Why investments in agricultural carbon markets make good business sense

sarasnider-287x377Over the past decade, private investment in conservation has more than doubled, with sustainable forestry and agriculture investments as the main drivers of growth. This unprecedented expansion in “impact investing” or “conservation finance” has occurred as investors seek ROI that can also benefit the environment.  According to Credit Suisse, sustainable agriculture is particularly appealing to investors as it offers a wider array of risk mitigation approaches than sectors such as energy and transportation.

Yet despite this boom, there has been very little investment from private capital in emerging ecosystems markets, especially in the agricultural sector.

We’ve blogged before about the benefits growers – and the environment – realize from participating in agricultural carbon markets or habitat exchanges. But here’s why the private sector, food companies and retailers should invest in agricultural carbon markets.

1. Markets are up and running

The American Carbon Registry and the Climate Action Reserve, both voluntary carbon registries, have developed 10 working lands protocols over the past six years that relate to agriculture. These protocols address issues such as grasslands conversion, methane emissions from farming, fertilizer efficiency, and wetland degradation.

The protocols enable farmers who reduce their environmental impacts to earn carbon credits that can be sold through either voluntary or compliance markets, such as California’s cap and trade system. And growers are jumping at this opportunity. With the rice protocol, for example, growers spanning 22,000 acres have expressed interest in just the first year of the protocol.

Dry seeding to reduce emission in rice farming

Environmental Defense Fund also received two Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grants to catalyze the market for agricultural offsets from nitrogen fertilizer optimization and grasslands protection. Both aim to provide attractive new investment options for companies looking to buy carbon credits.

 

2. Opportunities for investment

The opportunities for investment are plentiful and increasing. Currently, companies can purchase voluntary or compliance credits generated through agricultural offset projects. A small number of investment funds also allow private, public, and corporate investors to provide upfront capital for growers to implement and scale pilot projects that demonstrate the real potential of GHG reductions from agriculture.

The initial stages of market formation and establishment are risky and complex, and despite support from NGOs in establishing the infrastructure for nascent markets, many barriers must be overcome to create the first pilot projects. Private and foundation investment is essential to paving the way for a market to function independently.

Experts within the Conservation Finance Network, a collaboration of investors and environmental professionals (EDF included) working to leverage capital to achieve conservation goals, emphasized the importance of demand in driving a successful market. Companies play a critical role in signaling interest in credits produced through offset markets, thus providing financial support for projects.

3. Meet corporate sustainability goals

The Paris climate agreement accelerated corporate commitments to reduce GHG emissions, and/or go “carbon neutral.”  To turn these promises into action, companies will need to reduce emissions within their supply chains – but they can also purchase offset credits generated directly from working landowners.

fields being monitored for emissionsFor example, as Agri-Pulse reported in 2014, “Chevrolet's first purchase of third-party verified carbon credits generated on working ranch grasslands is part of its commitment to reduce 8 million tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted, according to [General Motors].”

Investing in sustainable agriculture also reduces the risk of supply chain disruptions from extreme weather events, and can protect our food supply. Not to mention the environmental benefits of reducing pollution, avoiding regulations, and preserving important habitats, thereby avoiding endangered species listings that can hinder development.

Why Google and the Rest of Corporate America Needs the Clean Power Plan

victoriaThe Clean Power Plan  (CPP) is topping the news as major coalitions of supporters have filed amicus briefs with the D.C. Circuit Court. With leading brands like Google, Apple, Adobe, Amazon, IKEA, Mars and Microsoft all stepping up and voicing support, you might wonder – what’s in it for them?

The plan, which will lower the carbon emissions from existing power plants 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, is a practical, flexible way for the U.S. to cut climate pollution and protect public health. President Obama has called it "the single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change.”

It’s encouraging to see many states, cities, power companies, public health and medical associations, and environmental organizations continue to push for smart environmental policy. The full list of Clean Power Plan supporters is here.

We are particularly excited about the range of private sector support for the Clean Power Plan.

When it’s fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan will create $155 billion in consumer savings—putting more money back into the pockets of customers. And, a successful Clean Power Plan will help companies meet their renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction targets.

What’s in it for Companies? Here's what the Clean Power Plan will provide: Read more

With Green Bonds, Legitimacy Comes to Those Who Verify

This post is part of an EDF+Business ongoing series on sustainable finance, highlighting market mechanisms and strategies that drive environmental performance by engaging private capital. EDF is actively engaging leaders with the capital and expertise needed to catalyze sector-wide changes—from accelerating investment in energy efficiency and clean energy, to protecting tropical forests, restoring depleted fisheries and saving habitats of endangered species.


Namrita KapurGreen bonds have been hailed as a key vehicle for driving clean energy investments both before and after the signing of the Paris climate agreement. And the range of organizations utilizing them continues to diversify – Apple issued its own $1.5 billion bond last month to finance energy efficiency and renewable energy projects for its operations. But as the pool of bonds issued each year grows, investors are increasingly concerned that clear standards are needed.

Through 2013, the World Bank was the primary issuer of green bonds. The simplicity of the market made it easier to verify the environmental benefits. As the market has grown, so has the need for institutionalizing transparency to validate the promised benefits.

While roughly two-thirds of global green bonds issued in 2015 received either third-party verification or second-party opinion, only two U.S. municipal offerings received any external review, casting doubts on the U.S. market’s credibility. Investors like insurance firm Allianz are concerned that many of the funds earmarked for sustainable development projects are not achieving the desired impact, and are calling for strong standards to help provide the market with increased certainty.

Bankers and investors are driving progress on transparency Read more

Dream Conversation: Paul Polman (Unilever) and Doug McMillon (Walmart) at a Paris Café

In the wake of the COP 21 talks in Paris, I’m heartened by what appears to have been a strong business presence there. Does the agreement go far enough? It’s a start. Which then got me day dreaming about the ideal, “what’s next” conversations that I hoped were taking place (along with really good coffee and pastry, of course!).

So, without further ado, here is my dream COP 21 conversation (entirely a figment of my imagination, of course. But hey—a girl can dream, can’t she?):

The scene: a bustling Café in Paris’ 4th arrondissement.

5238558290_fdbe123f99_oThe players: Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart. Both men sip espressos.

Doug:  May I join you?

Paul: Doug, great to see you!  Have a seat!  How are you?

Doug (sitting): I’m exhausted. I never realized how much of a circus these global meetings are. Hey, congratulations on the Times article! Man, that’s showing ‘em how business can lead on sustainability.

Paul: Thanks—and look who’s talking! Congrats yourself on reducing all those CO2 emissions. How many million metric tons again? Twenty?

Doug: It was actually twenty-eight, thank you very much! It all just goes to show you: set a BHAG, and big innovation follows.

Paul: “BHAG”?

Doug: A BHAG— a Big, Hairy Audacious Goal. Our 20 million metric tons pledge in 2010 was a BHAG. So was your pledge to halve Unilever’s environmental impact by 2020. I bet when you made that you didn’t know exactly how you were going to get it done, am I right? And yet, you’re on your way—and already seeing results? Read more

A strong climate deal makes dollars and sense for American business

VictoriaMills_287x377_1The chorus of business voices calling for climate action has grown steadily in size and strength in the months leading up to the Paris climate talks. Now that COP 21 is finally here, companies have pumped up the volume even more, with a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and a wave of new commitments to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

Championing a Low-Carbon USA

In today’s Wall Street Journal, over a hundred U.S. companies placed a full-page advertisement calling for a shift to a low-carbon economy. The ad’s message is simple: failure to act on climate change puts America’s prosperity at risk, but the right action now will create jobs and boost competitiveness.

WSJ-ad

Click for full ad in PDF

Companies as diverse as Colgate-Palmolive, DuPont, eBay, General Mills, Ingersoll-Rand, Microsoft, Owens Corning and Pacific Gas & Electric signed on to the ad, which encourages the U.S. government to:

  1. Seek a strong and fair global climate deal in Paris that provides long-term direction and periodic strengthening to keep global temperature rise below 2°C
  2. Support action to reduce U.S. emissions that achieves or exceeds national commitments and increases ambition in the future
  3. Support investment in a low-carbon economy at home and abroad, giving industry clarity and boosting the confidence of investors

These companies recognize that their efforts alone can’t solve an issue like climate change. Businesses need governments around the world to act as well. By setting ambitious goals and providing regulatory certainty, governments can unleash the power of the marketplace to deliver the necessary reductions in emissions, while also boosting competitiveness and economic growth. Read more

How helping a multi-billion dollar company (aka Walmart) is like raising a child

When it comes to Walmart meeting its greenhouse gas goal, parenting and sustainability have more in common than you think.

Notes from the Nursery/Eco-Business Nexus

I’m proud to say that Walmart just announced that they’ve not only hit but surpassed a goal that was, at the time, considered nothing short of audacious: to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 20 million metric tons (MMT) in just six years.

So why am I proud? Two reasons.

First, I’ve worked alongside them every step of the way. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has been Walmart’s lead partner throughout this process, and as a Supply Chain specialist for EDF, I know first-hand the massive amount of research, measurement, innovation, collaboration and communication that has gone into bringing this goal across the finish line.

Second, I’m a brand new mother – and as I stare down into my 5-month-old daughter Helen’s eyes, there’s nothing I care more about than ensuring she grows up in a world that is on course to thrive—both economically and environmentally.  Walmart’s achievement gives me hope for both.Helen and Jenny

So, yes, I’m proud. Because while it may seem that my two unique perspectives—one from the nursery, one from inside the halls of the world’s largest retailer—are worlds apart, they actually have a lot in common. Read more

Cameras, Drones and Lasers: How They're Tackling Oil and Gas Pollution

DroneWaPo2-small

Heath Consultants' methane-measuring drone

Dr. Jason Gu was still a graduate student when he developed the technology behind SenSevere, a start-up that creates laser-based gas sensors for use in heavy industry and power plants. Today, he’s working to apply this technology to methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, making him one of the many entrepreneurs developing solutions to tackle the problem. His fascination with innovation isn’t just making his clients more efficient—it may also be saving the planet.

The hidden cost of methane

Methane, the main component of natural gas, is a powerful pollutant responsible for a quarter of the global warming we feel today. The oil and gas industry releases 7 million tons of it into the atmosphere every year through emissions from oil and gas fields and associated pipelines, resulting in over a billion dollars’ worth of wasted American energy resources. And, toxic chemicals like benzene, a known carcinogen, can accompany methane emissions, posing a potential threat to public health.

“The industry is beginning to become more sensitized to the fact that methane is an aggressive greenhouse gas,” said James Armstrong, president of Apogee Scientific, a Colorado-based methane mitigation company. For more than 15 years, Apogee has manufactured a methane detection system that uses a vacuum and infrared sensors and can be mounted to trucks, ATVs and helicopters to identify leaks in the field. “If you find the leaks and repair them, you’re not only helping the environment…you’re extending the resource.” Read more

Linking Supply Chains and REDD+ to Reduce Deforestation

Two tropical forest conservation efforts have gained momentum in recent years: zero deforestation commitments from the private sector and the policy framework Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+). Both efforts are necessary, but not sufficient in themselves to eliminate global deforestation.

Zero Deforestation Zones

Private sector conservation initiatives on individual farms (represented by green trees in the left image) can result in pockets of forest surrounded by deforestation, but Zero Deforestation Zones can conserve forests throughout entire jurisdictions (represented by the green state-wide program in the right image). Credit: Rick Velleu, EDF

In a recently published paper in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, we find that linking REDD+ and zero deforestation commitments offers a more efficient and effective solution to stop deforestation, which we call Zero Deforestation Zones (ZDZ).

The current state of private initiatives and REDD+

Deforestation, which is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gases, is primarily caused by conversion for the production of four commodities in Brazil and Indonesia: beef, soy, palm, and timber products. To address this urgent problem, companies that control more than 90% of soy purchases in the Amazon, around half of cattle slaughter in the Brazilian Amazon, and 96% of palm oil trade globally have committed to stop deforestation. Read more

Consumers Deserve To Know What's In Their Products

This installment of our Pillars of Leadership series explores Informed Consumers.

Sharing ingredient information with consumers is key to business leadership on chemicals. It can build consumer confidence, trust, loyalty – and market advantage. Numerous surveys (see here and here) and advocacy campaigns (see here) reveal that people want more ingredient information than is typically available today. The key to success in cultivating an Informed Consumer is providing product ingredient information that is comprehensive, accessible, and importantly, meaningful.

Woman label blog image

Consumers want to:

  • Have easy access to consistent, reliable information
  • Feel empowered when making purchasing decisions for themselves and their families
  • Understand what they’re bringing into their homes
  • Avoid adverse health and environmental impacts
  • Trust that brands and retailers respect their interest in knowing product composition

How does a company cultivate an Informed Consumer? For starters, by sharing ingredient information on product packaging and online for products it makes or sells, with content that extends well beyond regulatory requirements. While packaging physically limits the amount of information that can be shared with consumers, online ingredient disclosure allows greater flexibility in terms of the extent and type of ingredient information, as well as how that information is accessed and presented. Read more

Behind the Label: How Business Sees Opportunity in Safer Chemistry

Behind the Label_FTens of thousands of chemicals are used to make the numerous products we use every day, yet regulatory oversight of the health and safety of these chemicals is severely lacking. Research has detected a number of these chemicals in our environment, homes, and bodies. At the same time, research has also linked a number of chemicals to disorders and disease such as asthma[1] and cancer[2]. Consumer concern is growing. With major retailers like Walmart, Target and CVS making public commitments to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals, chemical manufacturers and consumer product companies are hearing loud and clear the need for stronger policy solutions and market demand for safer chemical innovation.

EDF developed these case studies to highlight examples of innovative chemistries developed in response to demands for safer chemical ingredients in consumer products. The efforts of a leading brand and a chemical manufacturer – two ends of the consumer product value chain – are provided here.  We explore the motivation behind their product innovations and reformulations, what the innovations allowed the companies to achieve, and the impact of these innovations on their business and sector. These are not endorsements but rather an exploration of how companies are approaching safer chemistry innovation.

What We Discovered

A number of interesting results emerge from these case studies:

  1. Products designed to better protect human health can be economically successful.
  2. There is more than one way to resolve the same problem.
  3. Getting innovations to the market requires cooperation across the supply chain. Sometimes it requires external forces to set the right marketplace conditions.
  4. Reformulations can be cost-neutral despite changing suppliers and/or processing facilities.

A Snapshot of Each Case Study

 

akzonobel

AkzoNobel

In this case study we look at chemical manufacturer AkzoNobel’s work to create ingredients that have improved human health and environmental profiles. We learn how regulatory developments aided in the commercialization of AkzoNobel’s Dissolvine as a phosphate-free chelate in automatic dishwashing detergent. AkzoNobel collaborated with its customers and sought input from regulators to develop testing methods to examine Dissolvine’s biodegradability and human health profile. For the full case study, click here.

7th genSeventh Generation

In this case study, we learn about Seventh Generation’s work to replace a common surfactant used in cleaning products, Sodium Laurel Ether Sulfate (SLES). Production of SLES generates the contaminant 1,4 dioxane, a probable human carcinogen[3], that is then transferred to products. Seventh Generation succeeded in replacing SLES with the non-ethoxylated surfactant Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS), which is not accompanied by the 1,4 dioxane contaminant. Seventh Generation’s efforts resulted in a better-performing product and maintained sales. After launch and continued public concern about 1,4 dioxane, competitors of Seventh Generation announced  their own plans to reduce 1,4 dioxane in their products. For the full case study, click here.

We will be updating our Behind the Label series of blogs and case studies in the coming months and we invite you to join in the conversation.

 

[1]Bornehag CG et al. 2004. The association between asthma and allergic symptoms in children and phthalates in house dust: a nested case–control study. Environ Health Perspect 112:1393–1397.
[2]Huff J (2007). "Benzene-induced cancers: abridged history and occupational health impact". Int J Occup Environ Health 13 (2): 213–21.
[3] See National Toxicology Program, International Agency for Research on Cancer, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency