World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

filtered by category: Forests

  • Date: 20 October 2020
  • Author: Kerry Cesareo, Senior Vice President, Forests, World Wildlife Fund

Clearer public-private pathways are putting us on the right track

The end of 2020 marks a crossroads that is both deeply worrying and quite exciting. Deforestation and conversion of natural ecosystems continue unabated, with 3.8 million hectares of tropical primary forest lost in 2019—a 2.8% increase from the previous year. Wildfires rage from the Amazon to the Arctic, and the recent Living Planet Report released by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) shows an average 68% decrease in population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish in less than 50 years. Deforestation is enabling more human-animal contact and raising the chances of new pandemics spilling over to humans; it also continues to be a primary driver of climate change, creating a vicious cycle.

Concurrently, conservation and restoration of forests, and nature more broadly, have been elevated on the global agenda. Forests are included in the Paris Agreement and in the land-based carbon targets of many countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions. And, building from the experiences of REDD+, governments at the national and subnational level in many key commodity-producing regions are translating these ambitions into action by providing leadership in place-based, multistakeholder efforts to address deforestation and conversion. Increasingly, governments and the business community are engaging with each other. Ghana, for instance, has created action plans with cocoa buyers to address deforestation. In Indonesia, the National Action Plan for Sustainable Palm Oil is providing a structure around which palm oil companies can coordinate their forest protection and restoration efforts in line with government strategies.

Meanwhile, the business case for far more expansive action to protect nature has become obvious. Nature loss is no longer just an issue of reputational risk—it threatens the future of commodity supply and the jobs linked with raw material production. Forest loss is damaging soil quality while changing weather patterns are reducing yields of planted crops. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2020 ranked biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse among the top five threats the global economy will face in the next 10 years.

The private sector has taken notice and begun to evolve its sustainability ambitions to match the scale of the challenge confronting nature. Over the last decade, much of the business community committed to eliminate deforestation from its commodity sourcing, and the Accountability Framework initiative (AFi) and Collaboration for Forests and Agriculture (CFA) have created best-practice guidance to support implementation. More recently, leading companies have begun to align with government and other actors in producing regions on strategies that go beyond individual supply chains to address underlying drivers of nature loss. Several important platforms like the Consumer Goods Forum and Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) are helping to mainstream expectations that the public and private sectors should collaborate through landscape and jurisdictional initiatives.

This trend is encouraging, but the overall number of companies engaging in these scaled efforts remains low. Major barriers have included uncertainty around the business case for multistakeholder collaboration and a dearth of clear examples to follow. There is also misalignment between the sort of actions civil society is asking companies to undertake and the sustainability practices for which companies are currently recognized and rewarded.

But barriers to engagement are coming down. Over the past year, a group of organizations has developed a suite of new tools and guidance to enable broader company engagement in production geographies where they are invested or exposed. Whereas AFi and CFA provide the key guidance for implementing deforestation/conversion-free commitments within supply chains, these new tools elaborate complementary guidance for addressing systemic drivers. They pull from concrete examples to help companies understand and navigate through their options to engage. And thoughtful collaborations have positioned these tools to be reasonably aligned, thus avoiding the pitfalls of conflicting guidance from civil society.

  • A new paper from the United Nations Development Program, Value Beyond Value Chains, clarifies why and broadly how companies can engage in landscape and jurisdictional initiatives. It explains the business case for collaborating beyond value chains at landscape, subnational, and national levels to help create the enabling conditions for sustainable production and provides broad schemas to help companies think about how to engage in multistakeholder initiatives in producer countries.
  • A complementary paper from Proforest, Engaging with Landscape Initiatives, fleshes out the how and adds guidance on where to engage. It walks through steps companies should take when thinking about how to engage in landscapes, describing elements of the engagement process like building trust, planning and implementing interventions, and monitoring of progress. And it helps companies understand their supply base, how to prioritize landscapes for engagement, and decide which initiatives they might work with.
  • A resource that Walmart recently launched provides more granularity on the question of where to engage, providing maps that show the jurisdictions where companies are likeliest to source key deforestation-risk commodities and the deforestation risk of these jurisdictions.
  • Building on these tools, TFA released a set of corporate guidance and a dynamic web-based tool developed by WWF and Proforest that goes the next step in describing what specific actions companies can implement to advance landscape and jurisdictional initiatives. It provides concrete interventions companies can take, offers real-world examples where companies are already doing so, and proposes guidance on how to execute.
  • Each of the previous tools informs corporate action. New guidance from ISEAL Alliance on Verification of Jurisdictional Claims lays out the parameters for assuring progress at the landscape/jurisdictional scale and for making credible claims about contributions toward that progress. It walks through practical steps to ensure the integrity of landscape-level performance data and how progress is communicated, and it explores the types of claims companies can make depending on the ways they engage.

While time is running out to reverse global ecosystem loss, we’re finally at a point where governments and companies are beginning to mobilize at the scale required to meet our conservation imperatives. Thanks to this new guidance, the pathways for corporate action are clearer than ever. Now, with these tools in hand, the moment has come for public-private partners to accelerate their joint efforts—for the future of the natural world and generations to come.

  • Date: 17 July 2020

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:

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  • Date: 11 March 2020
  • Author: Lisa Frank

At Lisa Frank Inc, nature is one of our greatest inspirations, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. We produce art filled with adorable creatures and vivid colors to celebrate animals and wildlife. There's a special feeling of joy and awe that fills you up when you think of the majestic creatures that roam our planet. That feeling is what Lisa Frank always tries to capture with our designs.

For animal lovers, including so many of the Lisa Frank fans and followers, the past several months have been incredibly tough. The wildfires in Australia were so widespread and so devastating. The terrible toll these fires have taken on people, animals, and nature, is almost too much to bear. But even in the face of something so horrible, we can't give in to feelings of hopelessness. While most of us may not be firefighters or environmental scientists, every single one of us can do something to help.

In Lisa Frank's case, that means using the power of our designs and the reach of our business to raise funds for World Wildlife Fund to help with restoration and recovery efforts in Australia. We also want to give the Lisa Frank audience, especially our youngest fans, an easy way they can contribute and help make a difference.

To support this important cause, we issued a collection called, "I heart; Koalas." It's a design in classic Lisa Frank style, full of whimsy, color, and joy. While our motivations for starting this campaign are heartbreaking, we deliberately wanted to use an image that would give our fans that same warm, fuzzy Lisa Frank feeling. Our design reminds people why they care about wildlife, sparking them to contribute to the effort out of joy, love, and hope, not out of fear or sadness.

While the reality for wildlife on our planet isn't always sunshine and rainbows, it's so important that we continue to celebrate the love we have for nature, focusing on what we can save and restore, rather than what we've lost. This attitude is shared by World Wildlife Fund, which is why we're so excited to support them through this project. We want Lisa Frank's fans to know that there's a role for everyone to help, both with the recovery effort in Australia and with conservation around the world. Any individual -- and any business, including ours -- can do their part. And together by showing how much we care about wildlife, each of our efforts can add up to something incredible.

  • Date: 30 January 2020
  • Author: Erin Knight

Right now, tropical forest regions are under immense pressure to provide services for people and wildlife. Balancing competing demands for land use is a challenging undertaking that requires dedication and buy-in from a variety of stakeholders and local actors. To encourage and accelerate forest restoration efforts, several global initiatives have been developed, such as the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), the Bonn Challenge, Initiative 20x20, and most recently, the UN's Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

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  • Date: 09 January 2020
  • Author: Jason Clay

The Markets Institute at WWF identifies global issues and emerging trends around the most pressing challenges of our time to help us all learn and shift faster. As always, we'll be tracking a wide variety of food and soft commodity issues, trends, and tools as we move into 2020, dubbed the super-year for the environment. We know we will see more political volatility and financial crises, and the impacts of climate change to not only be felt more deeply but also recognized for what they are—a ticking time bomb for the future so long as they are not addressed. Here are just a few of the other issues, trends and tools we will be tracking this year:

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  • Date: 08 November 2019

WWF and HP recently announced an ambitious new partnership to help restore, protect and improve the management of global forests, starting with nearly 200,000 acres in Brazil and China. We caught up with Anneliese Olson, Vice President, Global Head of Print Category at HP to discuss the new partnership and HP’s vision for forest conservation.

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  • Date: 03 June 2019
  • Author: James Snider, Vice President of Science, Research and Innovation, WWF Canada & Annika Terrana, Senior Program Officer of Responsible Forestry and Trade, WWF US

For the last century, the vast majority (80 percent) of the softwood lumber produced in Canada has been imported to the United States. These forest products are used to build homes and make paper products. The demand for wood products is increasing rapidly around the world—and could triple by 2050.

This week—after seven years of rigorous debate, deliberation, consultation and trials—the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in Canada rolled out a new national forest management standard that sets a high bar for forestry practices around the world.

This new standard holds the opportunity to show the world how 21st century forestry can provide meaningful solutions for collaborative, equitable and sustainable management of our forests.

The new FSC-Canada standard features three key elements:

  • Woodland caribou: Caribou are both an indicator and an umbrella species, meaning they signify the health of the forest and support other plant and animal wildlife. Caribou are also an essential resource for indigenous peoples. Numbers have dropped for many herds and actions to improve conditions for caribou must be prioritized. FSC now includes requirements to directly support caribou habitat and avoid harvest in breeding or migration areas.
  • Free, Prior, and Informed Consent: Over 1.6 million indigenous Canadians live in or near forests. The new FSC Canada standard introduces formal requirements to pro-actively design policies that recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to protect their culture, livelihood and lands, including language that is consistent with the legal definition under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Landscape-level management: The impacts of large-scale land use exist beyond a concession’s immediate boundaries. Landscape-level management is needed to maintain, enhance and restore ecosystem services. The new standard includes requirements to minimize and avoid landscape disturbance, like aligning forestry activities with other industrial activities and protection of waterways.

What’s at stake for Canada’s boreal forest

Canada’s boreal forest—a broad swath of northern forest stretching from the Pacific to Atlantic oceans—is home to more than 2.5 million people and over 600 indigenous communities. It, too, is a key driver of the Canadian economy, contributing up to 200,000 jobs. Timber from the boreal forest is a primary export to the United States and around the world.

The Canadian boreal forest is also home to woodland caribou, which is among the most iconic species of conservation concern in the country. It is one of the few large mammals with populations found across nearly every province and territory, amounting to a truly national species, as memorialized for more than 80 years on the 25-cent coin. The boreal populations of woodland caribou have also become a microcosm of debate on how conservation for at-risk species should occur in the country.

In short, the plight of woodland caribou illustrates the immense challenge of reconciling the growing demand for wood products, the tremendous importance of forests for wildlife and the important role the forests play as carbon sinks, the loss of which accelerates the climate crisis.

New standard is a global model

Canada is not alone in addressing these critically important issues, but in many ways is first in advancing practical solutions with potential to influence other high-forest cover countries, such as Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, that are grappling with similar challenges.

Credible certification standards can help ensure working forests are managed well. And among the certifications, FSC is the gold standard because of its inclusive governance model that equally weights economic, environmental, social and indigenous representation, as well as its performance-based standards that manage for natural forest conditions and preservation of ecosystem services.

Finding solutions is complex and requires leadership. Indigenous rights-holders and the stakeholders of Canada’s vast forests have shown us a new bar for how to be better stewards of our planet, support a stable climate, and ensure healthy forests for woodland caribou. Now it's up to us as forest-users to implement it, and consumers to ask for it. Sign the Pledge.

  • Date: 01 January 2019
  • Author: Jason Clay, SVP Markets, Exec Director of the Markets Institute

The Markets Institute at WWF identifies global issues, trends, and tools around the most pressing challenges of our time. Each year we release a list of what we see as the top emerging industry developments that may not be apparent to help stakeholders stay ahead of the curve, and to help us all shift faster.

The lists are identified through research, interviews, data analysis, and discussions with our Thought Leader Group. Here are the top issues, trends, and tools to keep an eye on in 2019:

ISSUES

Normalization of hate and racism

There is an increase in the acceptance of hate and racism globally, but most notably of all in the US. When those in power are guilty of such actions it empowers everyone with similar feelings to speak out openly and, all too often, aggressively. This polarizes societies. Historically such episodes have been more frequent during periods of economic uncertainty. As groups blame others for their plight, if they have power, they will use existing institutions to enforce their views. However, at least in the US, it is now likely that this will become a flashpoint, as those preaching hate are in the minority, and issues will boil over if sparked.

Animal protein is the new coal

There is some evidence that animal protein is becoming the new coal. Several donors, NGOs, and researchers are attacking animal protein from a variety of perspectives including animal welfare, environmental impacts, and human health. The EAT/Lancet Report will further polarize the issue as many around the world will look at the research behind the report as biased and selected to push a particular type of diet without understanding why people eat what they do much less the role different proteins, nutrients and minerals play in diets as well as the tradeoffs. But mostly people don’t like to be told what to eat, especially not by the privileged.

EU will act on global deforestation

The EU will begin to act against deforestation at a governmental and trade level. There are a few issues that will likely inform this discussion before all is said and done. For many in the global South, EU countries have deforested for millennia—there is very little old-growth forest left—so this move will be seen as hypocrisy at best or at worst the global South will be “paying for” the GHG emissions of the global North. Taking illegal deforestation off the table is simple and WTO compliant. Taking all deforestation out of trade is more problematic. It is difficult to understand how such a trade policy would be WTO compliant given that the PPM (production, processing, and manufacturing) mechanism does not allow countries to discriminate against products based on how they are produced. The issue is likely to be even more complicated because many EU countries have forests and other natural habitat that might become suitable for food production as climate change shifts things North.

Wealth & conspicuous consumption

Wealth has probably been around for as long as people. Prized possessions have been found in burials after tens of thousands of years. However, as societies evolved and became more sedentary—as well as differentiated and stratified—wealth became associated with different groups. Today, as global incomes are rising, most people can have more wealth than previous generations. What is happening now, however, is that wealth and conspicuous consumption are coming together—people are what they have. This is leading to consumption that drives others who see it to consume more. We need to find meaning in our lives other than the acquisition of things.

Economic growth as THE issue

You manage what you measure. Economic growth has become the single indicator of global prosperity. But, despite strong economic growth for some time, far too many still live in poverty. The management model doesn’t seem to be working, and the price is to clear—depletion of natural resources, the stubborn maintenance of malnutrition, and the wealth gap widening in most countries. The planet and the poor cannot afford too many more decades like the last ones. We need to delink prosperity from economic growth, or, put another way, have prosperity that doesn’t leave so many behind? As long as economic growth measures only productivity, output, and profit—with no accounting for natural resources, poverty, malnourishment, and human rights, or everyone’s ability to achieve their potential—then we are measuring the wrong things.

TRENDS

Declining political influence of the West

There has been a noticeable decline in the roles played by both the US and the EU politically as well as economically. In part this is due to specific leaders, but it is also part of a backlash against global systems and undue influence of so few at the expense of others. There are far more bi-lateral negotiations now than global ones about politics, security, trade, and even environmental issues. This will continue, especially through South to South negotiations.

Shift of ag biotech to the Mississippi

While the undisputed global tech leader is still Silicon Valley and the Bay Area more generally, there is currently a lot of investment in the US Midwest, especially in the Mississippi River Valley in cities such as St. Louis, Memphis, and Kansas City. However, these regions have a long way to go to catch up with the work, particularly in genetics, at UC-Davis and UC-Berkeley, and no less so then global leader Beijing Genomic Institute in China.

Freshwater grows scarcer

There are already a couple of dozen countries experiencing chronic freshwater shortages. This is likely to worsen with more people, more demands on water sources, unpredictable impact of climate change and weather variability on water availability. We are going to have to get better at recharging aquifers as well as capturing and storing freshwater from homes and cities to the country level as well. We are going to have to cut the total water used to produce food (which should be relatively easy as so much irrigation water is wasted), as well as be more efficient in personal and industrial water use. As water scarcity mounts, the value will go up, and this will drive efficiency.

Global conversations about diet get uglier

Nobody likes to be told what they should eat. Global conversations about diet have become galvanized around the idea of healthy parameters for both people and planet, especially in countries where food security is not perceived to be an issue. There is an increasing chasm in the discussions between the "haves" vs. the "have nots" in the global food system. As the science evolves, we need to ensure that both issues are addressed—how those without access to food and nutrition can get it, as well as determining the more sustainable and affordable nutrient sources for people and the planet. Changes in food values are shifting the debate's focus from production to consumption.

Climate migration

In retrospect, many see the migrations out of the Middle East and North Africa into Europe as the first mass migrations that resulted from climate change. For others, it was smallholders in Central America who were forced to flee their farms because they no longer produced enough coffee or corn to feed their families. Climate-induced migration has already begun, and it will continue in virtually every part of the planet, though it may often be attributed to other causes. We will need to address displacement and food security while we are addressing climate change.

TOOLS

Green bonds for reforestation

Green bonds are instruments recognized by organizations from the World Bank to private financial entities, corporations, pension funds, and governments as a tool that can be issued to finance projects or activities that have a positive impact on climate or the environment. Most green bonds are structurally identical to more conventional bonds, but they are distinguished by the green uses they are put to, e.g. green infrastructure, renewable energy, rehabilitation of degraded land for farming, reforestation, regenerative agricultural practices, etc. They also have generally the same ratings as the entities that issue them.

Fake news goes mainstream

The old adage, trust but verify, has never been truer. It is hard to trust anything that is heard firsthand without first verifying it, but verification is also getting harder. Presumably, freedom of speech and freedom of the press gives one the right to speak or publish without fear of being censored, but it does not abdicate the responsibility of knowing that what you are printing holds true. When the untruths and distortions affect elections, public policies, institutions, health, and safety or target specific groups for persecution we know this tool has been weaponized. As global as we have become, most people get their information from family and friends who all get it from the internet and social media. In the past the media had fact checkers. Social media use algorithms, but they are not working.

Machine learning and AI—tools to separate signal from noise, smoke from fire

There is considerable evidence that machine learning can be applied to many different parts of the economy and greatly improve overall management, and they will start to take the food system by storm—from producers to consumers. Two question questions come up very quickly: 1) Who owns the data; 2) will some of the poorest producers and rural laborers benefit from machine learning or be displaced by it? It’s a pity that one of the global trends isn’t increased public spending for education in farming and rural communities. If that happened more people would have other options and not as many would be forced to make their living from farming.

It's time to work more collaboratively in making tech help us all learn more quickly about how reducing impacts in ag. Smartphones to train farmers, get them access to finance, collect and share data, reduce waste, and share farm equipment. Farmers can now time their delivery to process plants to reduce waste and obtain higher prices. We need to adapt or create similar tools and learning systems for carbon management and measurement, risk management, traceability, and transparency along the entire value chain, not just where it is easiest.

Emissions incentives for producers

In 2018, awareness about the role of agriculture, forestry, and land use in climate change began to pick up steam. How will conversations on food systems and land use as both contributors to and solutions for the climate crisis continue to evolve? How will the impacts of extreme weather and climate change on agriculture affect our ability to feed everyone in a world of increasing nationalism and protectionism? One thing is for sure, we need more carrots and fewer sticks if we are to find voluntary ways to reduce GHG emissions and sequester carbon in the food system. Low cost food comes at a high price to both producers and the planet.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a food and resource security strategy dressed up as a global development program. It’s clear China is using development assistance to line up access to a supply of farmland and natural resources for decades to come. In addition to the infrastructure, China is using 99-year leases on land to farm where farming has never happened (e.g. the grasslands of Inner Asia). While this is smart for China, is it smart for the countries and the businesses that are the beneficiaries of this global strategy? Only time will tell—but it is certainly worth watching as this strategy unfolds.

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Stay tuned for what else we see this year, and help us keep an eye on the horizon.

If you haven't already, sign up for our weekly update to see how these trends evolve.

  • Date: 07 November 2018
  • Author: Lloyd Gamble & Akiva Fishman

Walmart and Unilever are changing the way we think about saving the world’s forests and mitigating climate change.

How? Walmart is teaming up with its vast network of suppliers, including Unilever, in a novel approach to tackle deforestation. If successful, this will keep massive quantities of carbon locked away in healthy forests rather than released to the atmosphere when forests are felled. Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart’s Chief Sustainability Officer, made this exciting announcement at the Global Climate Action Summit in September.

To understand how big a deal this is, let’s take a step back. When Walmart launched Project Gigaton two years ago, it encouraged its suppliers to use voluntary sustainability standards, such as the Forest Stewardship Council or Roundtable for Responsible Palm Oil (RSPO), to ensure that their purchases do not drive deforestation but, instead, contribute to the project’s overall goal of avoiding one billion tons of carbon emissions before 2030. These standards effectively pair consumer demand for responsibly-produced goods with farmers and producers who demonstrate good management practices. However, global deforestation is proving to be a daunting challenge that requires even greater effort and innovation to move the needle at scale and across entire landscapes.

And that’s where Walmart’s announcement comes in.

The company will launch a platform to mobilize its suppliers to support locally-led, multi-stakeholder initiatives that are tackling deforestation in key commodity-producing regions where they purchase soy, beef, palm oil and timber. These “jurisdictional approaches” align producers, local governments, global companies, and others within a single geography around a shared vision for balancing production, protection and restoration, and inclusion of local communities. Partnerships like these can combine the policymaking power of governments with the market pull of major corporations to overcome challenges that no one entity could take on alone.

The potential benefits for global forests and climate are enormous. For example, 38 states and provinces (also known as “jurisdictions”) make up the Governors’ Climate and Forest Task Force, which works to advance jurisdictional approaches that promote economic development while reducing deforestation. If successful, jurisdictional approaches in these 38 places alone could avoid over 500 million tons of carbon emissions each year through 2030.

The rubber will meet the road where Walmart and its suppliers support place-based solutions in important sourcing regions. We already have a great example of that. On the heels of Walmart’s announcement, Unilever announced that it will be the first supplier to support a jurisdictional initiative using this new platform. Speaking at the climate summit, Unilever’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Jeff Seabright, declared the company’s commitment to support restoration of two critical wildlife corridors and two riparian reserves in the state of Sabah, Malaysia, as well as to support growers in achieving both the State’s policy commitment of MSPO certification and RSPO certification of 60,000 hectares of palm oil. These activities demonstrate Unilever’s continued commitment to jurisdictional approaches and will be an important contribution to the State’s goal of bringing 100 percent of its palm oil production in line with MSPO and the RSPO standards by 2025, complementing the actions that other stakeholders are taking in the landscape.

With Walmart using this new platform to forge connections between suppliers and key forested jurisdictions, more partnerships can be anticipated around the corner to help tackle the diverse challenges of commodity-driven deforestation in different regions.

WWF, Conservation International, Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy will team with Walmart and its suppliers to facilitate these connections and advise on how best to engage in each geography along the way. It will be an exciting journey. And one that is desperately needed right now if we want to save the world’s forests.

  • Date: 10 October 2018

It’s no secret that as the world’s population continues to rise, so does our demand on its resources. Between growing incomes and the need to feed more people, the rate of consumption will continue to far outpace the systems necessary to manage this consumption. Because our waste systems simply can’t keep up, uncollected or leaked waste will continue to wreak havoc on the environment. Litter doesn’t just affect the beauty of our environment – it affects the health of ecosystems, biodiversity, and humans alike.

At World Wildlife Fund (WWF) we work to stop the flow of waste into nature, but we realize that changes are needed earlier in the material management system to eliminate the potential for massive downstream effects even before they become an issue. We need to develop innovative solutions that work to improve the entire system from the earliest stages of product development.

WWF’s Cascading Materials Vision is the foundation for what a holistic material management solution looks like. We’ve recently joined the NextGen Cup Consortium, led by Closed Loop Partners’ Center for the Circular Economy and in cooperation with founding partners Starbucks and McDonalds, to help bring part of this vision to life through a multi-year initiative.

Launching this week is the Consortium’s inaugural initiative, the NextGen Cup Challenge, which will seek to transform one of the most recognizable single-use items: the paper cup. The challenge, managed by OpenIDEO, aims to catalyze ideation and action leading to the adoption of a new, sustainable, single-use cup that can be recycled or composted on a global scale. 

The challenge will analyze the cup as part of the larger system it fits into and designers will strive to create a new fiber cup that is one part of a more sustainable global waste management strategy.

While single-use cups are only part of our waste problem, this challenge is the Consortium’s first step in revolutionizing the recovery of materials in the packaging industry.

Why is this challenge necessary?

Most paper cups distributed today are sent to a landfill. Therefore, a critical piece of the challenge is designing a cup that can be recovered at the highest scale globally and across a range of regions that have different infrastructure systems. Ultimately the greenest cup is the one you bring with you, but until this practice becomes a cultural norm, we need to make sure our fast-moving consumer cups have minimal environmental impacts.

We produce over 250 billion paper cups each year. While these cups must always meet health and safety standards and be convenient, lightweight, printable, durable, and functional across a wide range of temperatures, there has never been enough pressure to source and produce these cups in a sustainable way. This challenge is necessary because the current cup is created and used on such a large scale that it has enormous waste management impacts. In addition, we are wasting valuable resources that could be given new life and we are constantly demanding virgin materials to produce more cups.

Technically, traditional paper cups (as well as almost anything), can be recycled if broken down physically or chemically. However, for recycling to actually occur on a meaningful scale, there must be value for the recovered material. The economics of recovery must be such that the value of the re-processed material is still higher than the costs of re-processing. In addition, there needs to be a large enough volume of the specific material to make it profitable. Therefore, the more uniformity in sustainable packaging materials, the easier it will be for a global system to recapture the value of the material.

Why is WWF involved?

Progress towards a global system of material recovery is exceptionally difficult due to the scale of the issue and the number of stakeholders that must be involved to achieve meaningful results. WWF not only recognizes the scale of this problem but also the enormous potential for positive change. As the world population grows, so does demand for goods and packaging and our natural resources suffer. Items such as paper cups are thrown away every day without regard to their potential value in a circular economy. Recovering materials such as single-use fiber cups means taking advantage of an opportunity to do more with less.

WWF serves as an advisory partner on the NextGen Cup Challenge because we look at environmental issues from a broad and comprehensive lens. WWF will provide guidance throughout the competition to ensure that as one environmental issue is being solved, others are not created. WWF’S ability to recognize and evaluate tradeoffs will help inform decisions made by the NextGen Cup Consortium and the team at WWF is already at work helping establish the criteria for a successful and sustainable fiber cup.

Join the challenge! Here’s how:

The NextGen Cup Challenge will officially launch on October 9 when entrepreneurs, designers, and companies are encouraged to submit proposals. Several phases, including reviews and refinement, will occur before the top ideas are announced in February 2019.

Moving Forward

The NextGen Consortium is actively looking to partner with other companies, as they recognize that increased support from other partners will trigger market signals that reverberate throughout the entire value chain. The paper cup is one of those challenging single use items whose re-design for recovery can open the door for wide-scale recovery of other single-use packaging. We know that the global solution to material waste will not be successful through individual attempts at solutions. We must collaborate on a systems approach to maximize our collective potential for success. We believe that, by inviting the full suite of actors to the table, the NextGen Consortium is talking strides towards a promising solution to single-use material waste.

To stay informed as the NextGen Cup challenge progresses, check out https://nextgenconsortium.com

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