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General Mills, Danone dig deeper into regenerative agriculture with incentives, funding

The cause of regenerative agriculture is being trumpeted by many of the world’s largest food companies. Two of the most vocal champions of this movement, General Mills and Danone North America — both of which have set specific targets — in recent weeks extended their support to farmers in their supply chains that are picking up these practices.Such initiatives, which include a new pilot growing program from General Mills in Kansas and two financing programs from Danone, will be necessary to help farmers weather the lengthy, three-year time period it takes to transition their operations to new cover crops and tilling practices that promote healthier soil. "That’s how long it takes to start seeing improvements as you go down this regenerative path," said Steve Rosenzweig, soil scientist for General Mills. "That’s the time it takes to have that realization. This is where they need the support." First oats, now wheatGeneral Mills has committed to advancing regenerative practices on at least 1 million acres of land by 2030, one component of its corporate commitment to reducing absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 28 percent across its value chain by 2025. General Mills doesn't disclose what percentage of the total land it influences represents, but 1 million acres is roughly the size of the Grand Canyon. It's a small fraction of the approximately 915 million acres (PDF) used for farming across the United States. One of the first steps toward that goal came in the form of a pilot program on 50,000 acres with 45 oat farmers in North Dakota and the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. General Mills, the company behind the Cheerios and Nature Valley brand, is one of the largest purchasers of oats in the food industry.In January, General Mills added a second effort that focuses on a vitally important ingredient for its Gold Medal flour and Pillsbury product lines, wheat. It includes 24 wheat farmers with operations in and around a 650,000-acre watershed in Kansas that serves more than 400,000 residents in Wichita.This project was more opportunistic than the original one: it’s part of an initiative by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to improve water quality, and the connection was made by Understanding Ag, a consulting organization that advises farmers on regenerative management plans. The farmers for this pilot were selected in collaboration with some of General Mills’ key suppliers, including Archer Daniels Midland.What’s the right recipe?The participants represent a range of experience, ages and farm sizes, but they share a commitment to education, Rosenzweig said. "The reality is that farmers are really diverse," he said. "No two farmers think the same way or manage the same way."General Mills is using a number of key performance indicators to monitor and gauge the impact of both these pilots, including soil health, measured by tracking soil erosion or sampling insect populations; biodiversity, through efforts such as bird counts on farms and within the surrounding ecosystems; and the economic viability of the farm itself, as expressed by profitability. In Kansas, it’s also closing monitoring water quality and consumption.What are some of the key takeaways so far from the earlier project? For one thing, many farmers are used to following certain "recipes" for tilling and planning the land and aren’t necessarily used to having the agency to make decisions on their own. That was somewhat surprising, as were the relatively quick positive impacts on biodiversity in the regions where the oat farmers have been working over the past year, such as higher bird counts and more insect life, Rosenzweig said. The incentives for the participating farmers include free one-on-one coaching from Understanding Ag, a social network where the farmers can ask questions and share best practices, and an account for farm management software from Agrible.In Kansas, the farmers also can opt into a system being developed by Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, a cooperative that hopes to provide a means by which farmers and ranchers can be rewarded for their "environmental services." Rosenzweig said: "The goal is to set up a marketplace so companies can be paid for sequestering carbon, reducing water use."Danone unlocks funds for farmersDairy company Danone, which previously pledged to invest $6 million in soil health research and was the catalyst for a biodiversity consortium announced last fall, is stepping up its support of regenerative agriculture with two new sources of funding that it helped arrange with public and private sector partners. The programs are available to the farmers that participate in its cost-plus model, through which Danone sets long-term contracts with more predictable pricing. About 40 percent of the milk it purchases in North America for its brands — including Dannon yogurt and Horizon Organic milk — is procured through these arrangements. They also often have a lower financial risk profile than their counterparts."The farmers that are part of this have a unique mindset," said Tina Owens, senior director of agriculture for Danone North America. "They are able to have collaborative conversations."Danone is already conducting soil research with 23 dairies across 50,000 acres in 10 states — tracking at least 28 varieties of cover and cash crops. It hopes to double that acreage over the next two years.The two new programs announced in late January are meant to help farmers invest in the new equipment and seeds that might be required to switch to new management practices. The more straightforward of the two is aimed at helping open up $3 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which has been offering technical assistance and financing since 1935. To pull this off, Danone is partnering with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), chartered by Congress in 1984, to help farmers apply for USDA grants. Danone is making a matching investment of 30 percent, according to the grant terms. Some of the nation’s most important conservation efforts focus on voluntary efforts to improve soil health, habitats and agricultural practices on private lands. "Some of the nation’s most important conservation efforts focus on voluntary efforts to improve soil health, habitats and agricultural practices on private lands," said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF, in a statement.The focus will be first on helping develop grants for farmers in Kansas and Ohio, where Danone has determined that they might have the most positive impact, Owens said. The second source of financing for dairy farmers investing in better soil health practices will come through a new fund established by rePlant Capital, an impact investing firm focused on climate change solutions. Through a partnership with Danone, rePlant has agreed to dedicate 40 percent of its $50 million impact investing fund to loans that support its farmers — that’s $20 million. If the fund grows, that amount will also grow, Owens said.The first loan under the program went to McCarty Family Farms in Kansas, which has been a Danone partner for almost a decade. It owns MVP daily, which recently won the 2020 Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year award from the International Daily Foods Association.The money will go toward installing moisture probes that will help the farm reduce the amount of water used to irrigate the forage crops eaten by its cows. The farm is fed by the Ogallala aquifer, one of the largest watersheds in the world, which has become seriously depleted.Let's block ads! (Why?)

Learning from Aloha: Hawaii’s energy transformation

In March 2011, a massive 9.0 earthquake off the coast of Japan precipitated a cascading series of events that ultimately sparked Hawaii’s rooftop solar boom more than 4,000 miles away.As Japan shuttered its nuclear fleet and ramped up production from its oil-fired generators, global demand for oil increased, and so did prices. Since petroleum fueled 80 percent of Hawaii’s electricity generation in 2011, when oil prices rose, so did the state’s retail electricity rates — up to more than three times the U.S. national average.Hawaii residents felt the pain through their utility bills. To alleviate the financial burden of electricity, customers increasingly installed cost-competitive solar systems, often financed through third parties for $0 upfront, with excess generation compensated at retail rates through utility net metering programs. Solar adoption exploded at an unprecedented speed and magnitude, rapidly vaulting Hawaii into the echelon of leading states for installed solar capacity per capita. Today, over 100 other state and local jurisdictions have either set renewable energy goals or, in a few cases, mandates such as Hawaii’s. But apart from market forces propelling adoption of customer-sited renewable energy (as well as utility-scale), Hawaii is an important case study for the energy transition because deliberate leadership from legislative, regulatory, utility and grassroots levels is effectively steering the state forward on decarbonization.In a new report from RMI, "Powering Paradise," we tell the story of Hawaii’s unfolding energy transition — from individuals’ leadership and legislative accomplishments to the details of utility and regulatory efforts to achieve a low-carbon energy system. With this report, we seek to consolidate and make sense of the countless headlines and events that have churned out of Hawaii in recent years, to translate those to a wider audience and help practitioners of the energy transition everywhere reflect on what lessons we can all take from the island state. In addition, this report is a celebration of the progress and accomplishments that Hawaii is making.From broad vision and targets to detailed system designHawaii is the paragon for energy sector transformation precisely because its leaders are addressing the challenges of creating a 21st century electric system with a holistic and iterative approach. Over the last decade, Hawaii has passed a steady stream of legislative milestones. These include the monumental Act 97 in 2015, which made Hawaii the first state to proclaim a 100 percent renewable energy target. Today, over 100 other state and local jurisdictions have either set renewable energy goals or, in a few cases, mandates such as Hawaii’s. They and others can draw from Hawaii’s experience to develop strategies to achieve their goals.It is difficult to distill all the lessons of Hawaii’s embrace of clean energy over the last decade, but key themes can at least help characterize the state’s evolution across three main fronts:Procurement: For customer-sited technologies, Hawaii is refining solar and storage compensation structures, utility programs and policies to ensure that the full spectrum of capabilities are harnessed to support grid operations. For utility-scale projects, Hawaii is focusing on competitive sourcing mechanisms and consultative processes to ensure the benefits of renewable energy are captured, equitably shared and well understood.Planning: Hawaii is taking a systems approach to developing modern planning practices that account for generation, distribution and transmission in an integrated manner and reconsiders the roles of customers, service providers and the utility.Regulations: Hawaii is updating its utility regulations in a manner that encourages a viable utility business that fulfills customer and societal needs as well as the ambitions of the state’s energy policies.RMI’s "Powering Paradise" report provides a comprehensive review of the Aloha State’s journey through these and other elements of the energy transition. It explores the technical details of customer solar innovation in a post-net metering world, the nuances of harmonizing traditionally discrete and opaque planning processes, and the details of implementing a performance-based regulatory framework to align the utility business with a 100 percent renewable energy future.Collaboration, innovation and experimentationIn addition to the importance of leadership in establishing and justifying a North Star to orient the state’s efforts, Hawaii also demonstrates two further lessons with broad applicability for others pursuing energy reform.First, Hawaii’s experience embodies a willingness to try. There is no blueprint for managing the evolution of the electricity ecosystem, but Hawaii is consistently pushing boundaries, without always having a clear script for where it will go. Others can learn from Hawaii’s missteps, but should also be emboldened to take their own risks, assured that rapid feedback loops will accelerate rather than impede progress toward solutions.Second, as it has stepped into the unknown across so many fronts, Hawaii consistently engages stakeholders to crowdsource invaluable local wisdom, draw from national and international experience, and ensure support for actions that are collaboratively developed to achieve benefits for everyone.Although goals for 100 percent renewable or clean energy may feel ambitious, they are becoming common. They are also an accelerant to move the power system onto a sustainable path consistent with global climate goals. To be successful, plans must be developed that take note of lessons learned elsewhere. As one U.S. state leading on energy transformation, Hawaii’s story is relevant for energy stakeholders everywhere. We hope our "Powering Paradise" report helps inspire and inform your own thinking and important efforts.Let's block ads! (Why?)

Global search uncovers proven innovations in clean energy, climate solutions

Last week, I was at the United Nations Habitat’s World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, sharing ideas with city leaders about how to tackle the climate crisis. I was there to shout about 44 proven solutions — a collection of ground-breaking projects and enterprises from Yemen to Guatemala.These innovations, from the longlist of finalists for the 2020 Ashden Awards, show the awesome power of clean energy and climate action.  Final winners in our 11 award categories will be announced in June at a ceremony during London Climate Action Week — but every organization, and many more that didn’t quite make the cut, can teach the world valuable lessons.   Showcasing proven, ready-to-scale solutions is fundamental to tackling the climate emergency and giving everyone access to clean, affordable energy. Too often we hear the same grumble from climate ditherers and delayers — that climate solutions are impractical, unaffordable or unpopular. It’s crucial that we counter these dreary myths everywhere we find them. To do so, we all need stories about inspiring solutions at our fingertips.    These are solutions that could drive systemic change, the sorts of radical shifts necessary given the climate crisis. Climate deniers, while infuriating, are not the only barrier to progress. The huge array of panels and workshops at the World Urban Forum, as at so many such events, was a powerful reminder of the competing pressures on even the most forward-thinking leaders, from providing better health to more jobs, an end to poverty and inequality to tackling biodiversity. This is why we are always looking at the additional benefits to people from climate action that also safeguards the planet. Corny but true: we can tease out those win-wins.  Take two very different examples from our longlist. Kenyan agriculture enterprise Mucho Mangoes helps farmers use solar-powered drying equipment, giving them the chance to add value to their harvest, so raising their incomes. Thousands of miles away in the United Kingdom, smart technology from Guru Systems improves the efficiency of heat networks through tech, lowering energy waste in social housing, cutting emissions and creating financial savings for tenants. What’s not to like?  New systems can drive radical change To get to this longlist, we at Ashden scoured the world to hunt out solutions that could drive systemic change — the sorts of radical shifts necessary given the climate crisis. For example, the built environment contributes to 40 percent of the U.K.’s carbon emissions. So, what if we re-imagined everything about how we build, and how we improve existing buildings? We found that across the U.K., organizations are driving better use of passive design and sustainable materials such as timber, and techniques that allow whole house frames to be created quickly and cheaply. Others, such as the Ecology Building Society, are leading the development of discounted mortgages for more energy-efficient homes.  Such developments can create a new, localized model for cost-effective green housebuilding —supporting local economies, slashing the industry’s carbon footprint and creating greater resilience.  The U.K. government has committed to reach net zero by 2050, so it must capitalize on the demand for change, backing entrepreneurs and supporting the shift above with every tax, investment and policy lever available. In the run-up to the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, and with the U.S. position unsure, Britain must commit to world-leading action — in order to have the credibility to secure the badly needed increases in voluntary commitments.  Holistic thinking, community action As applications poured in for the Ashden Awards, we were impressed by big-picture thinking from around the world. Togo is taking this approach to electrify every corner of the nation, drawing on the talents of the public and private sectors, extending the grid and also investing in off-grid energy. We also saw organizations offering finance solutions that open the energy access sector up to a greater diversity of enterprises and approaches: outfits such as Energise Africa, offering a clear and simple way to invest in the continent’s energy startups. This is crucial, as we’ll only crack the energy access problem by building a flourishing ecosystem of innovation, not by pinning our hopes on a handful of bright stars.  We saw many more organizations installing, managing or supporting microgrids around the world — confirming the growing importance of this model of energy delivery. The rise of local energy grids highlights another key theme of the longlist: partnerships; co-operatives; and community-driven solutions. Again and again, we saw the power of communities to deliver climate action (something world leaders and huge corporations often find challenging, to say the least). To take just one example, BuildUp Nepal has trained thousands of rural people, with a particular focus on women, to build their own homes from sustainable compressed earth bricks.Neglected challenges This year, we have sought to shine the spotlight on some neglected climate challenges. One is the need for efficient cooling solutions. As the temperatures tick higher, people turn up the air conditioning, using more energy, releasing more harmful gases and feeding a vicious circle. Hence the search for cool solutions.  The longlist for our cooling award features four very different organizations in Vietnam, India and Egypt. The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan includes a comprehensive range of measures to keep city residents safe during heatwaves, whilst a German Red Cross project in Vietnam is using climate data to trigger early funding for heatwave responses. ECOnsult is the designer of a naturally cool desert village for agricultural workers, and Fairconditioning is training the next generation of architects in sustainable cooling techniques.  Another hidden crisis is that many of the world’s 70 million refugees and internally displaced people live without reliable energy for cooking, heating or communication. Our new humanitarian energy award uncovered innovation in the most hostile of environments.Women in Yemen are running microgrids, while in Jordan, a Norwegian Refugee Council program provides solar water heaters to landlords in exchange for lower rent and tenure security for refugees.But we also saw that the humanitarian system needs to be radically overhauled, with governments offering serious investment and long-term commitments. Clean energy innovators are held back from reaching more people by the humanitarian sector’s short-term funding models.   2020 also brings our first award for natural climate solutions. A growing body of evidence shows that indigenous people are better placed than governments, charities or business to maximize the climate benefits of forests. In violating the rights of indigenous people by claiming their land and planning new pipelines, we are committing an act of global self-harm. We need to reverse this fast and put indigenous people at the forefront of the climate fight.  So, what unites this diverse list of 44 innovators? They will all need investment and political backing in order to scale-up at lightning speed and share their hard-earned knowledge. The innovation is there in spades — now we need money on the table and leaders putting their weight behind our longlist and others' longlist. That was the message I took to Abu Dhabi.  Let's block ads! (Why?)

Delta lifts off with $1 billion pledge to become carbon neutral

Delta Air Lines has become the latest aviation company setting its sights on becoming "carbon neutral," with an ambition to reach that target by 2030 and pledge to invest $1 billion in achieving the goal over the next 10 years.The investment will focus on driving innovation, advancing clean air travel technologies, accelerating reductions in waste and emissions, and establishing new offsetting and natural carbon sequestration projects, the company said."As we connect customers around the globe, it is our responsibility to deliver on our promise to bring people together and ensure the utmost care for our environment," said Ed Bastian, Delta's CEO. "The time is now to accelerate our investments and establish an ambitious commitment that the entire Delta team will deliver."The commitment follows those of British Airways owner IAG, Qantas and Etihad, which have all separately pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 — two decades later than Delta — through a combination of new technologies, fuel efficiency and offsets. Last month the U.K. aviation sector published its own roadmap to achieving net zero by 2050, although the plan incurred criticism from green groups as a "flight of fancy."In the United States, a unique commitment came from JetBlue in mid-January, which will start offsetting all of its domestic U.S. flights in July.The aviation industry accounts for roughly 2 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. A recent study from the International Council on Clean Transportation found that the industry's emissions are rising 70 percent more rapidly than predicted by the United Nations and are set to triple by 2050 unless action is taken.Delta's carbon footprint is its largest environmental impact, with 98 percent of emissions coming from its aircraft, according to the firm. Progress towards its new goal will involve investment in industry-wide efforts to decrease the use of jet fuel and increase efficiency, through a fleet renewal program, improved flight operations, weight reduction and development and use of sustainable aviation fuels, Delta said. The time is now to accelerate our investments and establish an ambitious commitment that the entire Delta team will deliver. It also will involve supporting offsetting and natural carbon sequestration projects, with Delta pointing to investments in forestry, wetland restoration and grassland conservation."There's no challenge we face that is in greater need of innovation than environmental sustainability, and we know there is no single solution," Bastian added. "We are digging deep into the issues, examining every corner of our business, engaging experts, building coalitions, fostering partnerships and driving innovation."Delta's past sustainability efforts have included adding more than 80 new aircraft in 2019 which it said were 25 percent more fuel-efficient than its previous aircraft, as well as partnering with Northwest Advanced Bio-Fuels to drive the development of more sustainable aviation fuel.However, campaigners warn that such voluntary measures will need to be backed by robust industry-wide rules if the aviation industry is to be reshaped to fit a climate-friendly economy. At the start of next month, the U.N. International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Council will meet to decide which carbon offset programs airlines can use under CORSIA, its carbon offsetting and reduction program for the aviation sector, which caps the net carbon dioxide emissions of most international flights at 2020 levels.In advance of the meeting, a coalition of NGOs led by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and the International Coalition for Sustainable Aviation wrote an open letter (PDF) in mid-February to ICAO warning it of a "substantial backlash" if it fails to agree meaningful rules to limit emissions."Your decisions could show your commitment to stand up CORSIA with integrity so that it supports emission reductions projects and low-carbon economic development," the letter states. "But if you end up putting out the welcome mat for bad quality, double-counted emissions units, you will destroy CORSIA's potential effectiveness, compromise the credibility of ICAO and the world's airlines, and make global climate change worse."The letter urges ICAO members to bar older and less robust carbon credits, ensure carbon credits aren't double-counted and to make ICAO's decision processes transparent.Signatories to the letter include Anne Petsonk, the international counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, who warned if the negotiations fail to meet such basic standards, "our ability to tackle climate change will have taken a backward step.""If CORSIA is peppered with bad quality, double-counted emissions units, its effectiveness will be fundamentally weakened, as will the credibility of the U.N.'s ICAO Council and the world's airlines," she said.In response to the letter, ICAO said its targets under CORSIA "represent the consensus of the 193 national governments.""We encourage any advocates wishing to influence ICAO outcomes to learn more about how the world functions at the multilateral level, and to consider that it might be more effective to tailor and direct their calls and campaigns toward the actual decision-makers involved in the issues they are concerned with."Let's block ads! 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How roasters and retailers can support farmers and make coffee more sustainable

Coffee is the world’s favorite drink, with more than 400 billion cups enjoyed per year. We do our part to add to that grand total. Coffee drinkers around the world love their coffee — and appreciate it even more when they know that their coffee is grown sustainably.That is why we and many other coffee drinkers are deeply concerned by the sustainability crisis that has hit the coffee sector. This sustainability crisis has two main aspects. First, while the price of coffee keeps rising for consumers, prices are extremely low for coffee farmers. These low prices have pushed millions of coffee-growing families into poverty. Second, coffee is deeply threatened by climate change and other environmental ills such as water stress.It doesn’t have to be this way. Coffee can be grown sustainably and in harmony with nature, but farm families are often too poor to invest in needed solutions or too far from science-based organizations to know about them. Because of the intertwined crises of poverty and environmental stress, the future is bleak for coffee farmers in many countries, just as new consumers throughout the world are discovering the joys of this wonderful beverage. If you’re in New York or Chicago, where we live, you might pay several dollars or more at a coffee shop. The farmer, on average, receives between 1 and 2 cents of this price. The low prices that farmers receive can come as a surprise to some consumers. How much do you pay for a cup of coffee? If you’re in New York or Chicago, where we live, you might pay several dollars or more at a coffee shop. The farmer, on average, receives between 1 and 2 cents of this price. This is not economically viable for many coffee farmers, and these low prices are fueling deep poverty, hunger and even desperate efforts to migrate from Central America to the United States.Although farmers’ livelihoods have been decimated by low prices, coffee roasters and retailers are flourishing at the other end of the value chain. And while many of these coffee companies have wrung their hands about the low prices received by farmers in their supply chains, few companies have taken specific steps to address the problem seriously. One of the biggest, Nestle, has argued that addressing this price crisis is beyond what any one company can do.We agree that collective action is needed, which is why, in a recent report that we co-authored with colleagues at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment and the London School of Economics, we suggest the launch of a new Global Coffee Fund. Coffee companies would pay into the fund, which would be used to finance activities that support coffee farmers and increase coffee sustainability. These activities could include: providing income support to the poorest farmers during price crises; developing affordable insurance options and disaster relief funds to help farmers recover from extreme climate events; and increasing training, improving infrastructure and supporting other approaches that enable farmers to be more profitable and resilient. The Global Coffee Fund also would be used to encourage additional funds from international donors and from the budgets of coffee-producing countries, to be invested in social goods such as water, education and healthcare in coffee-producing regions.Coffee’s sustainability challenges are big, and we suggest a big number to be raised through the Global Coffee Fund: $2.5 billion a year from "pre-competitive" private sector contributions, meaning $2.5 billion by the high-income end of the industry for the sake of the more than 12 million coffee farmers and their families, about 60 million people in total. This would amount to roughly 1 percent of the estimated revenues of coffee roasters and retailers.That is much more than the amount of money currently dedicated to coffee sustainability. Before you laugh and stop reading this, however, let us tell you that this amount is negligible compared to how much consumers already pay for coffee, working out to no more than half of 1 cent per cup of coffee sold. We’d pay less than a penny extra for farmers to thrive; wouldn’t you? Shouldn’t the companies? The fund also provides a path for coffee companies to shoulder more of the risks — such as price risks and climate risks — that currently fall too heavily on farmers alone. We should be clear that this money, and the Global Coffee Fund, is not charity. The fund would be a way for coffee companies to fulfill their co-responsibility for achieving a sustainable coffee sector. The fund also provides a path for coffee companies to shoulder more of the risks — such as price risks and climate risks — that currently fall too heavily on farmers alone.Along with the Global Coffee Fund, our report recommends other steps towards ensuring economic viability and sustainability in coffee production. We think it’s critical, for example, for coffee-producing countries to develop National Coffee Sustainability Plans that set out clear sustainability strategies that take into consideration likely climate impacts. These plans would provide roadmaps for the activities that could be financed by a Global Coffee Fund.Coffee farmers also have an opportunity to use technology to get closer to the consumer, capturing more of the value along the way. Direct-to-consumer models are currently niche, but more institutional support, combined with e-commerce strategies, could help make them feasible. Pachamama Coffee, for example, is a farmer-owned and farmer-governed company, run by five cooperatives from five countries. The model shifts some new business risks onto farmers but also moves farmers from price-takers to price-setters. Think of the sea change that could happen if more coffee farmers were similarly positioned to capture most of the profits from a cup of coffee, instead of earning just a penny or two. Sustainable coffee could then be the fuel that makes the world go round.To access the report and learn more about what you can do to support a sustainable coffee future, visit's block ads! (Why?)

Cargill’s Ruth Kimmelshue on resilience and regeneration in our food system

Agriculture has a key role to play in addressing societal and environmental challenges, from combating hunger, to empowering women in developing countries, to drawing down carbon, to creating new supply chains for alternative protein production. Cargill's Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of Business Operations & Supply Chain, Ruth Kimmelshue, discusses the integration of sustainability and supply chain at one of the largest agricultural companies in the world. From GreenBiz 20. Let's block ads! (Why?)

Deon Stander and Kate Daly on the interplay of traceability, sustainability and circularity

Is traceability the key to unlocking circular supply chains and a more sustainable future? There are no silver bullets in sustainability, but the ability to more effectively and intelligently track materials and products is emerging as a promising driver of circularity. From decreasing overproduction to prolonging the use of items to ensuring appropriate end of life strategies, connected goods with digital identities unlock bold possibilities across sectors.This session discusses the ways in which traceability and tracking can forge more circular supply chains, exploring real world applications and unpacking unintended consequences. From GreenBiz 20.Let's block ads! (Why?)

The evolution of corporate activism: Lessons from GreenBiz 20

Last February, GreenBiz 19 hosted a panel on corporate activism. It was great. The panelists (Davida Heller of Citicorp; Bruno Sarda, then of NRG Energy; Alyssa Caddle of Bemis Associates; and Bill Weihl, previously of Facebook) were extraordinarily candid, informative and energized. They described how they decided whether to act, and the expected and actual ramifications — positive and negative — of choosing to act. Or not. And it was well-received.So, we decided to do it again.This time, I had a year to prep. I assiduously read every article — pro and con — that described a company or group of companies taking a stand on LGBTQ+ rights, immigration, equity, racism, voting rights, protection of natural resources, reproductive rights, equal pay, parental leave and, of course, climate change.It was encouraging. The list was long, and in the midst of it, we also had the Business Roundtable issuance of its Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation, Larry Fink’s annual letter to CEOs and the Davos Manifesto.But it was also disappointing. We reached out to many companies that had made strong public statements on issues of policy and social debate. They were disinclined to discuss it in this kind of forum. I get it: It’s tricky to stick your neck out like that, and many had very finely honed messages, crafted over time with the help of many interested parties. Panel sessions offer too many opportunities to go off-script.And, frankly, companies (and people) have vulnerabilities, too, and they must have had concerns that the conversation would digress into their weaknesses rather than focus on what they had to offer.No matter. We got a terrific panel that brought different perspectives to the table. And for all that I thought I knew about corporate activism, each and every panelist had something new to teach me (and, I fervently hope, the others in attendance). For all that I thought I knew about corporate activism, each and every one had something new to teach me. As with the year before, the attendees were treated to authenticity, passion and forthrightness from our panelists: Verity Chegar of Blackrock; Dave Rapaport of Ben & Jerry's; Anna Walker of Levi Strauss & Co.; and Bill Weihl, who has re-emerged from his leadership role at Facebook as an activist for corporate advocacy of climate policy.At the start of the session, I defined corporate activism as "taking a public stand on a policy question or advocating for sides on a social issue that is the subject of policy debate with intent to influence the outcome." I thought I knew the levers for companies to influence policy. After all, I’d been documenting cases for a year and more:They can publish or sign a statement online or in a newspaper, as Bloomberg did on reproductive healthcare, or use their voices on TV, as so many companies famously have done with Super Bowl ads. They can change business practices, as Dick’s Sporting Goods did on guns, or sign an amicus brief, as many companies (including my own former employer, EMC) did on same-sex marriage. They can join and even lead a campaign such as Time to Vote or sign letters to legislators, as 120 companies in Florida did in support of policies that welcome immigrants. They can walk with their feet (or, more accurately, their pocketbooks) when many withdrew sponsorship from an Indiana conference in the face of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Or they can make a statement by publicly withdrawing from groups that do not align with their stances.Turns out, there’s even more they can do.I learned from Chegar that while yes, investors can divest or use their proxy votes, they also can use shareholder resolutions as an opportunity to truly engage with management and convince them to act.Walker explained that Levi Strauss & Co. did something other than the two typical choices: waiting for the cover of crowds to take a stand or just going it alone. It took the lead, but it went out to peers and talked them into joining. Next time, I’ll ask, "If this really is important, what are you doing to get others on board?"Rapaport and Walker both highlighted the importance of leadership in making a clear statement about intent to use their influence for a better world. Both built it into their governance, Ben & Jerry’s upon its acquisition by Unilever, Levi Strauss & Co. upon the occasion of its initial public offering last year.Using our voicesYou know how sometimes someone says something that is — or should be — blindingly obvious, but you’ve forgotten it nonetheless? Rapaport gave this simple advice: Stop trying to make everyone like you. It won’t work anyway, so better to strengthen your ties to those with whom you already share core values.Weihl, with his usual fervor, challenged us all to use our voices as employees as well as consumers. The current and future workforce is making known that they want — and expect — their employers to fight for a just and sustainable society.We learned from the audience, too. The vast majority raised their hands in response to every one of these questions:Have you ever made a purchase decision based on a company’s stand on a public policy issue? (A resounding yes!)Have you ever decided whether to take, or even apply, for a job based on a company’s stand on a public-policy issue? (A surprisingly large number of hands!)Should companies take stands on public policy issues? (If there were any hands not raised, I couldn’t see them.)Are companies too powerful in exerting influence on public policy? (You bet, they said.)The last two were particularly interesting and resulted in a good exchange during Q&A. Many people in the room (present company included) have been dismayed by the consequences of the unfettered spending unleashed by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. So, why are we asking (or demanding, even) that companies lobby even more aggressively? Because, as Weihl pointed out, there is always huge spending by the side that has something to lose (fossil fuel companies) and when other interests decline to jump into the fray, they win. When people hear 'policy' they tend to think 'national.' But where it’s happening, especially now, is in the states. The bar, it was clear from all four of our speakers, is higher than it used to be. It’s lovely that companies support a price on carbon. (Yeah, I was the author of one of those statements.) But they need to support actual policies and regulations that are on the table. (ExxonMobil supports "well-designed carbon pricing mechanisms." But did you see what it and its oil industry brethren did to defeat Initiative 1631 in Washington state?)When people hear "policy" they tend to think "national." But where it’s happening, especially now, is in the states. And there is help to be had. Many of us in the sustainability community have worked with organizations such as Ceres, Advanced Energy Economy and others on federal policy. But, in fact, these groups are deeply engaged at the state level, and they have the information that can help companies understand what the impact is, what it’s going to take to get it passed, and what the political implications are. Ignorance is not an excuse anymore.Their stories were different. Their experiences were different. Their techniques were different. But the message was consistent: Silence is no longer an option.Let's block ads! (Why?)

Deep decarbonization: A realistic way forward on climate change

In 1969, in the middle of the spiraling U.S.-Soviet arms race, international relations expert McGeorge Bundy wrote a prescient article in Foreign Affairs about how to "cap the volcano" of armaments. Success in arms control, he explained, required a laser-like focus on the strategic incentives for both sides to change behavior and stick with their agreements. Awareness of the dangers of arms racing, by itself, wasn’t enough.Today, the same kind of laser focus is needed on climate change. The problem is a lot more complicated than strategic arms control, of course — there are many more relevant countries, not just two dueling superpowers, and the problem of heat-trapping emissions is deeply embedded in the modern industrial economy. Cutting emissions to nearly zero isn’t merely an activity, such as redirecting the purchase of armaments, that governments can control directly. But the point remains: Success requires less moralizing and more strategizing.Moralizing about climate has led to bold goals, such as limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels — a stretch target written into the Paris Agreement on climate change. The problem is that such goals apply to everyone collectively and therefore have no strategic bite on individual countries and companies. Moralizing has inspired shaming and agitating and striking — all useful in drawing attention to the problem of climate change, just as public protests helped focus minds on the need to control nuclear weapons.But attention on climate change is already pretty high and rising. The real challenge is taking action that delivers major cuts in greenhouse gases, and that means rewiring the incentives for key governments and corporations to change behavior and start decarbonizing the global economy. The need for a realistic blueprint to wean our economies off carbon emissions has never been more urgent. The lack of much incentive for deep decarbonization explains why global emissions have increased by nearly two-thirds since 1990, when the United Nations General Assembly formally launched talks that led to the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Emissions are rising at about 1 to 2 percent annually, even though a new U.N. study shows they must tumble nearly 8 percent per year to be consistent with holding warming to 1.5 degrees C. No major economy has cut emissions of warming gases that quickly; it’s not practical to make such cuts globally on the time frame of industrial and agricultural systems that usually don’t change quickly. The planet will blow through the 1.5 degrees C goal and through 2 degrees C as well. Even with a big effort, we may be on track for 3 degrees C or more — levels of warming that scientists say will have ruinous consequences. Yet even as the most ambitious global goals are slipping away, the need for a realistic blueprint to steadily wean our economies off carbon emissions never has been more urgent.For Bundy, strategic thinking led to diplomacy — arms control agreements with precise commitments that the superpowers, already motivated to cap the volcano, could put into practice. For climate change, strategic thinking runs the opposite direction. Climate change is a global problem, but making global progress requires that progressive countries and companies lead the way by demonstrating practical, scalable ways to achieve deep decarbonization. Only then can diplomacy and global agreements follow by codifying and directing progress once key countries already know what they are willing and able to do.While the Paris Agreement is an encouraging framework, it seems unlikely that today’s diplomacy will be the handmaiden of strategic thinking for climate change. Nearly 200 countries are involved, each with different interests. Agreements require consensus, which creates a strong incentive for holdouts. The gridlock most recently on display at U.N. climate talks in Madrid — where essentially nothing was agreed — is just the latest evidence that global diplomacy and global agreements will operate too slowly and too cautiously to address the climate crisis. Global agreements have a role to play, but they largely will be followers rather than leaders. In nearly every sector, the world isn’t far along in the technological revolutions needed for decarbonization. Making more rapid progress requires changing the facts on the ground — new methods of industrial production and agriculture with radically lower emissions — so that key countries will be willing to do more and powerful groups and companies can mobilize around systemic decarbonization.In Madrid, a team of us released a new study that offers this new view for accelerating deep decarbonization. Our core argument is that getting serious about decarbonization requires a new approach to industrial policy — one that is organized sector-by-sector and coordinated internationally to create progressively larger markets and stronger incentives for decarbonized industries.Decarbonization requires a string of technological revolutions in each of the major emitting sectors. We count 10 sectors that matter most, including electricity generation, cars, buildings, shipping, agriculture, aviation and steel. These sectors account for about 80 percent of world emissions.Creating technological revolutions will require different actions in different sectors. In agriculture, one of the most promising options would be to reorient crops so they pull even more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store that carbon underground — something that doesn’t happen when a field gets re-plowed every season. Some experiments show how this can be done with existing crops, but the real opportunity lies with crop engineering — breeding plants to store more carbon in their roots and then growing them with no-till methods that leave carbon undisturbed. The engineering of decarbonized systems may prove relatively easy once enough companies, governments and consumers focus on the need. In electricity, much of the action must focus on expanding the use of solar and wind so that costs keep coming down. Lower costs mean that every dollar invested goes farther; total investment has stayed roughly flat, but the installed capacity of wind and solar are soaring. It is vital that government policy also look beyond just renewables — for example, to flexible gas-fired power plants that capture carbon pollution before it is released into the atmosphere, and to advanced nuclear plants with zero emissions. Such plants can help keep grids reliable as they shift to lots of renewable power — operating when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.In cars, policies aimed at boosting sales and lowering costs of electric vehicles — such as subsidies that decline as technology improves, as well as investments in charging infrastructure — can play a role, as they already have in China, California and some European countries. Even more experimentation is needed, however, in realms such as charging, so that EVs become a viable business and move beyond niche applications.In buildings, it has become clear that there are two very distinct problems. One concerns new buildings — where, for example, advanced heat pump technology can allow for electrification of heating systems. The other, much bigger problem is how to cut emissions from existing buildings, which will account for most emissions from this sector. Here the actions are a blend of technology (easier to retrofit efficient heating and air conditioning systems) and regulation, since in most countries the big barriers to changing buildings aren’t just cost but also building codes. What’s needed in most sectors is a more dynamic approach through which policies target the direction of innovation. With the help of the non-profit Energy Transitions Commission, we have outlined the actions needed in every sector. What’s striking is that in nearly every sector the world isn’t far along in the technological revolutions that will be needed for deep decarbonization. In policy circles it is often said that the world has the technology it needs for deep cuts. Our report suggests that message is wrong and misleading. Sure, there’s a lot of technology. But what’s needed for deep decarbonization in the real world is a combination of technology and business models — real companies with an incentive to deploy at scale. On that front, the decarbonization revolution is still at its early stages in most sectors, although there are tangible signs of progress.Frank Geels, one of the world’s leading experts on technological revolutions, has broken down the process of massive technological change into three major phases — emergence of a new technological system, diffusion into widespread service as the system gains market share and improves performance, and then broad reconfiguration of whole markets around the new system.New technologies are emerging, which gives cause for optimism over the long haul. But fundamental change tends to happen slowly, which means that between the inertia of today’s existing technological systems, investment commitments to high-emitting infrastructure, and the inertia of the climate system there’s a lot of warming in the pipeline.The organization of each of the emitting industries is different, as are the political forces that must be managed and the technological opportunities in each sector. This is one reason why economy-wide policies, such as emission trading and carbon taxes, haven’t had much impact on boosting profound innovation. Those policies, when they work at all, encourage companies to adopt known technologies. But what’s needed in most sectors is a more dynamic approach through which policies target the direction of innovation. In California, the northeastern United States and Europe, some of the proceeds from cap-and-trade programs are directed to innovation and deployment of new technologies. Many national governments have created strategic innovation programs, as well, and one of the most important things to emerge from the Paris climate conference in 2015 was Mission Innovation, a program to boost and coordinate these kinds of investments.Today, only a subset of political jurisdictions — mainly in Europe and parts of the U.S., and in a few other countries — have demonstrated that they are highly motivated to act. The silver lining in this disturbing fact is that these leaders can get a lot done — if they have the right strategy. Much of what is needed to improve technologies and markets in the initial phase can happen in small groups of countries where incentives for change are strongest.Take steel, for example, a polluting industry that is the least far along in the decarbonization revolution. Unless the world finds a replacement for steel — which so far, for most applications, seems unlikely — then decarbonization of raw steel production must take place. Cutting emissions requires finding new sources of carbon-free heat; rather than burning natural gas or coal in steel plants, alternatives such as electricity, hydrogen or carbon-capture technologies must be explored. It also requires methods for chemically reducing molten iron ore into steel — a process that today uses coal and causes emissions. Several alternative methods exist in theory, but all of them seem likely to raise costs a lot — perhaps doubling the price of bulk steel from today’s levels.Because steel is a globally traded commodity, no company will make this shift on its own. Active industrial policy is required, which means direct subsidies for companies that are testing green steel production methods, as is happening in Sweden, Austria and a few other countries. Beyond subsidies, government policy can link new supplies of green steel with users who are most willing to pay higher initial costs — including governments, which can create guaranteed markets through their purchasing policies. A new green steel industry is slowly emerging. With this industrial policy approach, a new green steel industry is slowly emerging. Initial pilot plants are beginning operations now and over the next few years, and industrial-scale pilot plants are slated for the late 2020s/early 2030s. Those projects are concentrated in the European Union and Japan because governments in those markets have offered reliable industrial policies. The problem is that this rate of innovation and testing is much too slow and indecisive. Governments and companies must test a wider array of green steel techniques and build a larger market faster for green steel.While the details vary across every sector, the pictures are similar. Leaders need to channel political energy from the growing public concern about climate change into policies aimed at changing the incentives to test and deploy new technologies.As the process gains steam, the political strategies must shift away from small groups of highly motivated leaders and toward broader diffusion. This kind of shift in policy strategy is most evident in the electric power sector, which is farthest along in the process of decarbonization. Success with renewables has focused governments on the next frontier: integration of renewables while keeping grid power reliable and affordable. Channeling a lot more McGeorge Bundy into the strategy of deep decarbonization is long overdue. In wind generation and integration, for example, Denmark has become a leader — in part because it sees commercial advantage for Danish turbine makers and mainly because the Danish population is highly committed to action on climate change. Less noticed, but more important, is how Denmark is passing on what it has learned about how to operate an electric grid with variable wind power to China’s grid operators, which face a similar challenge. When tiny Denmark uses more wind, the impact on global emissions is minuscule; when China does, the effect can be enormous.Channeling a lot more McGeorge Bundy into the strategy of deep decarbonization is long overdue. And with success in creating new facts on the ground, the political and economic strategies must shift — from the leaders to the rest of the planet. The physical engineering of decarbonized industrial and agricultural systems may prove relatively easy once enough companies, governments and consumers focus on the need. The missing link isn’t engineering capabilities but the strategic approach to creating the incentives and markets required for sparking new technology and businesses.Let's block ads! (Why?)