As our society faces many uncertainties, one thing has never been more clear – investing in the health of our planet provides a foundation to build resilient communities for both people and nature. Many companies are at the forefront of driving innovation and developing strategies that help our global community tackle challenges, including climate change. For years most sustainability strategies existed within a company’s four walls, but as we settle into a new decade, companies are starting to embrace nature-based solutions to deliver impactful results that help propel us toward a carbon neutral future.
Recently, P&G announced a new project with WWF to advance restoration in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, which is part of a larger commitment for its operations to be carbon neutral for the next decade. To better understand what these investments in nature really mean, we asked WWF’s Sheila Bonini, senior vice president for private sector engagement, and Kerry Cesareo, senior vice president for forests, to help break it down:
Companies like P&G are taking bold actions on sustainability, from setting ambitious science-based targets for climate to reducing its deforestation footprints. Where do nature-based solutions fit into this picture for companies?
We need the private sector to be ambitious and science-based in their approach to sustainability. And many companies agree because they see it as their responsibility, but also because the health of the climate and of the planet is material to their business.
First and foremost, companies must focus on reducing their GHG emissions as they align to the Paris Agreement through the Science Based Targets initiative. But, given the urgency of an increasingly warming climate and degrading planet, we need to address other critical issues, such as water stress and biodiversity loss, that pose significant risks to people and business.
This is where nature-based solutions come in. Nature can be an incredible technology to mitigate climate change and its impact, whether it is forests that serve as carbon sinks or mangroves that absorb the surges from increasingly volatile storms. The great thing about investing in nature is that it contributes to how we solve climate change. It has a positive ripple effect on ecosystems and biodiversity that are vital to our planet and provide critical ecosystem services from fresh water to healthy soil.
In practice, nature-based solutions can efficiently address multiple priorities because they not only address climate targets, but, by protecting and managing critical ecosystems, can also enhance sustainable commodity sourcing and local community engagement in the places where a company’s supply chains touch down. For example, P&G made a recent investment to advance forest restoration planning in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, one of its fiber sourcing areas.
Nature-based solutions can clearly be strategic for a company’s own supply chain, but they can also be strategic for whole sectors when multiple companies invest in landscape-level conservation in key sourcing regions such as the Atlantic Forest.
It can’t just be about planting trees, right? What are some ways companies can credibly connect nature-based solutions with their environmental footprint?
While planting trees is, of course, a very important thing to do, nature-based solutions are focused on an integrated, holistic approach to ecosystem protection and restoration. To continue on the forest example: We need to plant new trees, but we also need to invest in stopping the degradation of existing forests, which can often have a higher carbon impact than planting new ones. We also need forests – old and new – to be managed responsibly.
Building credible nature-based solutions requires taking the necessary steps to ensure a yield with the highest return on both climate and nature. This multifaceted approach is called the mitigation hierarchy, and it can be applied to other critical carbon-sink ecosystems like grasslands and mangroves.
In the past year, we’ve seen many companies investing in forests to mitigate climate change. What are the key elements to ensure these efforts are successful?
Because forests are critical to addressing climate change, success requires protecting and conserving the forests we already have in addition to supporting tree-planting projects. Deforestation, illegal logging, and over-harvesting are the main threats to forest ecosystems. Our priorities should include efforts that keep our existing forests standing and healthy, which can also help reduce potential spillovers of diseases like COVID-19 from animals to humans.
While investing in forests to mitigate climate change provides biodiversity gains, improved water management, and disease regulation—it also contributes to social outcomes related to food security, access to wood products, and living wages. To be successful, these efforts need to be designed in a socially responsible manner in concert with the goals of the people living in these places. Engaging local governments and Indigenous and local communities to develop projects that deliver business ambitions and local ambitions ensures ownership and longevity as well as long-term benefits for the people who call these forests home.
Looking beyond our current forest-carbon model, how can nature-based solutions deliver landscape-level conservation? What are the steps companies need to take to get there?
Nature-based solutions (if designed properly) can deliver on climate mitigation as well as biodiversity conservation, food security, climate resilience, and so on. But neither the private nor public sector can succeed alone … or at the scale required. Combining the influence and support of corporations with government commitments and the power of local communities truly provides an unparalleled opportunity to achieve the promise of the Paris Agreement.
Nature-based solutions work best when done at a landscape level, which requires broad stakeholder engagement. But right now, there’s inadequate capacity and a lack of availability for shovel-ready projects. That’s why we all need to work together, across all regions, to create the conditions and planning required to scale up these initiatives.
One type of landscape-level effort is known as the jurisdictional approach. In the coming months, WWF will be releasing corporate guidance on how to engage in jurisdictional approaches in partnership with the Tropical Forest Alliance and Proforest. Stay tuned for more details!