Now trending in global business: collective action on deforestation

edf-business-of-food-blog-graphic_shelton-grp_12-7-16With U.S. policy engagement on climate action in limbo, the rest of the world is marching forward. As major CEOs and political leaders gathered at the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, clear support was shown for creative investment in clean energy, sustainable development and other climate change mitigation practices.

While many ideas were discussed, however, one topic emerged as both a driver of climate impact and an opportunity area for huge climate benefits: deforestation.

Two major initiatives around deforestation were launched at the WEF:

A fund to catalyze private investment in deforestation-free agriculture was announced by the Norwegian government, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), UN Environment, the Global Environmental Facility, and many other supporters. Their goal? To help fund sustainable intensification of agriculture in jurisdictions which are effectively working toward reducing deforestation. The fund will be operational by middle of 2017 and aims to protect over 5 million hectares of forest and peatlands through its projects by 2020. 

Norway pledged up to $100 million, with a capitalization goal of $400 million from other donors and private sector partners. The model aims to engage even more private sector financing, for a total investment of $1.6 billion by 2020. The Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 and major food giants like Carrefour, Marks & Spencer, Mars, Nestle and others are expressing support. Unilever is the first corporate leader to commit funding, with a pledge of $25 million over the next 5 years.

A plan to use big data to monitor and trace the raw materials in major corporations’ supply chains. Led by the World Resources Institute, the initiative has major support from food companies such as Bunge, Cargill, Walmart, and others, with a total combined value of $2.9 trillion.

The goal is to build a decision-support system to help companies track progress and real-time challenges associated with their deforestation commitments. The tool will enable corporations to make real-time decisions about geographies to prioritize in their deforestation reduction work, and get alerts when illegal activities are happening in those regions. While the tool is still in very early stages, the future could be bright.

Deforestation-free sourcing? There’s an app for that!

Deforestation_in_Panama

Two initiatives… powerful trends

So: what do these two initiatives—one helping to ensure that farming already-cleared land becomes more productive, and one helping companies shed light on the complex, murky labyrinth of their global supply chains—tell us about emerging trends in global climate leadership?

  1. Forests matter: Stakeholders understand the importance of forests for climate and supply chain stability. The impressive list of participants and lofty goals show that forests have become part of the main stage for how to address climate change globally. Tropical forest loss contributes about 15% of greenhouse gas emissions annually, but can also be a major carbon sink if managed appropriately. Corporations understand that forests are vital for reducing reputational risk in product lines, ensuring stable weather patterns that can produce viable crops into the future, and increasing the resiliency of major geographic regions against drought and flooding. These new commitments indicate that action on forests as part of the climate dialogue are here to stay.
  1. Collective action is the right tool: Companies see the value in working collectively on effective solutions for deforestation reduction. Corporations know that there is significant risk in not engaging effectively on forests, both for the climate and for their supply chains. But the more challenging question to date has been: how? Over 350 companies have made public commitments to reduce deforestation related to major agricultural commodities in their supply chains. However, only one-third of these companies report on how they will reach these goals. These two new initiatives show the value of collective action between companies, non-profits,
    Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

    Katie Anderson, Project Manager, EDF+Business

    and governments to engage effectively in the multi-faceted challenge of deforestation-free sourcing. The days of working in silos, simply along supply chain boundaries, are no longer the most effective strategies. Working together provides new, creative solutions that can have an impact across entire regions rather than solely withinthe boundaries of sourcing relationships.

  1. There is still much to be done. While these initiatives are important signals of major trends within the deforestation space, they are still only in their infancy. Time will tell if the stakeholders engaged will be able to actualize the ambitious goals and creative thinking embedded in these ideas.

But, I’m optimistic. What emerged out of Davos tells me that the collective work of these major corporations can get us to where we need to go: productive, economically viable agricultural supply chains without destroying critical forest habitat upon which we all rely.

Will the U.S. join this trend toward collective action? The jury is still out on that one.

 

 

No “alternative facts” needed: leading on sustainability is smart business strategy

A Businessman is looking out the window in a modern panoramic meeting room in New York. The concept of the meeting of the Board of Director of the huge transnational corporation.

For the people who dedicate their lives to helping keep the planet livable, it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around our new weird, warped, post-election world. Every day seems to bring some new government official denying facts and science (aka reality), or doing unthinkable damage to the suddenly-less-venerable institutions they now lead.

As someone who has a 20-year track record of working side-by-side with the private sector to create positive environmental change, I can just imagine how anxious business executives must be feeling these days. The specter of a three a.m. tweet from the White House demanding that they run their company according to a Presidential whim, rather than the realities of the global marketplace (or the expectations of shareholders), can make for a lot of sleepless nights.

Unlike certain “business-executive-Presidents”, however, real CEOs have to be fact-driven.

And the forward-thinking executives—the ones who are thinking hard about the long-term growth, profitability and resiliency of their companies—are well aware of the facts. They know that human-caused climate change is real, and carries with it huge costs. Executives selling food grown in rapidly changing landscapes and/or products dependent on materials from across the globe aren’t playing in a fantasy world where climate change is a “hoax invented by China.”

And they know that how we deal with climate change will determine whether we will be a driver or a destroyer of business value. As a peer-reviewed study in the journal Nature recently found (and the New York Times reported): “even if the world is able to stave off an increase in atmospheric temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — a goal agreed to as part of the Paris deal — climate change could wipe out $1.7 trillion worth of global financial assets.”

So, I’m hopeful that, at least in terms of sustainability, the rational decisions being made on Wall Street will act as a counter-balance to what appears to be erratic decisions coming out of Washington. Consider just a few of the recent announcements and actions of the private sector:

  • In just the past 3 months, Google, Microsoft, Pepsi, Smithfield Foods, Walmart and many others have continued to lead the way and prove what’s possible through bold, science-based goals, investments in clean energy and expanded efforts to drive down emissions in their operations and supply chains.
  • At the recent World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Unilever CEO Paul Polman said “to make America great again, climate action is very logical. This is a very convincing story for job creation and economic growth.” My colleagues at EDF Climate Corps back this up with data; the sustainability sector is booming with jobs that 1.) can’t be outsourced, and 2.) are readily available in all fifty states.
  • A WEF report on the future of retail talks about “the golden age of the consumer” and the implications and opportunities that are created for sustainability by addressing how goods are delivered—what is called the “last mile of delivery”—and how products are packaged.
  • Commenting on that same report, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon pointed out that sustainability will impact retail in ways far beyond logistics and packaging: in this age of social media sharing, the push for transparency in supply chains will be customer-driven. McMillon knows that “retailers will only survive if their business creates shared value that benefits shareholders and society.”
  • Finally, in a recent op-ed entitled Why Walmart is doubling down on its commitment to climate change, Walmart board member Rob Walton, gave a simple answer: because it’s good for business! “We set [our climate goals] because we wanted to help address climate change and improve lives, while also strengthening our company and reducing expenses,” he said. “We thought it would be a win-win: good for society, and good for Walmart.  Eleven years later, that’s exactly what we’ve seen.”

    Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

    Elizabeth Sturcken, Managing Director, EDF+Business

That’s a long list—and one that adds to the mounting evidence that corporate America “gets it”:

momentum for business leadership on sustainability is here to stay. Which is in no way surprising, because after my many years of working with business, I’ve seen firsthand the immense value creation that comes with moving forward—not backward—on environmental issues.

So, for all that has changed in these times of “alternative facts,” those who care about having a livable, thriving planet can feel confident that they have a powerful ally in business. Because when it comes to our climate, our health and our planet itself, if we’re not making progress, we’re losing.