Moving Beyond Commitments: Collaborating to End Deforestation

Deforestation can pose significant operational and reputational risks to companies, and we at EDF are seeing companies start to take action in their supply chains. Deforestation accounts for an estimated 12% of overall GHG emissions worldwide–as much global warming pollution to the atmosphere as all the cars and trucks in the world. In addition, deforestation wipes out biodiversity and ravages the livelihoods of people who live in and depend on the forest for survival.

Tropical deforestation in Mato Grosso do Sul, Pantanal, Brazil (Source: BMJ via Shutterstock)

Tropical deforestation in Mato Grosso do Sul, Pantanal, Brazil (Source: BMJ via Shutterstock)

Unfortunately, it’s a hugely complex issue to address. Agricultural commodities like beef, soy, palm oil, paper and pulp—ingredients used in a wide variety of consumer products—drive over 85% of global deforestation. Companies struggle to understand both their role in deforestation, and how to operationalize changes that will have substantive impacts.

When the drivers of deforestation are buried deep in the supply chain, innovative and collaborative solutions are required. In the past several years, we have seen many in this space make big commitments toward solving the problem, but gaining transparency into tracking against these commitments has been almost as difficult as gaining transparency into the supply chains themselves.  For many companies, the hope for making good on their promises may come in the form of powerful partnerships.

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Corporate Buyers Demonstrate Demand for Renewables. Now it’s Time for the Market to Catch Up.

Last month, twelve major corporations announced a combined goal of buying 8.4 million megawatt hours of renewable energy each year and called for market changes to make these large-scale purchases possible. Their commitment shows that demand for renewables has reached the big time.

We're proud that eight of the twelve are EDF Climate Corps host organizations:  BloombergFacebookGeneral MotorsHewlett PackardProctor & GambleREISprint and Walmart. The coalition, brought together by the World Wildlife Fund and World Resources Institute, is demanding enough renewable energy to power 800,000 homes a year. And while it's great to see these big names in the headlines, they're not alone in calling for clean energy: 60 percent of the largest U.S. businesses have set public goals to increase their use of renewables, cut carbon pollution or both.

Companies want renewable energy because it makes good business sense:  it’s clean, diversifies their energy supply, helps them hedge against fuel price volatility and furthers their greenhouse gas reduction goals. Renewables are now the fastest-growing power generation sector, and by 2018, they’re expected to make up almost a quarter of the global power mix. Prices of solar panels have dropped 75 percent since 2008, and in some parts of the country, wind is already cost-competitive with coal and gas.

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Smithfield Foods, world's largest pork producer, works with EDF to cut emissions

Corn is a common hog feed.

First, the facts: We will have 9 billion people on the planet by 2050. That's 2 billion more than we have today – stretching Earth's land and water resources to meet nutritional needs in a dramatically changing climate.

In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency calculates that agriculture is the fifth-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing 8 percent of total GHGs. Fertilizer use and soil management are responsible for half of those emissions.

Next, the challenge: Many farmers encounter difficulties in determining the precise amount of nitrogen fertilizer their crops need. It gets tricky. Using too little fertilizer can limit crop production. Too much fertilizer pollutes water and emits a potent greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

The stark reality is that crop production must increase approximately 70 percent by 2050 to feed our growing human population. We cannot choose between agricultural productivity and sustainability – we must have both.

To address the challenge, Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pork producer, and its hog production subsidiary, Murphy-Brown, are working with grain farmers to reduce excess fertilizer on crops grown for hog feed. The project will help farmers save money on fertilizer, while maintaining high crop yields, improving water quality and reducing climate impacts. The initiative is the first of its kind among animal agriculture companies.

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Fertilizer and Feeding the Planet’s Growing Population

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Last week, Walmart hosted its first Sustainable Product Expo, an event that brought together CEOs and sustainability leaders from some of the retail chain’s biggest supplier companies. Leaders from General Mills, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America and PepsiCo, among others, joined Walmart on stage to celebrate the progress they’ve made in increasing the sustainability of their operations, and to make new commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.

Walmart set the stage for this in 2010 by announcing their goal to reduce 20 million metric tons (MMT) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their supply chain by 2015. As of 2013, Walmart and their supply chain have eliminated 7.5 MMT of GHG emissions and have projects underway to reach 18 MMT by 2015. The key to meeting and exceeding this goal is swift and thorough follow-through on ambitious initiatives.

That’s why EDF is working closely with Walmart to help their suppliers optimize fertilizer use in their supply chain. Emissions that result from nitrogen fertilizer loss – a greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide – is 300 times more potent in damaging our climate than CO2. Walmart’s Director of Dry Grocery Tim Robinson mentioned at the Expo that 20 to 40 percent of the nitrogen fertilizer isn’t absorbed by crops, either running off into waterways or off-gassing into the atmosphere. Consequently, as the top grocer in the country, this makes fertilizer optimization one of Walmart’s major opportunities for GHG reductions in their supply chain.

Just as importantly, the UN estimates that to feed the world’s growing population, food supplies will need to increase 70% by 2050. The entire value chain needs to produce more food with fewer inputs, while still allowing farmers to earn a living with what they grow. Walmart’s suppliers’ commitments are a first step towards this future:

Cargill

“By 2020 we will double our NextField acres bringing us to over 1 million acres of total land being optimized for maximum productivity with minimum environmental impact.”

DFA

“…we will have more than 90 percent of our 9,000 member farms participating in our Gold Standard Dairy program, which focuses on resource efficiency and optimization” and are “[a]igned with industry goals to reduce environmental footprint 25% by 2020."

Kellogg Company

“In every country in which Kellogg sources rice globally, we commit to promoting and supporting initiatives with producers that will, by 2020, lead to a 25% increase in the adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices.  This will improve smallholder livelihoods, enhance producer resilience and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Pepsi

“…we will work to engage growers of corn, oats, potato, and oranges to increase sustainable farming practices, particularly in the areas of environmental, social and economic sustainability.  As part of this worldwide program, PepsiCo's Sustainable Farming Initiative (or equivalent scheme) will be expanded to 500,000 acres of farmland in North America by the end of 2016."

Campbell Soup Company

“We commit to reducing GHG emissions and water use by 20% per tonne of food for Campbell's 5 key agricultural ingredients (Tomatoes, Carrots, Celery, Potatoes, Jalapenos)."

General Mills

“We will: 1) Expand 2.5x the acreage enrolled in The Field to Market sustainable agriculture initiative to 2.5 million acres by 2015; 2) Leverage General Mills' strength in connected innovation to match grower nitrogen management needs with the best global solutions; and 3) Co-sponsor an innovation challenge for the innovators and farmers who demonstrate the most promise to reduce GHG emission in nitrogen management.”

With their commitments, Walmart’s suppliers are setting new targets to strive for, and we at EDF are seeking to provide farmers with the tools they’ll need to meet them. With effective fertilizer management, we can help scale up crops to meet food needs around the world while minimizing their impacts on our climate and water resources.