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World Wildlife Fund On Balance

  • 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


  • 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.

  • Date: 25 May 2017
  • Author: Karin Krchnak, Freshwater Program, World Wildlife Fund

When I was visiting the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, which flows between the US and Mexico, I was struck by just how critical its waters are. There, in the middle of the dessert, the river meets the needs of local businesses, indigenous communities, and unique biodiversity. Members of civil society, business, and government work as one toward a healthier river. Many view the river as a border or boundary, but not us: We saw the powerful natural resource as something to connect us, unite us.

Through my work at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which seeks to secure water for people and nature, I have the opportunity to visit rivers like the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo and experience the fieldwork first-hand. At the same time, as a member of the World Water Council (WWC), I also have the opportunity to look at water security from a global perspective. At both organizations, we address water challenges, aim to improve water governance, and seek to conserve and protect shared freshwater systems. Whether on-the-ground and at a policy-level, one thing is clear: we realize greater results when working together.

I was excited to hear the Brazilian Government and WWC chose Sharing Water as the theme for the 8th World Water Forum, which will be held in Brasilia, Brazil March 2018. To achieve sustainable water management, we must embrace and support the concept of sharing water among all actors—human, business, communities, ecosystems, and more. The 8th Forum will provide a welcoming venue to do just that. By bringing together presidents, ministers, local governments, parliamentarians, judges, businesses, civil society, managers and more to discuss water issues, our hope is to help everyone see the value in collective action, and guide them to manage water in a more holistic way.

In support of the 8th Forum’s agenda, on June 5, WWF will co-host a conference, Sharing Water, with Coca-Cola and the WWC. The event is part of the official, regional process for North America in preparation for 8th Forum, and will cover several aspects associated with water: development, finance, people, and ecosystems. Resulting content from the event will be help frame the agenda and possibly shape results.

WWF and Coca-Cola decided to host and contribute to this preparatory event because our partnership has experienced the complexities and benefits around sharing water. Initially we focused on sharing water between civil society and business and then we brought government in over time. As two multinational brands, we have been able to unite different actors in several places at the same time, and at an elevated scale. We’d like to share our learnings and inspire others to join forces for a more water-secure future.

Sharing water isn’t easy—and we all have a role to play. Individuals, families, communities, government, organizations, industry, everyone: let’s connect and figure out how we can best share water.

  • Date: 22 May 2017
  • Author: Pete Pearson

Everyone asks, why does WWF care about food waste? Answer: There is a direct connection between food production and biodiversity. How and where we produce food has a direct impact on our planet and the wildlife we share it with. Think of it this way: this summer you’ll probably host a BBQ. Every hamburger, hotdog and all that potato salad you throw in the trash represents not just a waste of your money, but a waste of the energy, water, soil and wildlife habitat that was sacrificed to grow, store and transport that food to your local grocery store.

According to our most recent World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Plowprint Report, as we expand agriculture to produce food and fuel, the Great Plains are losing more acres of grassland habitat to conversion than the Brazilian Amazon. The cost of expanding agriculture is compounded when we toss wasted food in landfills where it’s buried and creates methane gas. We minimize the methane gas release by utilizing anerobic digestion and/or composting, but given current technology, you can’t recycle all the resources and energy embedded in our food. More importantly, once habitat is converted to agriculture, it’s very difficult to get it back.

Preventing food waste must be our shared cultural norm. The problem is, some of the largest consumers of food – businesses, schools and government agencies – don’t know how much food they’re wasting. We need these institutions to take a leadership role and make the cultural changes necessary to reduce food waste by promoting the importance of measuring and reducing waste. One must see it to believe it.

Waste Reduction Is Business 101

Everyone – consumers, businesses and producers – accept that saving money is a good thing. A recent report from Champions 12.3 outlined the business case for reducing food loss and waste. For every dollar a business invests in food waste reduction, they get $10-$14 back. Not a bad return.

Bottom line – waste reduction is good for business. Of course institutions must be smart about how waste reduction programs are implemented. Any program that increases labor cost or waste diversion expenses is usually a deal breaker. WWF’s strategy is to collaborate with entire sectors that are serious about creating cultural norms that institutionalize food waste prevention. Our work with the hotel sector is a perfect example of how an entire industry is trying to change its collective mindset. It’s now an accepted practice to hang your hotel towel on the bath rack, saving water and energy by reducing laundry services each day. We want to model that same principle and are working with the hotel industry on a pilot program and campaign to institutionalize food waste prevention.

We’re also piloting a food waste prevention program with schools, in effect, turning the cafeteria into a classroom. WWF has developed a fun and engaging curriculum in collaboration with educators like Melissa Terry at the University of Arkansas that explains the connection between food and wildlife conservation. Melissa helped to author the USDA’s Student Food Waste Audit guide which encourages schools to start reduction efforts. Schools that signup through the Environmental Research Education Foundation’s SCrAP program and complete a cafeteria food waste audit will receive a WWF lesson plan and classroom materials. Many schools from across the country have already participated.

Imagine institutional workforces conditioned to see green buckets full of food waste not as an opportunity for composting, but as an opportunity to better understand food waste prevention. Food should never be landfilled, period. However, we don’t grow food to compost it and businesses don’t buy food to put it into an anaerobic digester. We grow food to feed people.

Changing Our Collective Food Culture

The good news: there is growing awareness of the estimated 63 million tons of wasted food in America. Most folks agree that “waste reduction” is a good thing and the progress being made is exciting. The NRDC and AdCouncil launched Save the Food, a public awareness campaign that provides tips to consumers on how to reduce food waste. NRDC also teamed up with Harvard  to publish a new report outlining suggestions for improving food donations nationally. We have a national food waste resource hub called Further with Food. And there’s even software and apps like LeanPath and Winnow that are enhancing the ROI potential of waste reduction. Finally, ReFED recently published a new Innovator Database and a Food Waste Policy Finder. We are collectively making progress.

In the final analysis, the food waste problem will require changing our collective food culture to one that is focused on waste prevention. We need an institutional re-evaluation of food and its importance to our planet. When institutions are actively separating, measuring, and trying to reduce the amount of food they compost, you’ll start to see a fundamental shift in our food norms.

Food is sacred and its cultivation represents perhaps the most important human relationship we have with our planet. We can all make a difference by not wasting it.

  • Date: 19 May 2017
  • Author: Greg Koch, Senior Director, Global Water Stewardship, The Coca-Cola Company

Water is a finite resource—Earth has a fixed amount—but it is infinitely renewable. Since all water is renewed through natural processes, it means we—people, nature, business, farmers, and governments—always have and always will share the same water.

That level of sharing, through the continuous cycle of water, is global, and probably doesn’t feel personal to anyone.  But sharing water also happens at the local level, everywhere, and this should be personal.

On June 5, we will co-host a conference, Sharing Water, with our partner World Wildlife Fund (WWF), along with the World Water Council (WWC).  The event presents an opportunity to play a role in WWC’s official, regional process for North America in preparation for 8th World Water Forum—the world’s largest meeting on water, or as some refer to it: the “Olympics of water.”  Discussions and output from the convening will be documented and provided to the organizers of the 8th Forum to help set the agenda and potentially contribute to its outcomes.

Our regional event will focus on a subset of themes for the 8th Forum, water and: development, finance, people, and ecosystems.  Most important is the over-arching theme of sharing water, which is a powerful one.

Everyone and everything requires water in a given time and place, whether it’s at home to bathe your children, outdoors for recreational fun, in hand to quench your thirst, or on a farm to grow the food you consume. How much water you use and what you do to affect its quality matters to everyone in your community sharing the same water resource.

When you think of sharing water it can become easier to understand that we all need to be a part of paying for water infrastructure (financing), helping keep it clean (people), and conserving watersheds (ecosystems).

This concept drives our water stewardship program at Coca-Cola. Our business is mainly producing beverages and selling them to adjacent communities. So while we are certainly focused on sustainable use of water in our plants, being efficient, and making sure the water we discharge is clean, we also step out of our bottling plants to work with governments, communities, civil society, and even our competitors to help protect nature and address health issues through safe water access.  We not only share the water, but also the responsibility of helping to protect and conserve it.

Our hope for the June 5 event is to build on this theme and help guide future discussions toward more collaborative solutions for water issues.  We all need water and can’t look to any one actor to solve its challenges.  Yes, it will take government, civil society, farmers, and industry, but it also takes you and me.

  • Date: 10 May 2017
  • Author: Aaron McNevin

The presence of slavery and forced labor in the seafood industry has been brought out of the shadows in high-profile media reports during the past two years with questions raised about the sale of these products in the US. An arcane provision in Customs law from 1930, known as the consumptive demand exception, allowed products and commodities made with forced or coercive labor practices to be imported when domestic production or supply in the US was insufficient to meet “consumptive demands” of the United States. However, recent changes in the statute have brought an end to this provision.

In addition, some imported seafood, considered high risk, will soon be required to have traceability back to point of harvest. These new regulations will be finalized later this year as the result of a commitment by President Obama and work by the Presidential Task Force to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. For further information on the full list of “at risk” species, the reader is referred to: The intention of the regulations is to apply to all seafood, but the application of these rules will be phased in with regards to species over time. The first species to be addressed that are produced through aquaculture are abalone and shrimp.

In accordance with the WTO and in order for the US federal government to enact traceability regulations on imports of farm products, domestically produced products in the US also must comply with these new rules.

Some US producers of abalone and shrimp are in direct competition with imported products and as such, many US producers are in favor of greater accountability that would accompany traceability. However, there is a challenge that first needs to be overcome. Because in the US, the states regulate aquaculture, there will need to be an effort to coordinate the information on traceability (primarily volumes sold and to whom) between state and federal agencies. This state-federal relationship has been offered as a reason to slow or postpone the application of the new regulations to abalone and shrimp. The US produces approximately 350 metric tons (mt) of farmed abalone and 1,700 mt of farmed shrimp. The imports of abalone and shrimp to the US in 2015 are approximately 780 mt and 580,000 mt, respectively, according to the USDA Foreign Agriculture Service.

In the US, many producers are concerned with “over-regulation” of the private sector. However, it appears that there may be an advantage to not only domestic aquaculture producers, but also to consumers that desire the point of harvest of the products they consume. In discussing many of the issues around these new regulations with NOAA, state agencies and US aquaculture producers, it does not appear to be an overly burdensome regulation. There is an effort to align the traceability requirements with that information which is already provided to state agencies.

Why would WWF care about these new regulations? The simple answer is accountability. There are high performing aquaculture producers all over the world. There are also poor performers as well. The effort to reward the best performers is hampered by the inability to discern who has produced a particular product. While many consider retail outlets as having great visibility on the origin of their food products, for aquaculture, this is seldom the case.

In reference to the recent confirmation of forced and bonded labor in the seafood industry, it is unfortunate that horrific revelations tend to be the reason for action. It would be easy and likely expected for the NGOs to get on their bully pulpits and “preach” to this issue. However, the Monday morning quarterbacking gets quite old by Thursday so it may be that NGOs and their corporate partners in the seafood world need to reflect on how they measure progress and track success. Further, maybe the glamour of “commitments to sustainability” are not as important as actually meeting commitments. So in retrospect, it appears that more doing and less talking is necessary.

As we have determined, whether it be a human rights group or an environmental conservation organization, traceability is a fundamental requirement for accountability. It is “agnostic” when it comes to environmental protection or social justice. I believe that we need to be united around traceability. In my mind it is the notion of standing behind a product that one produces and if you don’t want to take responsibility for the product that you produce, then maybe it is not appropriate for others to ingest that product.

In the aftermath of these recent revelations, many in the seafood world are taking things into their own hands. Appalled by trade associations that have claimed to never have seen this coming, the buyers are coming together to verify their own supply chains. It is time for the US aquaculture industry to play its part in fostering greater accountability for US imports. The typical, knee jerk anti-regulation reaction likely needs to be subdued such that one can see the forest for the trees in this case. I am confident that there is no desire to be over-burdensome to the US aquaculture industry, and reflection upon these new regulations may be viewed as pre-competitive rules to play the game.

Editor's Note:

With nearly 90% of the world’s fisheries harvested at or even beyond their biological limits, the ocean is scarcely able to yield more fish to feed a growing population. Aquaculture—the farming of aquatic species from salmon to seaweed—can help meet the planet’s rising demand for protein, but not without impacts on the environment. Originally published in Aquaculture Magazine, this article is one in a series by WWF’s Aaron McNevin, Ph.D., examining those impacts and how improved environmental performance can bear positive economic results for farmers.

  • Date: 02 May 2017
  • Author: Aaron McNevin

How does one measure success? Ask a lawyer and it would be the number of cases argued successfully and the importance of those cases; ask a car salesman and it would be the number of cars sold and the relative value of those cars; one could even ask a child who cuts lawns in the summer and it would be the number of lawns mowed and the price per lawn. How do we measure the environmental impact of an aquaculture operation? I would offer that the most common ways we gauge the environmental impact of aquaculture is by assessments, permits, management plans, “adoption” of better management practices (BMPs) and the like. However, this is not measuring. Would it be reasonable to have the car salesman be evaluated on the presence and thickness of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the dealership? If so, could the car salesman be considered successful if the SOPs were perfectly implemented, yet the salesman sold no cars? Could an aquaculture operation cause significant environmental impacts and be considered appropriate as long as there were a book of BMPs on the shelf, legal permits obtained, and the most brilliant of environmental and social impact assessments present? The answer is yes.

There is a need to return to fundamentals and first principles in the environmental management of aquaculture. The industry, as a whole, has gotten better, but there is also more competition for natural resources and it is necessary for the industry to utilize these resources in an increasingly sparing amount as with any food production system. Thus, improved performance is necessary, but it will always be necessary.

How do we evaluate whether an aquaculture operation has improved its performance? Let’s first start with the notion of “improvement”. Stating a farm is “better” or has a “reduced” impact, just the same as stating the farm has “improved”, carries with it inherent quantification. If a farm is “better”, what is it better than? If a farm has “reduced” impact, what has it been reduced from? If a farm has “improved”, what has it improved from? It has become commonplace in permitting, regulatory enforcement and certification to use subjective protocol to serve as proxies for impact. We have become slaves to documentation rather than results.

What we do not measure we cannot quantify and if we cannot quantify, it is impossible to determine if a farm has “improved”. For example, a law may require that an aquaculture operator have a water management plan. This plan may call for a description of how water is moved around a farm, how much waste accumulates in the water, how water is treated prior to discharge, how frequent and what volumes of water are discharged, the biochemical composition of effluent and how preventative measures are in place to avoid deleterious impacts on the receiving water body. This sounds wonderful, but what is the impact of the effluents on the receiving water body? While there may be no easy mechanism for attribution of a farm’s impact on receiving water bodies, the environmental condition of the receiving water body can be determined. While assimilative capacities of dynamic water bodies is challenging to determine, we do know that if the dissolved oxygen concentration has large swings from day to night it is indicative of a eutrophied system. Regardless of how small or large a farm’s discharge is into a eutrophied system, should the system condition itself be the indication of the health of the environment rather than the documentation at the farm level?

Another common example comes from certification programs. Feed efficiency is one of the most important aspects to reduce the impacts of feed ingredient procurement and production and to minimize water quality deterioration which can lead to water pollution if water is discharged and disease outbreaks at the farm-level. Development of a feed management plan may assist in the calculation of the efficiency of feed used, but the FCR is the result of implementing any measures related to improving feed use efficiency. Thus, it is painfully obvious that the most appropriate means of evaluating the level of feed efficiency at the farm level is quantifying and reporting the FCR. Presence of a feed management plan does not constitute an optimal FCR.

The obvious question is if those most influential in developing regulatory policy, certification standards and permitting requirements have the adequate knowledge to effectively put in place the main components that quantify environmental impact. Further, the efforts to satisfy the large amount of reporting, assessment and management plan requirements detract from the ability of the producer to implement practical efforts to actually minimize impact. Could the monetary expenditure to provide this reporting be better spent on other activities that may prove more beneficial?

It is interesting to note that while the fingers are pointing in all directions to lay blame for this situation, it doesn’t really matter who or what groups have generated these burdens. It is in the best interest of the environment that results-based measures are used to evaluate environmental impacts of aquaculture operations. Furthermore, it is in the best interest of the aquaculture operators to eliminate much of the nonsensical and ineffective reporting requirements that detract from the ability of producers to innovate and develop lower impact methods of culture.

It is inappropriate, and more importantly, ineffective to continue reinventing the flat tire for every aspect of environmental management. If maintenance of receiving water quality is desired – measure the condition of the receiving water body; if reduced use of feed is desired – measure the FCR; if reduced use of wild fish is desired – measures the wild fish utilized in feed; if energy reduction is desired – measure the amount of energy used; if lower land conversion is desired – measure the production per unit area. Simplicity needs to be rediscovered for the sake of the environment and the business of producing farmed seafood. If it cannot be found, the documentation burdens currently required will cause the addition of deforestation to the list of environmental impacts of aquaculture.

Editors Note:

With nearly 90% of the world’s fisheries harvested at or even beyond their biological limits, the ocean is scarcely able to yield more fish to feed a growing population. Aquaculture—the farming of aquatic species from salmon to seaweed—can help meet the planet’s rising demand for protein, but not without impacts on the environment. Originally published in Aquaculture Magazine, this article is one in a series by WWF’s Aaron McNevin, Ph.D., examining those impacts and how improved environmental performance can bear positive economic results for farmers.

  • Date: 25 April 2017
  • Author: Aaron McNevin and Claude E. Boyd

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime but what if there were no more fish? What if there were no more land to raise grains to make bread? What if there were no more water to irrigate crops? What is more important than food? The natural resources used to produce food.

Natural resources used for aquaculture was the topic of our recent book – Aquaculture, Resource Use, and the Environment published by Wiley-Blackwell earlier this year. The book provides a review of each of the natural resources that are utilized to produce seafood through aquaculture, discusses aquaculture’s relative impact in the context of other food production systems and perspectives from the point of view of the industry and from the environmental non-governmental organizations (eNGO).  The benefits of aquaculture are provided as well as its negative impacts. Fundamentally, we attempted to depict the broader debate around environmental sustainability of aquaculture in terms of the availability and use of natural resources.

We inhabit a planet with finite natural resources. Currently, we as humans, are consuming these natural resources at a ratio of 1.5:1 meaning that the regenerative capacity of the Earth is being outstripped by our activities. In essence, we are spending our interest and dipping into our principal to repay our debts. If there was ever a characterization of what is not sustainable, this would be it. This is not a burden that needs to be placed entirely on the aquaculture industry, further in some cases aquaculture uses natural resources very efficiently. However, we don’t have to look far to find examples that hit home for the aquaculture sector – where is the optimal land with adequate water availability and quality to conduct aquaculture in the future? How much more pelagic fish can we harvest from the oceans to make fish meal and oil needed as feed for carnivorous aquaculture? How will we power aerators and pumps; how will feed be made and product be processed when fossil fuel prices run out? This is not meant to be a dooms day prediction, rather a call for pause and to get out of the weeds of our daily lives for a moment to take a holistic view at our global food system and see aquaculture’s place and performance against other sectors.

We note in our book that aquaculture has greater efficiencies when compared to some types of natural resource uses in other animal protein sectors. In recent days, we have heard that Tyson will begin to discontinue their use of human antibiotics in poultry farming. The mere thought of using these drugs would not be tolerated by the aquaculture industry, aside from those that use them illegally. Aquaculture also has a comparative advantage over traditional agriculture because the medium for culture – water – is 3-dimensional. The depth dimension allows for aquaculture productivity to be high per unit area. In some instances, aquaculture can be carried out completely in water bodies with no requirement for land except that which is embodied in feed.

Of course, some of the most popular aquaculture species are carnivores and much of the current commercial research and development is in the culture techniques for the most carnivorous species such as tuna and grouper. Thus, there will be a dependence on wild fish until there is a replacement, and aquaculture in these sectors will either be restricted by the availability of this resource or contribute to the overfishing of stocks.

At a recent meeting of feed companies, retailers and eNGOs in Asia, there was a great deal of concern for the human rights violations by fishermen to provide raw ingredient for shrimp aquaculture feeds. It is interesting to note that those that claim the aquaculture industry won’t have a negative effect on reduction fisheries because the market for fish meal will maintain some type of homeostasis with harvests never considered the use of forced and bonded labor to offset the increased effort necessary to keep capturing fish from a depleted system. One could imagine the faces of those feed manufacturers that were forced to sit and listen with international retailers as the fishing captains openly explained how to go about indebting migrants onto boats. The liability of relying on wild fish is not only the risk of overexploitation of the stocks anymore. We discuss the wild fish dependency in the book in more detail but also address issues around land conversion, water use, biodiversity loss, energy use and consumption, etc.

While the aquaculture industry should take stock of how it compares with other food production systems, it should also look inwardly on ways that it can be more efficient irrespective of how it compares to cows, chickens or swine. There is a large effort by the industry to do just that. Of course, there are others that are slower to recognize the need to improve. These actors ultimately decrease the image of the broader aquaculture sector as a whole.

Lessons have been learned and efficiency has increased over the years, but there is still work to be done in aquaculture. No matter how efficient aquaculture becomes, it will always use natural resources and it is in the best interest of the industry to use these as efficiently as possible both to ensure the resources are renewable at a sustaining rate, but also to reduce costs and increase economic viability.

Boyd, C. E. and McNevin, A. A. (2015) Aquaculture, Resource Use, and the Environment, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, NJ, USA. doi: 10.1002/9781118857915 ISBN: 978-0-470-95919-0

Editor's Note:

With nearly 90% of the world’s fisheries harvested at or even beyond their biological limits, the ocean is scarcely able to yield more fish to feed a growing population. Aquaculture—the farming of aquatic species from salmon to seaweed—can help meet the planet’s rising demand for protein, but not without impacts on the environment. Originally published in Aquaculture Magazine, this article is one in a series by WWF’s Aaron McNevin, Ph.D., examining those impacts and how improved environmental performance can bear positive economic results for farmers.


Biodiversity resources – loss of mangroves to shrimp pond conversion in Indonesia.


Land resources - shrimp pond abandonment as a result of Early Mortality Syndrome and subsequent conversion to palm oil in Thailand.


Fossil fuel resources – aeration and energy use on an inland shrimp farm in Alabama.


Water resources – water pumped into tra farm in Vietnam.

  • Date: 21 April 2017
  • Author: Sandra Vijn, Director for Markets and Food

In the US, there are over 43,000 dairy farms spread out over our 50 states. These farms are essential to so many products we use every day. As our population grows and demand on dairy farms increases, so will the amount of greenhouse gases (GHG) they emit, adding to the global threat of climate change.

GHG emissions on farms is not a result just of a farm’s type or location, but on the management practices used there. This means there’s no one-size fits all solution to lower GHG emissions. Instead, we need multiple strategies and best management practices that fit the context in which a farm operates. But how can these be identified?

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) has launched the Environmental Stewardship Continuous Improvement Reference Manual of its Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program. This manual is a comprehensive resource of on-farm management practices to reduce a farm’s environmental footprint.

This manual is accompanied by an online tool, FARM ES, that allows dairy farmers to benchmark their energy use and GHG emissions against national and regional averages and to identify opportunities for improvement on their farms. The manual then provides resources and guidance to help farmers make these improvements in various areas of farm management, including feed, manure, energy, forage and animal health.

The online tool can also be used to share limited data with others that are interested in tracking progress towards GHG and energy goals within their dairy supply chains. For companies like Walmart, who recently launched Project Gigaton to reduce emissions along it supply chain, tools like this can prove valuable to their suppliers.

“FARM Environmental Stewardship helps the dairy community tell its stewardship story in a measurable, science-based way while providing business value that is also environmentally beneficial,” said Mike McCloskey, Chairman of the NMPF Environmental Committee, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy Environmental Stewardship Committee and co-founder of fairlife, LLC.  “The FARM Environmental Stewardship Continuous Improvement Reference Manual provides a resource that aggregates existing science and technology that can help dairy drive continuous improvement, all while tracking its progress in a way that can be relayed to dairy customers.”

In an increasingly resource scarce world, we need to produce more food on the current amount of land, with less impact on the environment. The FARM ES tool has the ability to support US dairy farmers in continuously identifying better management practices for environmental stewardship.

WWF collaborated with the Innovation Center for US Dairy over the last few years to develop the science, indicators and metrics that form the basis for the NMPF FARM ES program. In addition, WWF has lead an independent expert panel that provided recommendations and resources for the manual to ensure the program produces the best resources and solutions for farmers in terms of environmental sustainability.