World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

filtered by category: Supply Chain Management

  • 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: 22 June 2020
  • Author: Jason Clay, SVP, Markets

Finding the right balance between food imports and domestic production will continue to be a challenge as COVID-19 disrupts supply chains and governments want to ensure that food will be available for their citizens. Trade is an essential part of any sustainable food system. There will be pandemics, droughts, and plagues of locusts in any given year, and unfortunately, like now, sometimes all in the same year. Trade helps the global food system fill in the cracks created by disruptive individual or multiple events, regardless of their origin, that may lead to localized rolling hunger across a landscape.

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  • Date: 16 June 2020
  • Author: Corey Norton, VP, Supply Chain Legality, Jason Clay, SVP, Markets

One of the less-publicized COVID-related threats to the environment is the inadequate response to reports that almost 200,000 crew on cargo shipping vessels cannot go home despite completing their voyage. These cargo vessel crew are stuck onboard and cannot be relieved by a new crew due to widespread travel restrictions. Almost all world trade is shipped via these vessels, which when operating with fatigued crew increasingly risk collisions and other accidents, which can cause fuel spills, cargo lost overboard, and other significant harm to oceans and surrounding environments.

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  • Date: 19 February 2020
  • Author: David Schorr, Senior Manager, Transparent Seas, WWF

Changing any complex system requires finding a point of maximum leverage. When it comes to creating transparency in the seafood trade, access to reliable information is the key, and there are two points of leverage to make it happen: getting companies around the world to agree on what data is needed, and ensuring they can share it seamlessly .

Affordable and reliable traceability—the concept of tracking seafood from bait to plate—depends on fishers and aquaculture farmers routinely providing verifiable data. One way to achieve that vision is for governments to require this information as a routine part of access to markets. But currently there is no global agreement on what information must accompany seafood products. In fact, a new study from a consortium of NGOs analyzed the key data elements required in the top three seafood markets—US, EU and Japan—which are responsible for nearly two thirds of all seafood imports. It found that even governments with the most robust import regulations don’t fully capture all of the data needed to ensure that the fish bought by consumers is coming from legal sources.

That’s where the considerable leverage of market leaders in industry comes in. WWF has been working with seafood companies around the world to develop urgently needed standards for capturing and sharing a consistent set of basic information based on shared industry-wide expectations.

Seafood is one of the most globalized of all food commodities, with supply chains that crisscross oceans and continents. While this global web of production allows coastal communities to sell their seafood products into important international markets--and gives consumers access to seafood from every corner of the planet--there are risks and new responsibilities for businesses. Traceability systems can mitigate these risks and provide benefits to public health, social welfare, and environmental sustainability. But only if those systems can communicate seamlessly via globally established standards. Businesses have a stake in enabling that to happen.

The first step is for companies to agree on what information needs to be shared. Key Data Elements, known as KDEs, are imperative for establishing reporting requirements at critical stages of production and trade. These can work hand-in-hand with government reporting requirements and trade controls, as well as with systems for data collection needed for sustainable resource management. Having the right KDEs is also what generates value in the form of consumer and brand confidence.

In fact, getting industry-wide agreement on KDEs is one key part of a new set of industry-led standards that are about to start reshaping the way businesses do seafood traceability. As highlighted in an open letter recently released by a group of seafood industry leaders, these groundbreaking standards include a ‘basic universal list’ of standardized seafood KDE’s that will set a global baseline for the information that should accompany all seafood products. These new standards, about to be released at a major seafood industry trade show in Boston this March, have been developed by industry through the Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability, or GDST for short. The GDST 1.0 standards are the data-sharing foundation on which reliable, affordable, and efficient seafood traceability will be built.

Not only does GDST 1.0 provide a universal check-list of the information that must accompany seafood products, it sets out technical specifications for how systems share that information seamlessly. These technical standards are already being road tested by leading seafood supply chain companies, including some of the world’s biggest seafood processors, brand owners, and retailers. For the companies involved, it’s not just a matter of meeting CSR goals – these system design standards are helping address core business functions, and ensuring better return on investment when companies upgrade their traceability systems.

The ocean provides a bounty of seafood, supporting hundreds of millions of jobs and feeding billions of people. Creating seafood supply chain transparency creates accountability and provides the data needed for improved science-based management of fisheries and aquaculture farms. This mix of sustainability and business strategy is a powerful lever for driving change in the complex world of seafood trade and when GDST 1.0 launches this March during the North American Seafood Expo, industry will be one step closer to sustaining the future of the seafood industry.

  • 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: 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.

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  • Date: 01 January 2018
  • 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 2018:

ISSUES

Trade wars

With the recent resurfacing of nationalism around the world, we should expect an increase in trade wars as countries use trade to negotiate many different issues including global parity around cost of production as well as positioning countries to support domestic political platforms and constituencies. If/when trade wars come to include food—whether to close borders entirely or even just limit exports—then it will most certainly cause environmental impacts.

Plastics and food waste

The rush to limit plastic in the environment and particularly plastic ending up in the oceans is unprecedented. The full extent of the environmental impacts of plastic are only beginning to be understood. However, plastic does have several benefits, especially when it comes to food in terms of both safety and improved storage life. We need to be careful that we don’t move so far to remove plastics that we begin to increase food loss and waste. We need to find ways to recreate the benefits and convenience of plastic, or we need to find ways to keep plastics out of the environment or both.

From traceability to transparency

For several years, companies have become more and more interested in where their products are produced. Certification and verification systems do this (to some extent), but they are expensive and often proprietary, so many different systems have been created including—but not limited to—Blockchain. The traceability systems, however, rarely go all the way to the farm where production happens, or even further back to feed and other inputs. And now companies are beginning to realize that it is probably more important to know how the product is produced as where it is produced.

The rise of urban and controlled environment agriculture

There are hundreds of vertical, soilless agriculture operations in the US and thousands around the world. These operations offer the opportunity of producing food in urban areas, in food deserts, and in areas with severe water shortages. They also have the potential to reduce food loss and increase shelf life. While the number of species grown is still rather small and dominated by leafy greens, it is broadening. The cost of production remains high, but the operations are akin to that of solar and wind power in the 1970s. As the industry grows and people innovate, the costs will go down and these systems will be more affordable and more versatile. Even better if the actors can share knowledge on certain technology and grow more quickly through collaboration.

Finance resilience

The impacts of climate change, both chronic and extreme weather events, have occurred more quickly than anyone thought. We are already seeing undeniable impacts on production, livelihoods, and nutrition. Two places where this is most pronounced are with smallholder producers of tree crops: cocoa in West Africa and coffee in Central America. Many producers are beginning to struggle as their products and production systems falter in the face of unpredictable rains and drought and the spread of pests and diseases. Governments have generally reduced funding for food and agriculture just when they need to be increasing it. Companies need to find ways to invest in the producers in their supply chains not just for traceability and transparency but also for resiliency.

Cyber warfare, food security
To date, cyber-attacks have largely ignored food and food security targets. However, as food delivery via e-commerce platforms grows, the potential for cyber-attacks increases. As trade becomes more politicized, food production also becomes a bigger target. Finally, as food productions increasingly depends on electricity or digitally based systems for irrigation, feeding, or detection, cyber warfare targeting food systems will become a lot more common.

TRENDS

Food e-commerce

E-commerce for food has grown considerably in recent years. It started with fast food delivery services like pizza in the US. But it has expanded to include uncooked food home delivery, mostly in China starting with Alibaba, and then on to the US with Amazon, Blue Apron, and more. Some grocery retailers have been delivering food for over a decade and they are stepping up the pace to compete. This trend will only expand.

Changing consumption patterns

Consumption patterns have shifted for as long as people have been exposed to different foods and types of cuisine. This of course increased as mass transportation became more common, and it has increased even more as social media has connected people around the world through food. Today, health and nutrition concerns, as well as age also influence consumption. However, as food becomes more global and even niche markets can be quite large, global finance is also increasing the pace and scale of change. When coupled with high net worth individuals with strong food preferences and opinions, even more funding becomes available.

M&A over R&D

In the face of climate change, the rise of nationalism and increasing trade wars, companies are investing increasing amounts in mergers and acquisitions and less in research and development. It is cheaper to buy innovation and market share than it is to build it out from scratch. There are simply too many things that can be relevant to a viable company today than ever before.

Go North (or South), young man

Climate change is driving chronic changes in crop growing zones, winter freezes, and average rainfall as well as increasing extreme weather like hurricanes, droughts, floods, fires, and dust bowls. Crops are moving North in North America but also in Europe and Asia, and South in Africa and Latin America. And habitat conversion continues and GHG emissions increase.

Precompetitive platform uptake

The number of precompetitive platforms has increased rapidly as companies begin to realize that many of the most important issues they must address are shared with others, as are the solutions. Sustainability is a precompetitive issue. Companies are responsible for what they do directly, however, most of the biggest impact of food products are where and how raw materials are produced and then consumed. What happens in the middle has fewer impacts. No company can solve production and consumption issues alone. Climate change and other crises will spur more collaboration.

TOOLS

Common protein and nutrition metrics

As questions on healthier and more nutritious diets become more common, calories will no longer be a sufficient metric for malnourishment. We need a common set of metrics to compare proteins and other key nutrients from very different kinds of foods so that we can compare apples to apples, so to speak. Many plants have proteins—are they the right ones? Many animal proteins have nutrients—are they the right ones? At what ages are different proteins and nutrients most important in human lives? How many of these proteins and nutrients already exist in household gardens of local communities and indigenous people but have never been studied by science? Is there a way to create averages or ranges, or is every individual truly unique?

CRISPR & gene editing

CRISPR and other types of gene editing allow for the selection and replication of traits that already exist within a genome, e.g. productivity, flavor profiles, and nutrient density. However, they are also tools that can be used to help make organisms more resilient in the face of climate change, e.g. drought or heat tolerance, disease resistance, or geographic and conditional variation. These same tools can be used to create GMOs, but their benefits can also come from working on single species. Whether that happens or not in some geographies will depend on if gene editing within a species is considered a GMO or not. Portable DNA sequencers are another genetic tool to keep an eye on, with potential for hunting down pests, testing for viruses, and bringing science directly into the hands of farmers.

Agrobots and tech

There have been a plethora of new robotic and other technology developments along the value chain. Drones monitor field conditions including soil moisture, plant health, and disease outbreaks at a fraction of the costs of humans, and very quickly with higher levels of certainty. Tractors drive themselves while also geo-spatially monitoring seeding rates and fertilizer applications, herbicide applications and pest issues, and productivity tied back to inputs used. Agrobots can be used to help determine optimal harvest times and increasingly, harvesting can be automated. Finally, distribution centers are automated and home food deliveries can be made by bots. There’s no question this will be a multibillion dollar industry in short order, but how it will impact labor and if/when it will price some farmers out of the business remains to be seen.

Science-based targets for supply chains

Many companies are making commitments to reduce GHG emissions to help limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. They have started with scope 1 emissions (what they produce themselves onsite) and scope 2 emissions (the energy they purchase). However, in the food industry, scope 3 emissions (how raw materials are produced upstream and how products are consumed) are by far the largest contribution. As we have seen with other certification programs, making commitments is one thing, making change happen is quite another. If the food sector is going to make a meaningful contribution to prevent climate change, we need to find the right incentives.


Social media and misinformation

Social media has allowed the spread of misinformation at unprecedented levels. Couple that with the fact that more people seem to be driven by their own opinions or those of trusted friends than they are by science, and there’s a perfect storm of misinformation. This is a minefield for anyone interested in science-based solutions for the world’s most pressing problems, but it is increasingly difficult for government and the private sector to navigate this space. Social media and the underlying technology are powering the spread of misinformation, and at the end of the day the platforms intended to bring us together are leading to social polarization.

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

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  • Date: 21 February 2017
  • Author: Jason Clay

When a large, global food company commits to deforestation-free commodities, its entire supply chain listens. And when McDonald’s does so, other global food companies follow suit. That’s why the company’s commitment to source only deforestation-free beef by 2020 in regions with identified risks relating to the preservation of forests holds such promise to protect critical habitats, including Latin America’s most valuable ecosystems.

While deforestation has slowed across parts of the Amazon, it remains the world’s largest arc of deforestation. Furthermore, as if to compensate for progress in the Brazilian Amazon, deforestation has intensified in other Amazon regions of countries neighboring Brazil, as well as the Cerrado savannah of Brazil, and the Chaco mixed grass and woodlands of Paraguay and Argentina.

Many factors drive deforestation, but beef production is the biggest. Cattle ranching occupies about 80 percent of the deforested area in the Amazon, and it has led to the conversion of nearly 200 million acres of Cerrado habitat. Between 1976 and 2011, more than 29 million acres of Chaco habitat were converted largely first for the production of beef and then soy, a feed source for livestock.

The environmental impacts of deforestation are clear: it contributes to climate change, drought, soil degradation and erosion, water pollution, the spread of disease, and the loss of biodiversity. There are a number of social impacts as well from land conflicts to bonded and child labor, the displacement of indigenous cultures, and deterioration of water quality for drinking and fish, the most common source of protein in many affected areas.

From multinational traders to smallholder farmers, businesses increasingly recognize the economic risks of deforestation, such as resource scarcity and soil degradation, supply chain instability, legal jeopardy, and reputational harm. Its impact on weather variability is particularly troublesome for Latin American farmers who largely rely on rain as opposed to irrigation. Indeed, research indicates that deforestation has contributed to several “once-in-a-century” droughts and floods in Brazil since 2000.

Global food companies are in a unique position to influence not only their own supply chains but also that of their rivals. McDonald’s need for ground beef from select cuts leaves the majority of each animal for other buyers. In other words, for every pound of deforestation-free beef raised on farms that supply to McDonald’s, several more pounds of food—as well as leather and other byproducts—are destined for other companies’ supply chains, facilitating a sector-wide move to conserve forests.

WWF is working to support the transition to deforestation-free commodities, such as beef, soy, palm oil, timber, and so on. As a founding member of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, for example, WWF works with producers, other industry players, environmental NGOs, and researchers to push for the adoption of locally appropriate indicators and metrics that help producers reduce the footprint of the beef they produce. In collaboration with National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, we are securing commitments from other companies in the beef and soy supply chains to eliminate deforestation in the Amazon, Cerrado, and Chaco ecosystems specifically.

Just as the global, interconnected food system means that environmental and economic impacts can reverberate around the world, so too can positive commitments to protect forests ripple out across the entire industry. As one of the largest single buyers of beef, McDonald’s influences producers, processors, distributors, and other companies at every point along the value chain. Today, it is sending a clear message to all of them: the future of beef is deforestation-free.

  • Date: 14 February 2017
  • Author: Richard Holland, director, markets programme (interim), WWF

One way to tackle daunting, seemingly impossible, challenges is to break them down into manageable “chunks” and share-out responsibility for these among a large number of willing and qualified people. Such is it with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted by 198 governments in September 2015 and which comprise some 17 goals and 169 targets, mapping out a routeway for the world community to 2030. 

Action to address these targets is being picked-up by partnerships of governments, companies, international organizations and civil society working from the local to global levels. In effect, it’s a type of large scale crowd-sourcing exercise and certainly one that is unparalleled in its ambition to eliminate extreme poverty, reduce inequality, and protect the planet in just 13 years.

To make progress toward the targets many of these programs and partnerships need information, tools, organization and funding which will come from hundreds, or more likely, tens of thousands of sources. Voluntary sustainability standards represent one set of ready-made tools and platforms that can help business take positive steps towards several of the 2030 targets. And do so in a way that supports many millions of small-holder farmers, fishing communities and forest owners improve their standards of living, while satisfying growing consumer demands for more ethical products.

The ISEAL-WWF Report “SDGs mean business: how credible standards can help companies deliver the 2030 Agenda“ provides a clear explanation as to the role that credible voluntary sustainability standards can play in helping business contributing tangibly to the SDG agenda, and start doing this now.

 

The Report provides examples of results that have already been achieved towards the Goals for food security, health, gender equality, water management, decent work, sustainable consumption and production, climate change, life undersea and on land, and for partnership.

Voluntary standards are of course no “silver bullet”. They are only one means to make progress and ultimately governments and businesses will need to combine these with many other efforts and measures. Still they can be employed efficiently by businesses at every link in the value chain – enabling producers, harvesters and processors to achieve a recognized level of sustainability, and traders, manufacturers and retailers to address the impacts of their supply chains. In doing so, they contribute across a number of SDGs.

As well as helping tackle challenges described by the SDGs, the use of voluntary standards generally align well with business interests in many sectors. Indeed at their best they allow companies to differentiate themselves from their competitors, anticipate increasing consumer demand for new products, secure access to needed resources and increase the value of their brands.

By providing a way to link economic interests with contributing to the SDG agenda, the chances of attracting more people to get involved should increase. In this way voluntary standards can help generate a few of the many, many hands that will be needed to achieve the SDG goals over the coming 13 years.

  • Date: 01 January 2017
  • 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 2017:

ISSUES

Climate change as a threat multiplier

We are seeing more and more anecdotal evidence of the impacts of climate change. Nowhere more so perhaps than in the global food system. There are more pests and pathogens, weeds are healthier, seasons more variable, and there are more extreme weather events from drought to floods, hurricanes, tornados, dust bowls, fires, and more. We are also seeing the beginning of shifts in where crops are—or can be grown. Going forward, we need better systems to monitor climate impacts so we can begin to anticipate and get ahead of them.

Decentralization of global governance

Global governance systems are being undermined and replaced with bilateral arrangements and a more decentralized system. This can be seen most clearly with the World Trade Organization being moved aside by bilateral and regional trade deals. But it is also happening in several other ways. There are some issues that are truly global and that cannot be solved by one, two, or even a handful of countries. Everyone needs to be engaged. This is especially true of environmental issues—biodiversity loss knows no boundaries; neither does pollution, and GHG emissions, perhaps the biggest pollution issue of all, will not be solved without cooperation, rules of the game, measurement and continuous improvement, with everyone doing something.

Emerging zoonoses

It feels like zoonotic diseases have become a more regular occurrence. In fact, we have had an average of two every year for the past century. Except for the Spanish influenza, most of the outbreaks have not been global. However, it’s growing clearer that they are being caused by clearing natural habitat and forcing more biodiversity onto smaller amounts of land. New hosts are being found in the wild but also with the most common mammals—livestock and people. As we clear more land, encroach on more habitat, and raise more livestock, we can expect more outbreaks. And if hundred-year storms are now a twice-a-decade event, we can expect a big one, or more, on the horizon.

Microbiomes

We are at the beginning of a groundswell around microbiomes, whether it is the gut microbiome of people or animals, soil or even plant microbiomes. As we understand more about the microbiomes of different species, we have a much better idea about their role in nutrition, nutrient uptake and recycling, and the production of GHGs like methane. Microbiome research and understanding how they function will be key to changing diets of people and livestock, but also in how we feed plants and take advantage of natural processes to reduce soils amendments.

Trump & Bolsonaro: Wild Cards

No two national leaders reflect the rise of nationalism, protectionism, and the rollback of environmental protections more than Trump and Bolsonaro. Unfortunately, they are not alone, and others are likely to follow suit as we experience major pushback on globalization, as well as social and environmental agendas—and the polarization that each seems intent to encourage. Their governments look less like democracies and more like a “winner takes all” strategy. And, with these two it will get worse before it gets better; each has a constituency of loyal followers.


TRENDS

Plant-based Everything

As the movement, particularly in developed countries, toward plant-based diets gains momentum, we are seeing alternatives for anything that traditionally contained animal protein. Some of these attempts work and will begin to find market share. Most fail. But the trend is here to stay—plant-based diets will be an increasing share of the food market. The questions are how big it will become, where it will gain most tractions, how long will it take, and if they can keep the environmental impacts low if—and when—they start to scale.

Momentum from the Paris Accords

Coming out of the Paris COP, many companies have decided that they can’t wait for governments to start reducing GHG emissions. More and more companies are making commitments to reduce their own scope one emissions, as well as scope two three emissions. It is great to see this movement. The question is whether it will help drive government ambition higher.

Soil’s moment in the sun

It’s about time that the importance of soil is more widely recognized. With current farming techniques, without soil we would have no food. That is why soil (e.g. its health, erosion rates, nutrients, and biodiversity) is such an important biome for people. Regenerative agriculture, climate-smart ag, land stewardship, agroforestry, and eco-agriculture are all pushing for better soil management. Now, with the potential to pay farmers for improving soil (not for soil carbon per se, but reduced input use and increased efficiency and resiliency) rather than mining it, hopefully we will see vast improvements in productivity and reduced negative impacts.

Decline of regulation

With economic growth declining, the rise of nationalism, and the volatility of primary product pricing, most countries have less revenue and are cutting government. Many are pulling back precisely when the need to do more has never been greater, as social safety nets are disappearing and any gains for the poor are rolling back. In this vein, governments are also becoming laxer about enforcing existing regulations. This has resulted in a gradual, but pervasive increase of illegality in global food trade affecting both domestic and global food systems. It continues to go unchecked, hurting both producers and consumers, but also the planet.

Protein tradeoffs: land, sea

As people become more selective about protein sources, they are beginning to choose based not only on human health issues such as links to disease, aging, or the latest nutrition study in the news. Many are shifting from land-based proteins to those from the ocean. The real question is how does one compare proteins of different types of livestock with different seafoods, and then also production methods, e.g. free range or grain-fed and wild-caught or farmed. This trend will lead to more research about proteins and how they fit into personal nutrition plans.

Material accumulation vs. well-being

Increasingly, material accumulation is confused with well-being. This is true not just in developing countries where more people are being lifted out of poverty but also includes developed countries and the wealthy wherever they live. Displaying wealth in the form of things leads to accumulation and unnecessary consumption. It can be something as simple as having twenty t-shirts in a drawer, but only wearing three. And as things are displayed it becomes competitive and drives more accumulation. Unless people see the folly of this it only ends at the resource limits of the planet.


TOOLS

Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is increasingly being tested and used in the US for a wide variety of needs from fundraising to research. Contributions through citizen science have led to the identification of new species, species distribution and population counts, and even things like weather patterns, the impacts of climate change, and the search for criminals. However, crowdsourcing is also being used to support peer-reviewed, primary scientific research, and eventually crowds may do more of the reviewing.

Personalized nutrition

Now that we can sequence everyone’s personal DNA, we can not only anticipate medical issues or inherited traits but can keep them in check if monitored. Now it is clear that it is possible to also understand the impact of diet on health and even anticipate and ‘prescribe’ personalized nutrition plans to abate certain health issues.

Precompetitive venture capital

When XPRIZE launched the space tourism prize, they discovered that many entrants didn’t have access to the capital they needed maximize their chances to win the $10 M prize. They did not win the contest, but after the prize was awarded, four of them launched IPOs and raised $2 B in venture to take their inventions to market. Realizing that they had missed an opportunity, the Foundation created BOLD Capital, a venture fund to invest in groups that qualified to compete for XPRIZEs. The goal was to create a fund that invested in all the horses in the race. This is a way to de-risk VC is going forward.

Forest carbon sequestration

As companies attempt to reduce their GHG emissions, many realize that there is no way that they can reduce their direct GHG emissions, so they are looking for other ways to make a meaningful contribution. While it doesn’t make sense for oil and automobile companies, even airlines or thermal power plants to invest in carbon sequestration, it might make sense for banks, insurance or IT companies to reduce global emissions by investing in reforesting degraded areas or forests that are being degraded or likely to be cut. This helps solve a carbon problem and rehabilitates degraded land for nature. But this should only happen in addition to setting a broader, transparent, science-based strategy to reduce emissions in their operations and across their supply chains.

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

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