Zaw Htun Myint
Deputy Director general of the Myanmar Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation

The trip was important because the Myanmar government’s 30-year master plan for agriculture aims to make Myanmar a natural rubber (as well as palm oil) power house of Asia. It’s a logical goal, as southeast Asia is the best place in the world to grow rubber trees. (That’s why 90 percent of the world’s rubber comes from southeast Asia.) Southern Myanmar is a particularly good region for growing rubber because of the wet weather.

Ensuring that the rubber industry is sustainable—especially from an environmental and social standpoint—is particularly important in Myanmar because most of the planned rubber production (nearly 600,000 acres) is slated for the Tanintharyi region. The Dawna Tenasserim Landscape (DTL), which cuts across southern Myanmar and northern Thailand, dominates the region. The landscape, mainly natural forests, is the largest intact natural landscape in Southeast Asia and a priority landscape for WWF. Critically endangered tigers and Asian elephants, as well as a range of other species thrive in this habitat.

But the DTL is at great risk of becoming fragmented, which would threaten the natural resources which species and people in Myanmar rely on to survive. One of the biggest threats to the landscape is unsustainable expansion of land for growing rubber and palm oil.

Myanmar ele 2

A new highway being built in the Tanintharyi region cuts through forests that are prime habitat for elephants and opens the door for more plantation industries, such as rubber, that will threaten wildlife habitat if not done sustainably.

The opportunity to address these threats is greater now than ever before, as a new national government is in place in Myanmar. Already, with the help of WWF, the government is drafting a rubber law that would protect forests that are important from a conservation standpoint. Also, a new market for sustainable rubber is developing. In early 2015, Michelin (the world’s largest buyer of natural rubber and second largest tire manufacturer) partnered with WWF and announced a new sourcing policy related to natural rubber.

The trip to Thailand helped U Zaw Htun Myint think through some potential next steps to create a sustainable rubber industry in Myanmar—such as conducting research to improve the technology available in his country to make tires and other rubber products, as well as furniture made from the wood of rubber trees.

Img 0131

75 percent of the world’s natural rubber, including these rubber sheets in Thailand, is used to create tires: more than 30 percent of a truck tire and 15 percent of a car tire is natural rubber.

He also got ideas on how to accomplish one of the high priorities for his ministry—improving rubber yields, rather than expansion of acreage for growing rubber trees (therefore, expanding the industry more vertically than horizontally). Rubber yields in Myanmar are half of what they are in Thailand and among the lowest in the world. WWF is working with other entities to educate Myanmar’s rubber producers about best management practices for rubber so they can increase their yields in a sustainable way.

“This was a good trip and now I want to send more people from Myanmar to Thailand to learn even more,” U Zaw Htun Myint said.

  • Date: 12 July 2017
  • Author: Rebecca Traldi & Alix Grabowski

Today, agriculture has serious impacts on the health of our planet and its people. Humans are using the equivalent of 1.6 Earths’ worth of natural resources, which is already having detrimental consequences for ecosystems and biodiversity. In the context of these stresses, it is necessary to reexamine and redesign how biomass (living material made from plants) is produced. Humans rely on biomass not just for food but as a critical input for materials, clothing, paper products, and more. Responsible sourcing requires supporting a system of greater transparency, understanding, and continuous improvement in order to build healthier and more resilient farms, communities, and habitats.

Currently, agricultural practices often threaten critical ecosystem services - the services nature provides us like clean water, flood protection, and healthy soil - that act as buffers and offer protection against a changing climate as well as provide the resources our global economy needs to function and maintain food security. Changing the way in which the world manages and produces biomass is an enormous task and a difficult one - there are many daunting issues to tackle, and they vary greatly across different geographies.

For years, to advance its conservation mission, World Wildlife Fund has been helping companies understand the environmental and social risks of sourcing different crops. However, we saw the need for a tool to help companies bridge the gap between knowing that supply chain sustainability risks exist and then doing something about them. That’s what inspired us to develop the SRI, a new, open access online tool that is designed to make the sustainable sourcing process clearer, easier, and more streamlined. The SRI provides guiding questions in the form of a simple yes/no survey, as well as additional resources to help companies gather more information and build knowledge of how their supply chains are connected to global sustainability challenges. It also provides guidance on meaningful next steps - bridging the gap between awareness and action.

Many companies are wrestling with the challenge of moving from a general understanding of the risks and impacts inherent in sourcing biomass to addressing the most pressing issues in their supply chains. How do you know which questions to ask or what to prioritize? Knowing where to start isn’t easy – especially when comparing across many regions and production systems with different sustainability issues, ranging from labor rights to natural habitat conversion. The Supply Risk Inquiry provides a systematic way to begin answering those questions.

The SRI enables collaboration between organizations on responsible sourcing of biomass, leading to more informed decision-making. Although there are many challenges associated with the production and sourcing of biomass, together we can work to maximize positive outcomes for people and the planet.

 The Supply Risk Inquiry can be accessed at supplyrisk.org

 

  • Date: 05 July 2017
  • Author: Kate Schaffner

Now is an important, if uncertain, moment for conservation and agriculture in the United States.

The agricultural sector and environmental non-profits alike have expressed significant concerns with the Administration’s proposal to shrink federal support for farmers, including a plan to “streamline” voluntary conservation programs. These programs value and incentivize stewardship in ways the market traditionally has not: they support farmers who implement good conservation practices on working lands and protect areas of immense ecological value.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) recently joined other NGOs and food industry leaders in urging Congress to support robust funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a program that leverages traditional U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) with locally-led projects. Farmers and the private sector use RCPP to scale the impact and value of public dollars on working lands. Without RCPP and other federal conservation programs, their conservation efforts will lose ground.

For years, WWF has worked to leverage the power of markets to improve how food is produced. And in the face of this shifting federal landscape, the market remains an influential force in American agriculture. Whether companies are championing public-private partnerships, working toward sustainable sourcing goals, or supporting healthy landscapes in their communities, their voices for sustainability in agriculture are more critical than ever.

As members of Field to Market: the Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, WWF works with commodity crop growers, traders, processors, retailers and other supply chain stakeholders to implement programs to better measure and manage the use of natural resources in agriculture. Historically, American farmers have excelled at boosting productivity. They used about 40 percent less land, 33 percent less water and 35 percent less energy to produce a bushel of soy in 2015 compared to 1980. Over the same period, corn growers reduced energy use by about 39 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by about 30 percent per bushel.[i] This trend will need to continue at national and regional levels as demand for crops increases.

Productivity is only one measure of progress toward better environmental outcomes, however. Land, water, and energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions, for example, have increased for some crops overall, putting pressure on land, freshwater systems, and the wildlife they support. WWF research has shown that since 2009, 53 million acres of grassland in the Great Plains have been converted to cropland. While about half of that area has since been returned to perennial cover, initial plow-up of diverse naturalized or native grassland has significant, long-term environmental impacts on biodiversity and soil function. Restoring land is important but it can’t always undo this initial damage.

To protect the Northern Great Plains, WWF works with ranchers across the U.S. and Canada to improve the sustainability of the cattle industry. Stretching from Alberta and Saskatchewan through Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota and Nebraska, this ecosystem is one of the world’s four remaining intact temperate grasslands, and it has immense social, economic and environmental value. The Northern Great Plains are home to myriad animal species—from bison to butterflies—and support the communities and livelihoods of thousands of agricultural producers. The grasslands also store carbon and water, which helps protect against water pollution, soil erosion and even climate change.

Jerry and Renae Doan, winners of Sand County Foundation’s 2016 Leopold Conservation Award, demonstrate how ranching and farming can complement nature, instead of competing with it. On their 17,000-acre Black Leg Ranch in McKenzie, North Dakota, they grow more than 20 species of cover crops and haven’t tilled their farm for more than 15 years. Their intensive grazing program mimics what bison did when they dominated the plains. These techniques have laid a strong foundation of rich soil, which the Doans use to grow healthy grasses, crops and cattle.

In addition, WWF and the United Soybean Board are collaborating to integrate sustainability—including in-field conservation, social sustainability assurances and protection or improved stewardship of intact grasslands—into soy supply chains. Innovative, market-based initiatives like these will help mainstream conservation in agriculture and manage the economic risks that come with investments in more sustainable practices.

We’re proud to support public and private conservation programs and to collaborate with many companies that have reaffirmed their commitment to honoring the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. Indeed, bold actions like these from producers and supply chain actors will be increasingly critical in their own right and as reminders of the value of conservation and sustainability. Improving productivity is essential, but efforts to reduce agriculture’s overall impact on the environment while maintaining a viable agricultural economy will ultimately be the measure of true success.

Kate Schaffner is a Senior Program Officer for Sustainable Food at WWF.

[i] Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, 2016. Environmental and Socioeconomic Indicators for Measuring Outcomes of On Farm Agricultural Production in the United States (Third Edition). ISBN: 978-0-692-81902-9.

  • Date: 12 June 2017
  • Author: Erin Simon

Every year, we extract tons of material from the earth to create products that enrich our quality of life, and when we’re finished using those products, most of them are disposed of, and some of that material leaks back into our environment in the form of pollution. If we did a better job of recovering those materials, not only could we better protect our ecosystems, but we could literally do more with less – demanding fewer virgin resources from our planet without bringing our global economy to a standstill.

This sounds like a straightforward idea – use the resources we extract multiple times so that we need less of them. And it’s not a new concept. Recycling and re-using materials has been the focus of many efforts for decades. So why continue to focus on this issue? The short answer: there’s still so much untapped potential in how we use those materials and our resources to help the planet and ourselves, but we need to think differently in order to unlock that potential. In doing so, we could extend the life of our natural resources.

While it may sound simple, reaching the vision of a world where the majority of materials are fully or significantly recovered and can be used to make new products multiple times over (a concept known as Cascading Use) is very challenging. The factors that make recovering material so difficult are embedded in the way our economy functions and are outside the control of any one organization. Right now, there’s no easy way to source secondary materials (those made from recycled or recovered resources) in consistent quantity and quality because they’re not traded in the same way as virgin materials. Add to this that the availability of these materials depends not only on the existence of local recovery programs but also on individuals to participate in them consistently, a system that hasn’t yet taken hold everywhere.

This makes the problem tough to tackle on a meaningful scale. That’s why WWF convened a group of organizations to launch the Cascading Materials Vision – a framework of guiding principles for decision making that protects the future wealth of our natural resources. The Cascading Materials Vision aligns many organizations around this common goal in order to provide a platform for reaching the scale needed to unlock the potential of cascading use – and that potential is huge for the planet.

Let’s put some of this in perspective. We all use aluminum. Whether it’s to wrap up leftovers with foil, build the frame of our cars, or to drink our favorite can of soda, aluminum is a regular part of our lives. It takes 95 percent less energy to recycle aluminum and use it again than to extract brand new aluminum. If we all recycled our aluminum, that would lead to incredible savings of money, energy and resources, making it a win for everyone. And yet, even with aluminum cans, a product we all know how to recycle, we only do it 67 percent of the time, according to data released by the Aluminum Association, Can Manufacturers Institute (CMI) and Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) in 2012. If we did a better job recycling and re-using materials we’ve already extracted, we wouldn’t just save energy and resources, we’d also make huge strides toward alleviating the impacts of improper waste management.

By using materials more than once, we can quite literally do more with less. Having better material systems and waste management in place is essential for meeting the pressures of a growing global population and emerging economies that put stressors on our precious ecosystems. For every minute that passes, the equivalent of one dump truck of plastic finds its way into the ocean. This wreaks havoc on our cherished ecosystems and represents an unparalleled missed opportunity to recover resources. We can change this.

The positive impacts of reusing materials are clear. Recycling plastic packaging alone can save $80 to $120 billion annually. Now all we need is a global system in place that makes it easy. That’s what the Cascading Materials Vision will help create, and that’s why we hope more and more organizations will join in making this important work possible. Together, we can turn our vision of a world with better materials management and collaborations that have system-wide scopes into a reality.

Erin Simon is WWF's Deputy Director for Private Sector Engagement, Sustainability R&D.

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