Why the private sector needs to invest in conservation agriculture right now

June 6, 2020 by  
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Why the private sector needs to invest in conservation agriculture right now William Ginn Sat, 06/06/2020 – 02:00 This is an excerpt from ” Valuing Nature ” by William J. Ginn. Copyright 2020 William J. Ginn. Reproduced here with permission from Island Press, Washington, D.C.  Resistance to change is universal. For example, despite more than 30 years of good science and best practices that support conservation agriculture in the United States, less than 5 percent of U.S. soy, wheat, and corn farmers use cover crops, and only 25 percent have adopted crop rotation and conservation tillage practices, even though the country is losing more than 10 billion tons of soil each year as well as more than $50 billion in social and environmental benefits. One challenge is the increasing percentage of farms owned by investors who lease land year to year to the highest bidder, which gives farmers little incentive to invest in conservation practices that might take years to be fully realized. Nevertheless, [The Nature Conservancy (TNC)], along with a consortium of farmers’ groups and a contingent of seed and fertilizer companies, has set a goal of getting half of the country’s wheat, soy, and corn crops into conservation tillage by [2025] (PDF). To achieve this goal, the same kind of incentives, extension services, and creative financial mechanisms being advocated for in the developing world are going to be needed in the United States too. Building capacity and providing patient capital at the farmer level is a big challenge; at NatureVest, it is referred to as the last-mile problem. Although big-picture interventions are often understood in theory, the capacity of farmers to implement these solutions on the ground is often quite limited. Nearly everywhere these challenges exist, we need to dramatically increase the number of intermediaries who can help farmers through the difficult but necessary transition to new cropping and livestock-raising systems. It is all high-risk business, and as such, it is not always successful. Several years ago, TNC entered into an agreement with an agricultural consulting company in Argentina with the objective of helping farmers improve sheep-grazing practices. Years of overgrazing had left the region’s grasslands substantially degraded; in fact, at one point in the early years of Patagonia’s colonization, more than 45 million sheep roamed free. Today, the region is home to between 5 million and 8 million sheep, but even that number may be too many. Building capacity and providing patient capital at the farmer level is a big challenge; at NatureVest, it is referred to as the last-mile problem. The restoration plan, called the Patagonia Grassland Regeneration and Sustainability Standard, or GRASS for short, incorporated conservation science, planning, and monitoring into the management plans of wool producers. The idea was not new: rather than grazing sheep in one place continually, they are moved in and out of different pastures depending on the conditions of the grasses. This practice encourages more diversity of native grass species and expanded yields from the revitalized pastures. Done well, ranchers, sheep, native plants, and animals can thrive together. But what motivates ranchers to make these investments in better management and fencing? The basic business idea of GRASS was to improve management practices on ranches and produce a certified wool product that would attract buyers willing to pay more for sustainably grown wool. The program attracted two early adopters, Patagonia, Inc ., a brand committed to sourcing their raw materials sustainably, and Stella McCartney , a high-end clothing manufacturer and daughter of Paul McCartney. Prior to this venture, both companies had been buying their wool primarily from Australia and New Zealand, but for Patagonia in particular, a shift to sourcing from Argentina provided a nice opportunity for alignment with their brand. Dozens of ranches signed up to participate, and many saw measurable yield improvements, even though the initial wool purchases were small. Despite the program’s early successes, the program became unraveled when the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released video footage of alleged animal abuse occurring at some of the ranches. As chief conservation officer of TNC at the time, I can say that I was not very happy with these practices, but I thought some of the allegations were overblown. For example, PETA considers docking tails of sheep to be inhumane, yet it is long-standing practice that arguably improves the health of animals. Nevertheless, both Patagonia and Stella McCartney abruptly ended their contracts with GRASS, and without a market partner, the program has failed to scale to a commercial model. Although any improvement in grazing is useful, the expected impact across the landscape now seems a distant objective. Because feeding the world is an absolute imperative, farmers, investors, and aid organizations continue their quests for new models of sustainable intensification that will both feed more people and restore the soils and hydrological systems that are essential to agriculture. Providing capital in a way that reaches the hundreds of millions of small farmers across the globe as well as the necessary skills and technical expertise is a challenge that will remain for years, but business opportunities abound. Our shared natural assets — soil, water, and a stable climate — will only increase in value as the world demands more food. Pull Quote Building capacity and providing patient capital at the farmer level is a big challenge; at NatureVest, it is referred to as the last-mile problem. Topics Corporate Strategy Food & Agriculture Biodiversity Books Food & Agriculture Conservation Conservation Finance Collective Insight GreenBiz Reads Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Flock of sheep in Patagonia, Chile. Shutterstock gg-foto Close Authorship

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Why the private sector needs to invest in conservation agriculture right now

How to use ‘captive’ insurance to mitigate climate change risks

March 2, 2018 by  
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This article is the second in a three-story series culled from the MMC Climate Resilience 2018 Handbook (PDF) and originally published on Brink. The first part, focused on green bond strategies for climate adaption, may be found here.

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How to use ‘captive’ insurance to mitigate climate change risks

Critically endangered red wolf may be forced into extinction by GOP

December 1, 2017 by  
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There are only 45 to 60 red wolves left in the wild, concentrated in a small area of North Carolina — but for Republicans, that is simply too many. The  Canis rufus, which was declared endangered in 1982 and critically endangered in 1996, has seen only slight growth in its population over the last 30-plus years. As such, the wolves have been protected through a captive breeding and reintroduction program funded by the federal government. But now with Republicans controlling the Senate, a covert push is underway to eviscerate the protective agency and force these red wolves into extinction. As IFLS shares, the initiative is  buried in a Senate report , written as: “The Committee acknowledges the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s request that the [Fish and Wildlife] Service end the Red Wolf recovery program and declare the Red Wolf extinct.” The claim is that “landowners and other species” are being impacted by the wolves and that “the program has failed to meet population goals for the red wolf”—though, notably, absolutely no research or data was accompanied to back up the statements. If passed, the program would come to a close next year. Related: Red Wolves Critically Close to Extinction After Hunters Kill 10 Percent of Population “Senate Republicans are trying to hammer a final nail in the coffin of the struggling red wolf recovery program,” Perrin de Jong, a Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney, said in a  press release . “It is morally reprehensible for Senator Murkowski and her committee to push for the extinction of North Carolina’s most treasured wild predator. Instead of giving up on the red wolf, Congress should fund recovery efforts, something lawmakers have cynically blocked time and time again.” The handful of existing red wolves are the result of an aggressive reintroduction effort started in 1987 to bring them out of extinction. Even today, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reports they are “one of the world’s most endangered wild canids,” though they have made “good progress” in rebuilding the population, despite illegal poaching and interbreeding with coyotes. The goal has been to grow the number to 220 red wolves. Rather than disassembling the program, the Center for Biological Diversity is calling on pols to improve it: “The science demonstrates that red wolves are still recoverable. A 2014  report  by the nonpartisan Wildlife Management Institute concluded that recovery would require augmenting eastern North Carolina’s existing wild population of fewer than 45 red wolves with two additional wild populations and investing additional resources to build local support for red wolf recovery.” Both the subcommittee and the Interior Department will decide the fate of the wolves. Unfortunately, as the two are under the control of the GOP, a party that has little interest in environmental conservation, the future of the red wolf is bleak. Via  IFL Science Images via Center for Biological Diversity

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Critically endangered red wolf may be forced into extinction by GOP

Flood damage in America: 4 crucial lessons

April 14, 2016 by  
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Floods are the most damaging natural disaster in the United States (PDF), as well as globally, with losses rising dramatically (PDF) over time.

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Flood damage in America: 4 crucial lessons

Pope Francis’ leaked encyclical calls for global government action against climate change

June 16, 2015 by  
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We’ve long known that Pope Francis has a great many thoughts about climate change , and that he has been preparing to release a hefty encyclical to illustrate his stance. An unauthorized draft of that document designed to urge the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to join him in the fight to save our planet was published online in PDF format  Monday by L’Espresso, a prominent Italian news weekly. But Vatican officials warn that the 192-page draft doesn’t represent the final version of the Pope’s encyclical, which will be released on Thursday. Read the rest of Pope Francis’ leaked encyclical calls for global government action against climate change Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: catholics , Climate Change , encyclical , leaked encyclical , official vatican statements on climate change , papal document , papal encyclical , Pope Francis , pope on climate change , pope scientist , vatican , Vatican City

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9 ways sustainability drives profit

October 23, 2014 by  
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9 ways sustainability drives profit Chris Hummel 6:00am Featured Image:  Today most executives recognize that sustainability must be integrated into their organization’s core strategy — not to say that they necessarily understand why. In fact, too many are still content wearing some kind of sustainability PR badge just because the “About Us” section of their website gives sustainability a one-paragraph mention. For their sake and ours, here are nine reasons why all of us might want to redefine how we approach sustainability. 1. Lower costs Sustainability drives profitability. For example, Intercontinental Hotels says it is saving $30,000 a month at two San Francisco hotels by micro-managing peak power. Watch for companies using the uninterrupted power supplies in their data centers to do the same thing. They might even rent spare capacity on their UPS to utilities — UPS as a profit center, anyone? 2. Increased revenue CBRE , the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm, surveyed San Diego and found that green buildings commanded 18 percent higher rents ($2.42 per square foot versus $2.02 per square foot) and higher occupancy rates (88.3 percent vs. 84.3 percent) than conventional buildings. Other surveys show similar results . 3. Higher capital value and ROI In real estate, higher rents and lower turnover translate directly into higher capital values (PDF) that can average 10.9 percent for new buildings and 6.9 percent for older ones. It also helps you control your utility bill. 4. Leveraging broadband investments As part of a smart-grid upgrade to make its electrical system more efficient, municipal utility EPB installed a 1-gigabit fiber optic network that reaches more than 172,000 homes and businesses in Chattanooga, Tenn . By building one network for both grid and Internet traffic, EPB was able to leverage its investments and construction costs, and provide local residents along with businesses such as Volkswagen and Amazon with some of the fastest Internet service in the country. This project will become a model for many communities. 5. Brand Sustainable brands outperform their peers by 120 percent . Seventy-five percent of retailers say sustainability has strengthened or mitigated their brand. I have seen several private studies by the top branding agencies in the world that say similar things. 6. Customer engagement Ask anyone who has retrofitted their restaurant or store with LED lighting : patrons linger longer. Anecdotal evidence is also being gathered about higher sell-through rates (let alone more savings, of course, as solid-state lighting and lighting networking can cut light power consumption by 70 to 90 percent .) 7. Recruiting Workers younger than 25 rank an employer’s reputation as an important draw for a job. “It is one of the soft things that many companies don’t understand but it is crucial in the retention and morale of employees,” Larry Vertal of AMD has noted. “It is amazing how the highest talented people will grill you about your sustainability practices in job interviews.” 8. Health and wellness Workplace and building design can have a direct impact on motivation, employee satisfaction and productivity . If you’re not freezing or complaining about the heat, you’ll get more done. This benefit may be tough to quantify, but the compelling anecdotes are growing. Hewlett-Packard found that lighting controls can reduce migraines . Data also shows that respiratory problems drop in retrofitted buildings. 9. Data center performance With the trend towards cloud everything, data center managers are some of the biggest believers in sustainability as electricity can consume up to 30 percent of the operating budget. Google claims it has saved over $1 billion through its energy efficiency measures in its data centers. What kinds of measures can be taken in a data center environment? Designing for energy efficiency can free up floor space , reducing real estate costs. Lowering wasted heat extends equipment lifetime and reduces failures. Even innovations such as flash memory storage systems — one of the more interesting new ways to reduce power consumption — let companies get more work done with fewer machines. The list could go on. What are some results and unexpected benefits you’ve seen? And how do you think we can use hard data to move the ball forward? Top image by  Patryk Kosmider  via Shutterstock. Topics:  Data Centers Emissions Reduction Renewable Energy Energy Efficiency Reporting Architecture & Design Smart Buildings Corporate Strategy

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NYC’s Design Trust for Public Space Launches Urban Agriculture Data Collection Portal

July 29, 2014 by  
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Some people still criticize the urban agriculture movement as a cute idea with little potential to feed urban populations, or as an unnecessary intrusion on valuable city real estate. Part of the problem is there has never been solid data to back up the many benefits that food production brings to the urban ecosystem. Starting this summer, however, a new online tool is set to change that. New York City’s Design Trust for Public Space just launched an online data toolkit that tracks 19 metrics under four broad categories to give greater validity to the claims of urban farmers. Read the rest of NYC’s Design Trust for Public Space Launches Urban Agriculture Data Collection Portal Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: benefits of urban farming , data portal , design trust for public space , five boroughs farm , food system , green technology application , New York. , urban agriculture , urban farm , Urban Farming , urban space

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NYC’s Design Trust for Public Space Launches Urban Agriculture Data Collection Portal

Renewable Energy Now Accounts for 25% of Global Energy Capacity

July 26, 2011 by  
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The newly released REN21 Renewables 2011 Global Status Report shows that renewable energy hit a major milestone in 2010 by making up 25 percent of global energy capacity by the end of that year.  Renewable sources supplied 20 percent of the energy consumed in 2010. So far in 2011, renewable energy sources (solar, wind, water, biomass, biofuels, geothermal ) have supplied 11.73 percent of energy consumed in the U.S., which is 5.65 percent more than nuclear power and not far away from the energy supplied from domestic crude oil. The report states that 50 percent of renewable energy capacity is now in developing countries.  The top five countries (in order) for non-hydro renewable energy capacity are the U.S., China , Germany, Spain and India. China ended 2010 with renewables accounting for 26 percent of installed energy capacity and 18 percent of the energy consumed. In other encouraging news, the EU exceeded all of its targets for wind , solar PV, solar thermal and heating/heat pumps.  In 2010, renewables made up 41 percent of new electricity capacity in the EU. For more on the state of renewable energy in the world, including more country rankings by sector, you can check out the full report here (PDF) . via Sustainable Business

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Renewable Energy Now Accounts for 25% of Global Energy Capacity

Urban Bikeway Design Guide Released by NACTO

May 5, 2011 by  
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Image: NACTO Download it for Free The National Association of City Transportation Officials has released its Urban Bikeways Design Guide (you can download it in PDF format). This reference guide should be on the bookshelf of all urban planners, and even if they don’t follow its suggestions exactly, they should at least know about them.

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Urban Bikeway Design Guide Released by NACTO

‘Electric Roads’ Could Charge EVs As They Drive

May 5, 2011 by  
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What if there was a way to build roads that could charge electric cars’ batteries as they drove over them? It’d certainly go a long ways in easing range anxiety, and could drop the size (and price) of EV batteries significantly.

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‘Electric Roads’ Could Charge EVs As They Drive

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