A new era of collaboration for sustainable agriculture

Companies have the opportunity to use their voice to draw attention to issues that matter to their business and to their customers.  Today, a handful did just that – by announcing their commitment to sustainable agriculture.Cornfield

Over the past several months, I’ve spent countless hours representing Environmental Defense Fund in a room with Cargill, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Monsanto, PepsiCo, The Nature Conservancy, Walmart, and World Wildlife Fund. This group makes up the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative (MRCC) – a diverse coalition working to reduce the environmental impacts of commodity row crop production (i.e., corn, soy, wheat, etc.) throughout the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

This isn’t just good news for the planet. Implementing on-the-ground solutions that reduce fertilizer pollution and improve soil health can also result in higher yields for farmers, reduced risk of supply chain disruptions for food companies and retailers, reduced air and water pollution, and improved transparency for consumers.

Why companies care about fertilizer and soil health

Farmers and food companies need fertilizer to grow their ingredients, but fertilizer in excess of the amount crops need can lead to water and air pollution and wasted money for farmers, who spend approximately half of their input costs on fertilizer.

Each year, fertilizer runoff contributes to an aquatic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico – an area the size of Connecticut that so devoid of oxygen, marine life cannot survive. And excess nitrogen fertilizer can lead to nitrates contaminating drinking water and water supplies – posing serious health risks to infants in particular.

Three pilot states

That’s why, along with a council of scientific and agronomic advisors, the MRCC will work with growers to help improve and implement conservation activities across three pilot states that are responsible for 44 percent of the corn, soy, and wheat production in the U.S.: Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska.

By vastly increasing the number of row crop acres enrolled in sustainability measures in these three states, farmers and companies can help protect food security and drinking water supplies, while improving efficiencies in their business operations.

The power of collaboration

Farmer organizations, environmental groups, food companies, state and local watershed organizations, and many others share these common goals – and much work is already underway.

That’s why the MRCC isn’t reinventing any wheels. It’s shining a spotlight on an important environmental issue that is often overlooked, while helping support and scale the various technical and regional sustainability efforts already in place.

When leading companies collaborate around a common goal, both business and the planet will thrive.

Conclusion

This work is hard and will take time, but I’m more hopeful than ever that one day my daughter won’t grow up to read about toxic algae blooms or dead zones in the news and I’ll know I had a small part to play in that.

 

When NGOs and Business Work Together, They Can Change the World

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFFull disclosure:  I’ve been a big fan of Michael Porter and Mark Kramer since my days as a graduate business student.  Lots of hours on group projects working on five forces analysis, you get the idea.  So it was especially rewarding to read their recent Fortune article looking at the actions behind the Change the World list of leading companies who are doing well by doing good.

Porter’s and Kramer’s Creating Shared Value approach is “moving into the mainstream and growing exponentially. Companies that adopt shared-value thinking remain committed (as they should) to philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. But they’re moving beyond often-fuzzy notions like sustainability and corporate citizenship, and instead making measurable social impact central to how they compete.”

Sustainability as a fuzzy notion for business strategy?

I’m going to push back on that.

As the environmental NGO that spearheaded a first of its kind partnership with McDonalds over 25 years ago, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) has partnered with hundreds of leading companies to address sustainability in specifically non-fuzzy ways. We do it by following the science and making sure that every EDF+Business project drives measurable environmental and business results. Read more

Walking the Walk: Companies Lead the Call for New Clean Truck Standards

A number of America’s most iconic brands helped pave the way for the new Clean Truck standards announced August 16th by the U.S. EPA and DOT. Nearly 400 companies, large and small, publicly urged strong, final fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for heavy trucks.

Through their action, these companies have reaffirmed a basic truth of business today: to be a “leader”, companies must align their sustainability goals and strategies with their external engagement on policy.

Tom Murray, VP, Corporate Partnerships Program

Tom Murray, VP, Corporate Partnerships Program

While there are many differences as to how these 400 companies intersect with heavy trucks—manufacturers make the trucks, fleet owners drive the trucks, brands hire the trucks to move their goods to market—they are all unified by one resounding theme: cleaner trucks are better for their business, better for our health and better for the planet.

Indeed, common-sense efforts to cut climate pollution have gone mainstream in business. Earlier this year Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple and others raised the bar on corporate climate leadership by standing up for the clean power plan. Colgate-Palmolive, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Nike, Starbucks and over 100 other companies built on this trend by urging “the swift implementation of the Clean Power Plan and other related low-carbon policies so that we may meet or exceed our promised national commitment and increase our future ambition.”

But this corporate support of the clean truck standards goes even further: it’s another step in the evolution of corporate climate leadership. This is beyond simply supporting good policy; a number of these companies are actively shaping it to deliver significant sustainability benefits. Among the companies that distinguished themselves in this effort are:

  • PepsiCo: the largest private fleet in the U.S. led the way in demonstrating the alignment between its sustainability objectives and its policy advocacy through an op-ed, and expert testimony.
  • Walmart, the 3rd largest private fleet in the U.S., was highly proactive and constructive in its engagement on the clean truck phase two program, supporting it with public statements, and expert commentary.
  • Cummins, FedEx, Eaton, Wabash National, Conway, and Waste Management joined PepsiCo in the Heavy Duty Leadership group that urged the EPA and DOT to: “Achieve Significant Environmental, Economic and Energy Security Benefits.”
  • Honeywell, Achates Power and a number of other innovators made clear that they were ready to meet the challenge of building more fuel efficient trucks.

There were hundreds more examples like these—each one of them a proactive leadership action that demonstrates the new frontier for corporate leadership.

Securing these protections was a real team effort.  The Pew Charitable Trusts organized a letter of support for strong standards signed by IKEA, Campbell’s Soup, and many others. Ceres brought forward a strong statement from General Mills, Patagonia and more. The Union of Concerned Scientists articulated how strong rules would benefit leading fleets, including UPS, Coca-Cola and Walmart. Together, these efforts marshalled an unprecedented level of corporate support for a critical piece of climate policy.

So, if your company is among the now hundreds of companies actively advocating for strong climate protection measures, thank you. We look forward to your continued leadership and engagement on other critical advances, including implementation of the Clean Power Plan and moving forward with reductions in methane emissions. We want to work with you to shape protective policies that also make business sense.

If, however, your company is still stuck at talking the talk, it’s time to start walking the walk when it comes to supporting common sense measures like the Clean Trucks program.

You’re falling behind the leadership pack in the one of the world’s most important races.

Is Walmart a Leader on Safer Chemicals?

Consumers want to know that the products they buy contain ingredients that are safe for them and their loved ones. EDF has identified five pillars of leadership to help companies meet that demand and in doing so build consumer trust in the products they make and sell. One company that has recently taken major steps to drive safer chemicals and products into the market is Walmart.

In 2013, Walmart published its Sustainable Chemistry Policy, which focuses on ingredient transparency and advancing safer product formulations in household and personal care products. EDF worked with Walmart as it developed its policy and has advised the company during implementation and data analysis. This past April, Walmart announced that the company achieved a 95% reduction in the use of high priority chemicals of concern. Now, Walmart has shared considerable additional information detailing the progress made, including the identities of the high priority chemicals.

In our previous blog, we broke down the wealth of information that Walmart has shared. However, to fully evaluate the significance of the numbers, we now look at how well Walmart has done against EDF’s five pillars: institutional commitment, supply chain transparency, informed consumers, product design, and public commitment.

Read more

The Role of Buildings in a Low-Carbon Future

Zpryme talked with Ellen Bell, Senior Specialist, Environmental Defense Fund, for her thoughts on the role of buildings in a low-carbon future, the rise of microgrids, and how graduate students in EDF’s Climate Corps program get her excited about energy.

ZP: What do you look forward to the most in your business day?

ellen_bell287x377Bell: We’re tackling something big—creating a new, low-carbon energy system—but we’re doing the practical, “in-the-weeds” work of doing it in individual buildings. Because of that, I look forward to two things: 1) working with great people—like building management and their engineering staffs, and 2) implementing our approach of finding the business case for operational efficiencies in energy management.

ZP: How does EDF fit into the Midwest energy ecosystem?

Bell: The Midwest has a large and thriving energy ecosystem of technology entrepreneurs, dedicated academics, innovative non-profits, utility partners, etc. While this network can be complex to navigate, all of these stakeholders are dedicated to working together to make the right decisions that will shape energy use in our changing world. EDF is proud to be a part of this alliance and dedicated to bringing our expertise through the Clean Energy program and our boots-on-the-ground talent in the form of EDF Climate Corps. We’re all about driving market adoption of the most effective solutions.

ZP: What is the role of commercial real estate in smart energy?

Bell: Buildings account for approximately 70% of all emissions in the City of Chicago, so focusing on decreasing those emissions makes environmental sense. But the infrastructure changes that lead to reductions also lead to fiscal savings that can impact how a building is marketed, how it interacts with its tenants and what those tenants may share with other offices across the country. So the commercial real estate industry has a unique opportunity to bring together the right stakeholders with the newest technology and best practices in energy management and tenant engagement—all of which can influence audiences with unparalleled reach.

ZP: Where do you see microgrids going in the next five years?

Bell: Because of concerns about reliability and the desire for more clean distributed generation, microgrids are poised for rapid expansion. Within the next five years, developers will experiment with a variety of business models that enhance the grid’s flexibility and efficiency.

ZP: What individuals (i.e. thought leaders) get you excited about energy?

Bell: Personally I am inspired every year by the brilliant graduate students who sign up to be part of our Climate Corps program. Individually they are all incredibly different, they come from diverse backgrounds that include degrees in everything from mechanical engineering to finance to urban planning, but they share a dedication to the desire to change the world through understanding how energy efficiency and making the business case for advanced energy management will transform not only the organizations where they spend the summer but the world at large. They apply a unique perspective to the questions at hand and I think of each of them as thought leaders because their fresh approaches to the issues and opportunities that face the energy industry drive the innovations that change the world.

Ellen Bell will be speaking at Zpryme’s ETS@chicago event, July 22-23 in Chicago. To learn more about the ETS@chicago and all of its speakers, please visit ets-chicago.com or contact info@zpryme.com.

This post originally appeared on Zpryme's Energy Thought Summit blog.

It’s Actually OUR Honor to be an EPA SmartWay Affiliate!

txcam-pic-4.27.15-300x200

Cheryl Bynum, National Program Manager at US EPA, SmartWay, presents the 2015 Affiliate Challenge Honoree award to Environmental Defense Fund.

EDF has long been a champion of the SmartWay program, EPA’s highly successful public-private partnership between more than 3,000 organizations that are committed to improved fuel efficiency and environmental performance. So we were thrilled when EPA named us a 2015 Affiliate Challenge Honoree for our efforts to promote the program in our Green Freight Handbook.

We were recognized last week at the Transportation Intermediaries Association (TIA) conference, and we will participate in a virtual awards ceremony tomorrow. We have impressive company: the American Trucking Association, Penske, TIA, Wisconsin Clean Cities, and the North Central Texas Council of Governments were all named as honorees as well.

The program has helped facilitate positive results in many areas, perhaps most impressively in the goods movement sector.

Success in Texas and across the nation

SmartWay’s approach is one of partnership. The program brings together partners from the public and private sectors, to demonstrate the way modified operational practices can benefit both the environment and the bottom line.

Read more

EDF Climate Corps Continues to Drive Results for Private Equity Firms

The results are in. As my colleague Victoria Mills wrote recently, this year’s cohort of EDF Climate Corps fellows found $130 million in potential energy savings across 102 organizations.

Among the engagements, 12 fellows worked with private equity firms and portfolio companies on a diverse set of projects. Each engagement offers its own story, but we’d like to showcase a few examples demonstrating the value the Climate Corps program can bring to firms of all sizes and at all stages of understanding of energy management.

Energy audits and retrofits for a major manufacturing company

amiHellman & Friedman’s portfolio company Associated Materials, which specializes in exterior building products, hosted two fellows this past summer, its first year with the EDF Climate Corps program.

Fellow Karunakaren Muthumani Hariharan audited two of the firm’s 11 manufacturing locations to identify opportunities for energy efficiency, including lighting upgrades, process equipment upgrades and manufacturing process modifications. He suggested improvements with potential net present value savings greater than $1.4 million and reductions of greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 2,700 tons per year. Hariharan also proposed funding the energy efficiency projects through a new Green Energy and Sustainability Fund.

Krishna Chaitanya Vinnakota analyzed Associated Materials’ total expenditure on energy, over $15 million, and focused on energy saving opportunities in the company’s supply centers, including an approach that could result in energy expenditure savings of 20 to 50 percent in some supply centers. He also suggested strip doors as a simple but effective way of conserving energy during winter. It’s a project that could save the approximately half a million dollars per year if rolled out across the company’s 125 supply centers and 11 manufacturing plants. Read more

SXSWEco Day One Epiphanies, Head-scratchers, and Bravery Awards

SXSWEcoThere is so much going on at SXSWEco this week that it would be impossible for one person to do a comprehensive wrap-up, so please take this commentary as a slice of a very big pie. And, note that my particular slice is viewed through a very marketing- and business-oriented lens. Still, as an EDF’er working with the private sector, I’m always looking to share new, pragmatic ideas and business cases for saving the environment. I think the most pleasant surprise of SXSWEco Day One was that so many others feel the same.

But first a head-scratcher. Why is it that the regions that are the most climate and socially vulnerable (Southern U.S.), are also home to some of the biggest climate science-denying politicians? Many thanks to Dr. Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University for so eloquently tying environmental justice to social justice; for me this was a necessary epiphany for how we think of building resilience in the face of climate challenges.

At EDF we believe that the corporate sector can thrive by valuing, protecting, and improving the environment, so the session on Creating Climate Wealth held a ton of appeal. Ann Davlin and Jigar Shah threw out business scenarios for environmental impact like candy from a parade float. I managed to grab a few choice nuggets: Read more

Want to Market the Realities of Climate Change? Get a Handsome Vampire

…and the Terminator, and Indiana Jones, and a Titanically popular director and more. If you don’t get where I’m going with this thread, you may have been under a rock for the past week, because when Hollywood talks about climate change, all kinds of new audiences listen.

Years of Living Dangerously is an incredibly ambitious documentary on climate change airing on Showtime. It is also a fascinating case study in how to market a scary, complicated concept to mass audiences and stimulate new conversations across both virtual and physical communities.

al goreAl Gore – Won the Nobel Peace Prize

 

ian somerhalderIan Somerhalder – has 4.85 million followers on Twitter

 

al tweet

Al Gore, with 2.71m followers, is no slouch in social media – I’m just illustrating that perhaps Mr. Somerhalder has a bit more active fan base.

There are many different ways to tell a story and start a conversation. At EDF we focus on science, economics, partnerships and bipartisan outreach to find solutions to climate change. Our stories stem from the results we drive, and yes, we love talking about science and statistics.

The teams behind both the making and the marketing of the YEARS documentary are focusing on the human element. The series uses celebrities as the lens to educate the audience through human stories and simple language. They find the real value in communicating climate change at an emotional level.

Years of Living Dangerously - Ian Somerhaler

There’s also a human component in experiencing the documentary. There's no need to watch YEARS alone from your couch. The YEARS team is promoting human interaction: from social sharing through millions of celebrity followers, to spurring community action , to providing tools to host your own “viewing party” and find groups to watch with in your neighborhood.

Ian tweetYears tweet

In order to get climate change into the mainstream conversation, we need to lean on people who have high visibility in the mainstream. The bold names extending their environmental passion to this documentary include: Jessica Alba, Matt Damon, Michael C. Hall, Don Cheadle, Olivia Munn, America Ferrera, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lesley Stahl, Thomas Friedman, Harrison Ford, Ian Somerhalder and Chris Hayes.

Because EDF is chock full of scientists and economists, I’d be shunned in the break room if I didn’t provide you with some statistics:

twitter stats

Take over 16 million followers x thousands of tweets, favorites and shares, and YEARS just gathered a massive mainstream audience around an important issue.

At EDF, we are especially proud to be featured in the Years of Living Dangerously documentary.  Our flagship fellowship program, EDF Climate Corps, is featured in the May 26th episode, as Jessica Alba follows three of our Climate Corps fellows through their summer internships working with Caesars, Office Depot and Texas Southern University to help those organizations find energy efficiencies and become more sustainable.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be introducing you to our Climate Corps fellows and the important work they do every year in hundreds of organizations. And yes, we’ll also be inserting ourselves into the mainstream conversation, so please feel free to tweet and share (#YEARSProject, @EDFBiz). Especially if you’re Jessica Alba …

Jessica Alba retweets EDF

 

Additional reading:

Craig K. Comstock of HuffPo says YEARS could be the 2014 version of The Day Afterhttp://huff.to/1eqyw0S

How YEARS came to EDF’s Eric Pooley with a great idea – http://bit.ly/1g3ujPm