Is harmonization of reporting standards possible or even desirable?

March 24, 2021 by  
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Is harmonization of reporting standards possible or even desirable? Antonio Vives Wed, 03/24/2021 – 01:14 Interest in corporate sustainability metrics has skyrocketed in the last few years, particularly in the financial industry. With it has come a surge in demand for information related to these activities, one accommodated by existing reporting standards and frameworks produced by organizations such as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), CDP and the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), with more being proposed by the World Economic Forum (WEF), the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) Foundation and the European Union. This data is collected and transformed by a wide variety of actors in the sustainability information industry for use by stakeholders and, particularly, investors. Given the proliferation of reporting and aggregating and disaggregating of information, over which there is no consensus, there has been widespread dissatisfaction about the lack of harmonization and comparability In response, there have been attempts at harmonization by the standard setters, based on the assumption that it is feasible and desirable. I’m not sure it’s either. Is harmonization possible or even desirable? If harmonization means consensus on a single standard, then the answer is most likely no. Why? Let’s consider four major components of the context in which this ecosystem operates. The object of reporting: It is nonfinancial metrics that purportedly represent the sustainability of the company. This is a fuzzy concept, different for each company, depending on the context in which operates. It changes with time, the material stakeholders affected and those it wants to affect, the actions of competitors and the pressure they receive from their stakeholders, among other factors. To get a sense of this, contrast the large differences in the sustainability ratings of a given company, by different raters based on sustainability information, with the generalized agreements in their respective credit ratings which are based on financial information. Quantification of the information: A significant, critical portion of the information required to assess sustainability is simply not quantifiable: culture; values; processes; strategies; product responsibility; quality of management, among others. Does the existence of a sustainability strategy or a board committee constitute sustainability? What is a measure of sustainability? Inputs such as the number of dollars spent on teaching the code of ethics; or outputs such as the number of hours taught; or results such as the number of cases considered by the ethics committee and its decisions; or impact such as the change brought about in the culture of the company? Which of these four attributes are reported through ESG indicators? Which ones indicate a potential financial impact? The users of the information: Every stakeholder uses a very different lens to make their decisions — from investors to managers to the community, employees, labor unions and governments. Each group is concerned about the impact on their stakes. Most users, especially those in the financial markets, are used to the strictures of financial accounting and want information that is comparable, relevant and reliable, among other attributes. But comparability requires the reduction to a minimum set of common information and its indicators, that risk losing relevance and reliability. Comparability requires generalization, but relevance requires specificity. And reliability requires consistency of the information through time and across providers. It’s hard to achieve all three, simultaneously. A given percentage of women on the board may be quite an achievement for one company but a serious deficiency in another. The sustainability information industry is composed of many varied actors. Most are in it for profit, each one with its own stake and market to protect and expand. There are standard-setters (GRI, SASB et al), compilers of information (Bloomberg et al), ratings companies (S&P Global et al), index providers (MSCI et al), accounting firms (the Big Four et al), and consultants on sustainability and reporting (Sustainalytics et al). According to the Reporting Exchange , there are over 650 ratings firms and more than 500 national reporting requirements. MSCI alone produces more than 1,500 equity and fixed income ESG indices. Blomberg collects information on over 700 indicators. Will they all accept to provide the same information, the same indicators, the same reports, use the same methodology for ratings and indices? (SASB has asked them to concentrate on their indicators.) What is possible? Based on these considerations, it looks difficult and maybe not even desirable to achieve harmonization. The needs of investors, which are more homogeneous and focused, seem to offer the most promise but with caveats: It would require a consensus about what is meant by sustainability and its measurement. Currently, each of over 650 sustainability raters has its own model of what sustainability means, using only quantifiable information, with their specific indicators and relative importance weighted to calculate a score. Finding consensus would require them to agree on a core set of comparable measures applicable to all companies, and another set specific to the industry, as in the SASB standards and the new WEF proposal. A third set of measures specific to each company, as proposed by the Yale Initiative on Sustainable Finance , would be added. Comparability requires generalization, but relevance requires specificity. This approach would please fund managers and analysts, as it would greatly simplify their work and even reduce potential legal liabilities by contending that their decisions are based on an accepted ESG reporting standard. It would enhance comparability but reduce relevance. It could disincentivize companies to differentiate themselves based on their sustainability . It also might motivate companies to gear their sustainability strategies to achieve better ratings and manage to specific indicators, not necessarily to have a better impact on society. A broader possibility would be for GRI to accept that its standards should be useful to investors and expand them, or for SASB/IIRC to accept that theirs also must serve all stakeholders and expand them. Either should subsume proposals such as the one offered by the WEF. But to please everybody, the resulting framework would be complex and unwieldy. It would involve a big cultural change and capitulation to the standards that prevailed. It does not look politically feasible, in the medium term, that the aforementioned institutions will agree to subsume their standards into a single entity. At the very minimum, I believe two standards will coexist — one to respond to the needs of finance providers and the other to the needs of all stakeholders. And the myriad indicators, indices and ratings provided by the extensive market of sustainability information would not disappear. Is reduction to a single reporting standard desirable? Yes, for some, but not for all stakeholders. Is it feasible? Yes, if one is willing to achieve simplicity and comparability at the expense of relevance and impact. Pull Quote Comparability requires generalization, but relevance requires specificity. Topics Reporting Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Is TCFD a catalyst for transformational climate adaptation?

March 24, 2021 by  
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Is TCFD a catalyst for transformational climate adaptation? Karl Schultz Wed, 03/24/2021 – 01:00 This commentary is part of a series on emerging issues from Adaptation Leader. The Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), an initiative of the influential Financial Stability Board (FSB) , offers a framework for disclosure of climate risks. Despite the generally positive response and resulting buzz, in particular among advocates for climate action by businesses and those wanting to get on the bandwagon, the uptake of TCFD disclosures has been slower than its proponents had hoped. With time, the levels of disclosure likely will increase with more governmental mandates and shareholder activism on climate action. But the quality of the disclosures is critical in meeting the existential challenge of climate change. There are, of course, two sides of climate action that must be addressed: mitigation (usually by emissions reductions) and adaptation. Economic and social survival can be achieved only through both rapid declines in greenhouse gas emissions and, critically, armed with foresight on the impacts of climate change, decisive action to adapt to these impacts. Can TCFD stimulate adequate movement on both tasks? On its current trajectory, the answer is a clear “no.” Can TCFD stimulate adequate movement on both mitigation and adaptation? On its current trajectory, the answer is a clear ‘no.’ In their current form, the TCFD recommendations lack the specificity and enforcement mechanisms needed to induce broad-scale changes in corporate disclosure. Could they contribute to such a transformation or is this asking too much? We believe that with modifications to the recommendations and the resources to guide climate-related disclosure, TCFD’s activities could lead to important improvements. TCFD could unveil risks and opportunities with tangible impact on the bottom line. As corporate leaders realize that they have the potential to help their organizations adapt, thrive and gain competitive advantage through adaptation, the TCFD recommendations could spur an economic and social transformation. Missing pieces It’s important to understand what is missing in the current framework and disclosure regime. TCFD steers towards carbon exposure and transition risks. TCFD risks are broadly defined into two categories: physical climate risk and “transition risks.” Physical climate risks are risks of impacts caused by flooding, droughts and storms. Transition risks are the risks a company may face when society forces it to curtail its greenhouse gas emissions and the risks of impacts caused by policies and investments that lower emissions such as reductions in fossil fuel demand. TCFD guidance insufficiently emphasizes physical climate risks, which results in corresponding disclosures emphasis on transition risks. Adaptation strategy is under-emphasized. Only 7 percent of companies in the latest review by the FSB “disclosed information on the resilience of its strategy.” The short shrift given to adaptation strategy is quite shocking. Among the early guidance provided to any junior staffer in a corporate setting is some variant of, “Don’t just bring a problem to my attention, tell me how you propose to solve it.” In a climate action context, then, the response(s) being planned or taken to adapt to a changing climate is of primary importance. Adaptation metrics need further development. The International Platform for Adaptation Metrics notes, “One of the key barriers over and again acknowledged is the need for a global effort to build consensus on metrics to help governments, businesses and financial institutions to identify and steer investment.” The FSB acknowledges this insufficiency of guidance on metrics and targets, and recently has undertaken a consultation to identify “decision-useful, forward-looking metrics to be disclosed by financial institutions.” Unfortunately, it looks at high-end financial metrics (value at risk, for example), not the underlying metrics necessary to understand physical climate risk and adaptation. Limiting scope to financial disclosure is a missed opportunity. The TCFD — and it’s in the name — is focused on financial disclosure. The question, then, is by only looking at financial impacts, do the TCFD recommendations do enough to ensure that corporations understand what to do to adapt and be more climate resilient? Corporations need to explore the social and broader contextual, market, employee, customer and supply-chain environmental/physical climate risks, and the adaptation actions they are implementing or could undertake as well, if they are to truly consider the interests of all of their stakeholders. Focus on the disclosing corporate entity ignores important systems effects and solutions. Unlike carbon emissions and mitigation, physical impacts, risks and adaptation to climate change permeate whole systems . For many industries, common but complicated issues may require sectoral disclosures or initiatives, so as to give individual companies a sufficient level of understanding of the types, range and extent of climate impacts on their future assets, productivity, markets and broader stakeholder community. Driving adaptation Given that we are looking at an uncertain climate future, TCFD disclosures, if undertaken to instigate corporate adaptation foresight and nimble planning, could become a key aspect of corporate competitiveness. These disclosures will create positive feedback loops as companies strive to become best adapted and encourage public sector adaptations that further grow their competitive advantages and a more climate-resilient global commons. How could TCFD further contribute to corporate value creation and investment decision making, as well as to the transition to a climate change-resilient economy and society? To begin, we must surmount the considerable remaining hurdles impeding effective, action-oriented disclosures of physical climate risk and adaptation. Adaptation Leader suggests that FSB, corporate entities and other critical stakeholders (trade associations, governments, research bodies) focus on the following measures: Ensure that climate mitigation “policy failure” scenarios are considered to enable adaptation planning and enlightened investment decisions for extreme climate disruptions. Require and make TCFD guidelines and national disclosure policies clear on strategy resilience, including explicitly the need to include adaptation planning strategies. Redouble efforts to integrate not just financial metrics but also support efforts to achieve consensus on and provide guidance on coherent climate impact and adaptation metrics in disclosures. The FSB, national governments and industry associations should prepare guidance, approaches, sector-wide scenario planning methods and industry-specific tools, as well as support capacity building for evaluating corporate physical risks, impacts and adaptation options. Local and regional groups should develop system-wide scenarios and impact assessments to better inform localized corporate disclosure, which would better enable small and medium-sized enterprises to report. At a minimum, the FSB should work with non-financial governance and standards bodies to encourage greater integration of financial disclosure with environmental and social impact, risk and adaptation plans and disclosures. The FSB has taken on a difficult but important task, and thus far through TCFD, it is making some noteworthy progress in stimulating more and better climate disclosures. If we can build on the existing momentum while focusing disclosures more on physical climate risks and adaptation strategies, it may be possible to build the vastly greater direct action and social and political resolve needed to achieve a global economy and society that is resilient to the dramatic changes in climate that lie ahead. Pull Quote Can TCFD stimulate adequate movement on both mitigation and adaptation? On its current trajectory, the answer is a clear ‘no.’ Topics Reporting Climate Change Finance & Investing TCFD Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Shutterstock

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For a clean, resilient grid, look to EV infrastructure

March 24, 2021 by  
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For a clean, resilient grid, look to EV infrastructure Katie Fehrenbacher Wed, 03/24/2021 – 00:30 Electric vehicle charging infrastructure could provide a major benefit — boosting both clean energy and resiliency — for the power grid. On Monday, automaker BMW and northern California utility PG&E announced a new expanded program that could help incentivize 3,000 BMW drivers to shift the charging of their vehicles to times of day when clean energy (namely solar power) is abundant. The program could also nudge drivers to curb EV charging during times when the grid is really congested.  “We see smart charging as a way to make EVs more sustainable,” said Adam Langton, energy services manager for connected e-mobility for BMW of North America, in an interview with GreenBiz. BMW previously offered two smaller pilot programs with PG&E and found that smart charging services paired with clean energy could reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Northern California by 32 percent. “Some customers were very motivated to use more clean energy for charging. Using digital tools, we can provide them with that clean energy,” Langton said. Some customers were very motivated to use more clean energy for charging. While the latest effort is still just a pilot program right now, here are five reasons I think this initiative is particularly interesting: Utilities and automakers need to collaborate. To build a grid — with an abundance of clean energy and electric vehicles — that operates well, utilities and automakers will need to create strong partnerships. Currently not many have these relationships in place. BMW’s Langton said this pilot is the only example he knows of where a utility is providing an automaker with clean energy generation projection data. I would think sharing this type of data would be extremely important and valuable to all players across the EV infrastructure and hardware ecosystem. It’s all about data. To enable this type of dynamic smart-charging ecosystem, the automakers, utilities, tech providers, charging companies and drivers need data to optimize the systems. They need clean energy projections, but also predictions about user behavior, dynamic electricity rates, weather prediction data, etc. Data will be the key — the currency — that underlies all of these programs. Design experience will be required. The way these programs are designed, and taking into consideration how users drive and want to drive their EVs, will be extremely important in ensuring that drivers volunteer to take part in them. Negative experiences around programs being difficult to use, complicated, not flexible or just not worth the extra effort to be enrolled will greatly affect the rollout. The teams creating these programs need strong expertise in consumer behavior.  This could be a stepping stone to V2G. Utilities and automakers need to get these smart-charging programs right in order to move to the next stage where they’re looking at projects around enabling vehicle-to-grid capabilities. That’s where EVs can discharge electricity back onto the power grid in an exchange with utilities. V2G has long been overhyped and underdeployed, but to kick it into the next gear will require these smart charging baby steps first.  This is a big year for infrastructure. These types of EV smart-charging pilot programs will become even more important as the federal government is expected to spend potentially trillions of dollars on a stimulus plan this year that could include $1 trillion for infrastructure such as roads, bridges, rails, EV charging and grid gear. Getting the steps right on a micro-level — 3,000 EV drivers in California — will help inform how and where EV infrastructure spending should be deployed.  Want more great analysis of electric and sustainable transport? Sign up for Transport Weekly , our free email newsletter. Pull Quote Some customers were very motivated to use more clean energy for charging. Topics Transportation & Mobility EV Charging Electricity Grid Resilience Featured Column Driving Change Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Greener Gas Clothes Dryers

March 9, 2021 by  
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Natural gas clothes dryers operate the same as electric dryers … The post Greener Gas Clothes Dryers appeared first on Earth 911.

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Wildfire smoke is more harmful than car exhaust emissions

March 8, 2021 by  
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New research published in the journal Nature Communications has revealed that pollution caused by wildfires is more harmful to humans than than poor air quality caused by car exhaust. The study, conducted by researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, was achieved through an analysis of health records. The study follows increasing wildfire events in the United States. Last year, many western states experienced fires, with heavy smoke clouding major cities. In some areas, residents were warned against stepping outside their homes to avoid possible health risks. Related: Wildfires have burned 2.3M acres across California this year The researchers looked at health records over the past 14 years and determined that there was a 10% spike in hospital admissions in Southern California during wildfire breakouts. According to Tom Corringham, one of the authors of the study, the economic impacts of wildfires are typically highlighted, with little focus on health impacts that are usually of the same magnitude. “We’re pretty aware of the physical costs of wildfire, in terms of firefighting costs and damage to property,” Corringham said. “But there’s been a lot of work that has shown that the health impacts due to wildfire smoke are on the same order of magnitude, or possibly even greater than the direct physical cost.” In the study, researchers focused on PM2.5, which are very common in wildfire smoke. These microscopic particles are very small and can bypass the human body’s security systems. When this happens, they make their way into the lungs and the bloodstream. There are various health risks that have been associated with these particles, including increased risk of respiratory problems, heart attacks and strokes. “We’ve seen it getting much worse in the last decade,” Corringham said of the wildfires. “Anything we can do today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stabilize the global climate system will have significant benefits.” A separate study on air quality on the West Coast found that one in every seven residents experienced at least one day in unhealthy air conditions last year due to wildfires. + Nature Communications Via NPR Image via Peter Buschmann / USDA

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Walgreens Boots Alliance exec talks plastic, packaging and COVID-19

March 1, 2021 by  
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Walgreens Boots Alliance exec talks plastic, packaging and COVID-19 Deonna Anderson Mon, 03/01/2021 – 01:45 Walgreens is a fixture in the United States. About 78 percent of the U.S. population lived within five miles of a Walgreens or Duane Reade store as of August, according to the company. And the company has even more properties under the parent organization, Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA). WBA employs more than 450,000 people in more than 25 countries and during the fiscal year that ended in August, it had sales that added up to $139.5 billion. I recently spoke with Richard Ellis, vice president of corporate social responsibility (CSR) at WBA, via Zoom. At the time of our conversation in early February, one of the most pressing items on Ellis’ priority list was releasing WBA’s 2020 CSR report and tooting the company’s horn.  “Given all of the other things that companies need to communicate and want to talk about, we have perhaps missed a few tricks in the past in terms of the way in which we have told our people about what we have been doing, what we have been achieving,” Ellis said. He noted that the virtual release event had the potential to reach the 450,000 people that the company employs, much more than was typical at in-person releases in the before times. Ellis said he hoped the event would help those in attendance “feel really proud of the company that they work for.” During our conversation, we also discussed Ellis’ long-term CSR priorities, the company’s packaging goals and its partnership with Loop. Below is our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity. Deonna Anderson: I want to start with a level-setting question. Before doing research for this interview, I did not realize how big Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) is. You have retailers in the U.K. with Boots and Walgreens and Duane Reade in the U.S. and your wholesale business. With all of that in mind, how do you set your sustainability goals, and how these entities work together, if they do at all, to achieve your goals? Richard Ellis: In some respects, it goes back 20 years. Twenty years ago, I joined the Boots business when it was just a U.K. business. I joined Boots because it had come bottom in the first “Companies That Count” survey that an organization called Business in the Community had put together. And the company felt that that was wrong. So I spent probably four years putting together a program and a structure and a process that enabled Boots to become in the top three in the U.K. We then merged with Alliance UniChem, a European-based retailer and wholesaler. They quite liked the process that existed for Boots, so it was adopted by all of the Alliance UniChem companies that became the Alliance Boots business. When the Alliance Boots business then moved with Walgreens, [it] did not have a process, so they picked up and copied what Alliance Boots was doing. In a sense, the process has been 20 years in evolution rather than Walgreens, Boots and Alliance coming together and then the company searching for something to do.  If you go back 15 years, and you look at the first CSR report, then there are certain elements of it that have not changed in terms of the auditing, in terms of the following of a process that is laid down by the Global Reporting Initiative, etc. This agenda has been at the heart of the various iterations of the company. And now Walgreens Boots Alliance, employing over 400,000 people, it is a major company, and clearly this is an important agenda for any international business. Anderson: I wanted to talk through some of WBA’s sustainability ambitions. One of those is reducing plastics in Boots-owned brand packaging, in line with the UK Plastics Pact 2025 . How are you all doing that? How is it going so far? Ellis: When the Plastics Pact came along, it was formulating and putting in place a series of targets to capitalize upon work that we were already doing. So, when the Plastics Pact came out it was not something that was completely new to us. However, having a program [meant] there were targets we had to set up and start measuring and doing all these sorts of things. It is not one big thing but it is just a series of all of the actions that we take as a company to try to remove plastic from all of the things that we do and to try and then reuse what plastic we have in some way, shape or form. And basically, everything that has got plastic in it, we are looking and seeing how we can remove it. And that means that we have to collaborate with our suppliers and we have to educate our people internally in terms of the circular economy and how we recycle things. One of the things that we do is we backhaul all of the rubbish from the stores. A lorry [a large motor truck] makes a delivery to a store and it collects all of the waste from that particular store and it brings that waste back to a central recycling center, which is on the Nottingham side of the Boots business. This enables us to then segregate all of the different waste and then to recycle and then resell, reuse, all of those sorts of things. For argument’s sake, Christmas is an important time for Boots so they have lots of Christmas gifts, and this year we reduced the amount of plastic packaging that there was and other packaging by 270 tons. It is about the people in our marketing department understanding that perhaps it is not all that glitters is gold. In other words, they are removing some of the packaging to make the product more sustainable than perhaps using the packaging to make a product look slightly better. If you go into our distribution centers, there are seven different-colored waste bins and those waste bins enable us to segregate plastic.  It is not one big thing but it is just a series of all of the actions that we take as a company to try to remove plastic from all of the things that we do and to try and then reuse what plastic we have in some way, shape or form.  Anderson: One of WBA’s other sustainability efforts is related to rethinking consumption and waste management and trying to promote a circular economy. That reminded me of Walgreens’ partnership with Loop to sell products in reusable containers. How would you describe that partnership as fitting into WBA’s goals around packaging? Ellis: It is one of those initiatives that we are looking at because we are trying to learn all of the time. Loop has very much done in partnership with Kroger, who we have a collaboration with. I think the idea that you can buy refillable contents is something that interests us greatly. One of the things that we are experimenting with is people bringing in shampoo bottles and being able to refill them with the same product. Now, one of the problems that we have got is that because shampoo is a liquid, how do we improve the kind of lock and load where you twist the [top] or you affix the bottle so that you can refill it, so that it does not go everywhere, create a mess and cause lots of waste? If you look at the distribution centers in America, there is a project called Beyond 34 because no American city recycles more than 34 percent of the waste that it produces. Across our distribution center network, we have got that up to 98 percent, and that is all about reusing the packaging, reusing the totes, reusing the boxes, working with suppliers. This is all the circular economy in practice. And I think the big issue is that it is about collaboration. From our point of view, the work that we do with Unilever, with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), with Johnson & Johnson in trying to manage all of these issues shows that the big international businesses have woken up to the challenges, which exist and realized that they are not going to solve them on their own. Anderson: It is kind of impossible to solve them all alone as one company because the problem is huge.  I read a recap of a Reuters event where you spoke, and you mentioned that working together with other companies and through your supply chain will be necessary to increase climate action after COVID-19. How else has the COVID-19 pandemic changed your work at Walgreens Boots Alliance or the approach you feel your company should take moving forward with taking climate action? Ellis: I think COVID has forced businesses to look very carefully at the way that they operate. And people like myself who have been working from home would never have believed that we could work for a year without, for argument’s sake, me traveling to America. I used to spend half my time in Chicago and other points, but in the past year, I have not been once. But using Microsoft Teams, I have been able to keep in touch with all of the people that work for me and all of those other departments that I have engagement with. And I would never have believed that it would be possible to keep the agenda moving forward, but the technology has really come into play and has helped a great deal.  I think we are just coming to terms with how COVID-19 will change the businesses that we operate. I think that what we will see within the retail business is that there will be much, much more online shopping. I think people have, shall we say, graduated to online shopping. And I think a lot of people, because they have been in lockdown, because they have been worried about contracting the COVID virus, what they have done is they have battled with their tablets and they have actually gotten used to online shopping. And so, that, I think, is going to have a big role to play in the way that we operate as a business. Climate change will not be reversible in the same way that COVID will be — hopefully — by a vaccine. I can see that we will learn lessons and we will start to think about how we trade and how we operate. I think lots of retailers are closing outlets because people are finding alternative ways of shopping. And I think that COVID has acted as a catalyst and has really got people thinking differently about the way that they operate. And I think businesses like ours are having to really sit up and take notice and start to change their philosophies and the way in which they operate. And I think that the impact of COVID in terms of it is the first real crisis that has impacted the whole world since the end of the Second World War, and I think people can see that as climate change starts to take effect [that] climate change will be a much worse impact than COVID. And it will not be cured by a vaccine.  If you look at Phoenix, last year Phoenix [broke the record for days with] temperatures above 100 degrees . You cannot live under those conditions. And if the number continues to rise, then there will be a huge migration of people. Similarly, people will not [be able to] live in California where the forest fires are or in Florida where Hurricane Alley is. All of those things are starting to make people aware of climate change and how climate change will impact all of us, and that climate change will not be reversible in the same way that COVID will be, hopefully, by a vaccine.  Anderson: I want to switch gears a bit. Are there any lessons in the corporate social responsibility report that we have not talked about that you feel are important lessons for GreenBiz readers? Ellis: As you read through our report, it is littered with examples of how we have worked with different people, with different organizations, how we have worked by sharing best practice across our businesses, the fact that we are operating in 26 countries, and that we can learn from each other. The rules and regulations that exist in Europe are different to America, and what can we learn from that? Why is that? How can we create a better, more sustainable business because we are sharing that best practice, because we work collaboratively internally as well as externally? And I think that is what comes through within the report in terms of how do we create healthier communities, how do we create a healthier environment, how do we create a healthier workplace? What do we do to make our products more sustainable? And all of those things are happening because we are trying to innovate but we are also trying to learn from others who have greater expertise or who want to work with us. Anderson: That reminds me of one of my last questions, which is about Walgreens welcoming a new CEO soon , Roz Brewer . How do you anticipate working together with her to continue pushing forward WBA’s social responsibility efforts? Ellis: I am very much looking forward to working with her from what I have seen of Starbucks in terms of their commitment to fair trade with all of their coffee products, in terms of their packaging, and what is in the public domain about what Starbucks has done. There are very similar parallels between ourselves and Starbucks. I am looking forward to learning some of the lessons that she might have picked up from Starbucks and bringing those to play in what we do. Equally, I’m looking forward to explaining to her all of the things that we have been doing over the past 20 years to try and make our business more sustainable. Anderson: As you just mentioned, you have been in corporate social responsibility work for a while. What is your most important priority right now as the VP of corporate social responsibility at Walgreens Boots Alliance? Ellis: In the long term, it is climate change, climate emissions. I really think that we have got to continue on our path. If you look at the report, it shows that we reduced our carbon footprint last year by 7.9 percent. And really, what we have got to do is to work with our suppliers — and I do not just mean the Unilevers of this world; I mean a lot of the small-to-medium-size firms — and impress upon them the need to reduce their carbon footprint. And what we have got to do is help them understand the things that we have done over the past 20 years, which have enabled us year on year to reduce our carbon footprint because it is better for the world and we are saving money for the company. Pull Quote Climate change will not be reversible in the same way that COVID will be — hopefully — by a vaccine. It is not one big thing but it is just a series of all of the actions that we take as a company to try to remove plastic from all of the things that we do and to try and then reuse what plastic we have in some way, shape or form. Topics Retail Corporate Social Responsibility Collective Insight The GreenBiz Interview Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Courtesy of Walgreens Boots Alliance.

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How carbon-smart farming is catalyzing the big bucks needed to transform the way America eats

December 21, 2020 by  
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How carbon-smart farming is catalyzing the big bucks needed to transform the way America eats C.J. Clouse Mon, 12/21/2020 – 02:00 The contraption Matt Sheffer wants to show me sits at the far end of a field of alfalfa and grasses, a weave of green and pale gold, broken only by the parallel grooves we’re trudging along, a path carved by the tires of a pickup truck. It’s Nov. 4, and America is in the midst of a presidential election that feels like being trapped, upside down and spinning, on a ramshackle carnival ride. So I’m grateful for this opportunity to escape, to walk on sturdy ground and see all the way to where the earth touches the sky.  I’ve come to Stone House Farm from Brooklyn to learn more about how regenerative agriculture — the nature-based approach to farming generating all kinds of buzz around its climate mitigation potential — actually works. Standing alone in the open field, the solar-powered equipment Sheffer shows me could be mistaken for some sort of high-tech scarecrow, but it has a far different job: to monitor and measure the CO 2 in the soil at this farming operation and research center in New York’s Hudson Valley.  Many scientists and other experts agree that regenerative practices — growing diverse crops rather than monocultures; planting cover crops (such as the alfalfa and grasses) on resting fields instead of leaving them bare; minimizing mechanical tillage of the soil; and incorporating livestock into the crop rotation — lead to environmental and health benefits. The soil becomes richer and healthier, runoff that pollutes water is reduced, biodiversity and habitat for the birds, bees and other wildlife increases, farm animals live better, and the food produced is more nutritious. Early research also indicates farmers using these techniques can reap long-term financial gains .  Still, it’s regenerative agriculture’s potential as a carbon sink that’s driving millions of corporate and investor dollars into soil-climate initiatives, large and modest. And while there’s plenty of room for skepticism when Big Ag gets into the sustainability business, this trend represents something of a game-changer, a level of investment in sustainable farming that never has happened before.  In fact, the current system of agriculture finance in the United States has, for decades, worked against any large-scale transition away from the industrial farming complex it was built to support. Scientists may not agree on exactly how much CO 2 agricultural soil can sequester — in fact, they spend a fair amount of time blog fighting about it. But in a way, it doesn’t matter. Given that American agriculture needs to change, for a whole slew of reasons including its contribution to the heating of the planet , if the hype around soil carbon helps to fuel that transformation, that in itself is a good thing.  Making it rain for America’s farmers Sheffer and his partner Ben Dobson are among those who believe aligning farmers’ economic interests with positive environmental outcomes is the way to remake the farming landscape. This month, they’ll launch Hudson Carbon , an agriculture-focused carbon marketplace they envision as a “farmers market” for carbon credits, where mission-driven brands and individual consumers can connect with a particular farm and buy offsets to support its regenerative transition.  They’re also asking Hudson Carbon customers to pay more, significantly more than the current global price of roughly $20 per ton, which they say doesn’t necessarily motivate farmers. (That price is also far below the low-ball estimate of $50 per ton for the true social cost of carbon pollution.)  “The current carbon price is self-serving for those who are required to offset, like power plants and other polluters, but it doesn’t motivate behavior change on the other side of the equation,” Sheffer tells me. “To catalyze any major shift to regenerative agriculture, there needs to be better financial mechanisms and a higher price per ton of CO 2 .” How high? Hudson Carbon wants its customers to pay $100.  Matt Sheffer is managing director of  Hudson Carbon , an agriculture-focused carbon marketplace they envision as a “farmers market” for carbon credits. Photo courtesy of C.J. Clouse The marketplace is one of a number of new platforms born in anticipation of huge corporate demand for soil carbon credits. In January, Seattle startup Nori raised $1.3 million to fund its marketplace, which uses blockchain technology to pay farmers for carbon sequestration. Boston-based Indigo Agriculture , a similar startup, announced in June a $300 million kitty from its investors, making it the world’s highest-valued agtech firm at an estimated $3.5 billion. The new Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC), set to launch in 2022, promises to be the largest. It will offer both carbon and water credits, and planning has begun for biodiversity credits as well, executive director Debbie Reed told me when we spoke by phone in October. ESMC, in fact, will comprise two markets: one where a broad range of companies — from Silicon Valley to Wall Street — can buy offsets to meet science-based emissions reduction targets; and one for “members,” companies with agriculture in their supply chains — including food and beverage, fashion, and beauty and cosmetics brands — that will make results-based payments to their suppliers. Some refer to this practice as “insetting.”  The beauty of insetting is that a company enables its suppliers’ transition from conventional to regenerative practices by providing educational, technical and, in some cases, financial assistance. One $8.5 million ESMC-linked pilot , sponsored by McDonald’s, Cargill , Target and The Nature Conservancy, aims to convert 100,000 acres of land in Nebraska, by providing beef producers technical assistance and an upfront 75 percent cost share. Meanwhile, Nestlé, which is working with 500,000 farmers to support the implementation of regenerative agriculture practices, just announced it would invest $1.3 billion in that effort over the next five years, funds that will go toward sharing the cost of capital improvements and the premium price the company will pay for regeneratively grown goods.  Farmers who want to earn money selling credits — offsets or insets — on these new markets opt into data monitoring and measurement, because payments are based on outcomes such as increases in soil carbon or improved water quality. The Nebraska program is one of a number of pilots underway to test ESMC’s protocols for quantifying and verifying credits. These pilots are also working out potential cost and pricing models, Reed said. The current carbon price is self-serving for those who are required to offset, like power plants and other polluters, but it doesn’t motivate behavior change on the other side of the equation. “These major corporations are putting a lot of money into this, and if we can work with them … we can scale impact,” said Reed, who believes having standardized, transparent protocols will help hold companies accountable. “If we don’t work with these companies, and they do it themselves, then we have a patchwork, and it’s really hard to tell [who’s actually successful and who’s not].” While multinational corporations making big announcements get most of the attention, regenerative agriculture is a movement led by farmers and mission-driven entrepreneurs and brands, which have been researching and innovating for years. Of the 670 companies that work with The Climate Collaborative , nearly 300 have made regenerative ag commitments, director Erin Callahan told me. Most of these are privately owned small to midsize companies in the natural products industry. When we spoke in October, Callahan shared that she’d recently sent an email blast asking for progress reports on regenerative ag initiatives. “I thought I’d get five responses,” she said. “And I got 130 in 36 hours.”  One example comes from Happy Family Organics , which learned from two training pilots it sponsored, in 2018 and 2019, that farmers really need financial assistance and ongoing access to mentoring to make the transition to regenerative practices work. This year, the company established a Regenerative Farmer Fund, setting aside $40,000 per year to support up to four farmers annually with new practice implementation. You grow tom?toes, I grow tom?toes  It’s difficult to overstate how crucial both training and financial help are to farmers, because transitioning to regenerative or organic practices is complicated, expensive and risky. It takes time and knowledge. Stone House Farm, which sits on more than 2,000 acres in Columbia County, New York, used to grow corn and soybeans conventionally. A grain farm of this size can expect to run in the red for the first two years of an organic transition, accumulating a deficit of more than $400,000 before turning a profit in year three, according to analysis by the USDA.  The fact that the Peggy McGrath Rockefeller Foundation owns Stone House made its transition possible. An activist in the cause of preserving farmland, McGrath Rockefeller engineered the purchases of various dairy operations that created the farm. When her children Abby, David and Peggy took over, they wanted to rid the farm of toxic chemicals and establish a viable business. The foundation hired Ben Dobson to implement the transition in 2013. Along with his work on Hudson Carbon, Dobson manages Stone House Grain , a certified organic, non-GMO producer that grows barley, corn, soybeans and wheat. The grain company rents the land and facilities from the foundation, which intends for the farm to serve as a model for the region. Dobson’s parents ran one of the area’s first organic farms back in the 1980s. His interest in soil carbon grew from an early fascination with managing large landscapes naturally and in a closed loop cycle. “I wanted to farm like my parents, but they were very small-scale,” he says. “All these organic farms are so small, and that’s good, it’s a great lifestyle. But how do we change this huge land base in America that’s just plastered in chemicals?” To see what he means, look at the stats. Over the past decade, organic food sales in the United States doubled to more than $50 billion in 2019, according to the Organic Trade Association’s 2020 Organic Industry Survey . The number of individual organic farms has surged as well — climbing by more than 50 percent from 10,903 farms in 2007 to 16,585 farms in 2017 — according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest data , released in October. And yet, there are still only 5.5 million certified organic acres, up from just over 4 million acres over the same time period, a swath of land that represents less than 1 percent of the 911 million acres of total farmland nationwide.  Ben Dobson, founder of Hudson Carbon, also manages  Stone House Grain , a certified organic, non-GMO producer that grows barley, corn, soybeans and wheat. Photo courtesy of C.J. Clouse Granted, this data does not include regenerative farms not certified as organic. The two farming systems are similar but not exactly the same. Some organic farmers till the soil to control weeds, while no-till farmers sometimes use herbicides. Still, both systems aim to farm more sustainably, and many farmers use methods from both. Often, no-till farmers want to eventually eliminate chemical inputs, while organic farmers are trying to reduce tillage by incorporating certain cover crops, which help control weeds, into their rotation. Some of this is being done out of need, as farmers look for ways to deal with “superweeds” that have become resistant to herbicides.  Dave Miller, founder and CEO of Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT , understands well the disconnect between consumer demand for clean, healthy food and available financing.  For nearly 15 years, the Illinois-based specialty finance company has provided leases and mortgages to organic farmers. One of only a handful of companies with a history of specializing in sustainable farming finance — others include Farmland LP and Dirt Capital Partners — Iroquois Valley has invested in more than 60 organic farms comprising nearly 13,000 acres all over the country. Over time, it became evident that limited access to capital was holding back farmers’ growth, Miller told me. So last year, Iroquois Valley began offering operating lines of credit as well.  “All of our farmers want more land,” Miller said when we spoke by phone in April, as he hunkered down on his farm in Iroquois County, about an hour and a half south of Chicago, during the first wave of COVID-19. “We saw operating credit as the biggest barrier to growth in sustainable agriculture. It’s great to have a market for your product, but if you can’t get funds to operate and to grow, then you’re SOL.” Frustration with traditional agriculture finance has led others to step up as well. It motivated the 2019 launch of Steward , a crowdfunding platform for sustainable farming that has raised more than $2.6 million for roughly 20 farms, and this year’s launch of rePlant Capital , a new farmer-first financial company that aims to deploy $250 million to producers converting to regenerative or organic practices. RePlant has partnered with Danone North America (another ESMC member), committing to invest as much as $20 million over the next few years to help Danone’s suppliers transition.  How Goliath won the battle for America’s farmland  America’s industrial agriculture system dates back to just after World War II, when federal farming policy began to focus on quantity. The shift to synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, along with advances in mechanization, created the type of efficiency and scale the U.S. government hoped for. In a way, some farmers benefited as well, with increased production and easy pest control. But farming families also paid a big price, as the number of farms in the U.S. dropped by half from 1950 to 1970, and the detrimental environmental and health impacts of these chemicals played out. Still, the mantra “get big or get out” stuck — Sonny Perdue, Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary, repeated it just last year . And this policy shaped the country’s system of agricultural funding. Federal subsidies that keep commodity prices low and the federal crop insurance program promote monocultures by making it difficult for farmers to plant a variety of crops at once or to include cover crops in their rotation. Many farmers have taken on huge debts to purchase conventional farming equipment or land, which essentially locks them into the status quo. Meanwhile, banks and other financiers often have denied loans to small operations or organic/regenerative farmers they view “too niche” in their practices.  We saw operating credit as the biggest barrier to growth in sustainable agriculture. “Federal farm programs make it more attractive to stay in the system you’re in,” Lisa French, a Kansas farmer, told me during a phone call in October. In terms of federal crop insurance, “you almost didn’t want to tell them you were planting cover crops because it might make you ineligible for payments. …. Or the banker may not want to loan money for cover crop seed because he doesn’t understand why you want that extra expense, when in fact you may be reducing other expenses in the process.” French and her husband grow wheat, sorghum and soybeans, and raise 40 head of cattle on roughly 800 acres near the Lake Cheney Watershed in the south-central part of the state. She’s also served as project director for the watershed for 20 years, because like many small producers, the Frenches don’t earn enough from the farm alone to make ends meet. Intrigued by farming in a way that enriches soil and what that meant for nutrient density in their livestock and crops, the Frenches have used certain regenerative practices for years, but they wanted to learn and do more. So they, along with 23 other growers in the area, enrolled in a ESMC-linked wheat pilot program sponsored by General Mills, one of three regenerative agriculture pilots the company has rolled out in the last year.  A new regenerative normal  To help its suppliers transition, General Mills contracted the consulting company Understanding Ag to provide training and coaching to the participants. They also assigned local regenerative farmers to act as mentors and help build a community. “The opportunity to learn from each other and to see what other people are trying is invaluable,” French said. And having a program focused on one geographic area “tends to bring along other farmers who are not participating because they see many of their neighbors making changes on their farms. The program makes it more likely that farmers will be successful in their transition, and it makes it more likely that regenerative ag is the norm in the neighborhood.” Ray Archuleta, founder of Understanding Ag, has dedicated his life to teaching farmers about soil health. A conservation agronomist, he spent 32 years working for USDA’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) before retiring four years ago. Now he does the same job as a consultant.  “You know how I draw people into my classes? I draw them in economically, and later they start to fall in love with the ecology,” Archuleta told me when I caught up with him by phone in October. “The ecology was always first, then the economics followed, but we switched it around. And they begin to understand.” There is a long-term economic argument for regenerative ag from the farmer’s perspective, if they can just get over the transitional hump. First and foremost, it reduces and even can eliminate the costs associated with conventional farming, the money spent on chemical herbicides and fertilizer. And even though there isn’t a legal or regulatory definition of “regenerative agriculture” yet, consumers already seem willing to pay more for “pasture-raised” and “grass-fed” meat, eggs and dairy products, for example, much as they do for certified organic produce.  Some early research also indicates that regenerative farmers can maintain or even improve yields in the long run, because the soil is healthier and can better withstand the severe weather disturbances happening more often due to climate change.  “If you have drought conditions or heavy rain, land farmed regeneratively is more resilient, because with better management the soil is usable again more quickly,” Keith Paustian, a professor in soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University, explained. “If you have heavy rain, there is typically more water holding capacity which reduces flooding. And if you have a dry year, because regenerative farm soil holds moisture longer, it’s less dry than soil farmed conventionally.” Cattle grazing on the French farm in Kansas. Photo courtesy of Lisa French Flipping the script to reward positive outcomes When it comes to soil’s potential to sequester carbon, however, any scientific consensus ends. Some declare soil carbon the planet’s savior and others basically call BS on such assertions. As is often the case, the truth likely lies somewhere in between the extremes. “People who say this is a panacea, those numbers are wrong,” Paustian told me. “But in my opinion, and I think the data bears it out, there’s a definite role for soil carbon sequestration as part of the solution [to the climate crisis].” Some people I spoke to seem exasperated by the whole debate.  “I think there has been a bit too much argument about what the exact potential is,” said Jay Watson, sustainability engagement manager at General Mills. “Can we just agree that there is potential, and it’s the right thing to do? I think the General Mills approach has been: We’re committed to learning, but let’s just get started. … The clock is ticking.” Essentially, it comes down to a chicken-and-egg question. Some believe paying for carbon sequestration will motivate a regenerative transition that will bring a whole slew of environmental and social benefits. Others favor cost sharing and alternative financial incentives — payment for water quality and biodiversity, for example — to motivate the transition, which in turn will reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and lead to some amount of carbon sequestration.  In the end, the goals are the same, and meeting those goals requires a realignment of America’s agriculture finance system to one that rewards positive environmental outcomes and discourages destructive practices. Right now, it does the opposite, by not considering the true costs, the unsustainability of the current system or the benefits of a regenerative transformation.  In 2018, Farmland LP, Delta Institute and Earth Economics released a report , funded by the USDA, that found $21.4 million in net ecosystem service benefits using regenerative practices on roughly 6,000 acres over five years. Yet, the system continues to incentivize farmers to plant the same monoculture crops year after year, sapping the soil of minerals and organic matter. To boost production of weak soil, they add more chemical fertilizers, which run off into the water supply and eventually to the ocean, causing dead zones, such as the Massachusetts-sized one in the Gulf of Mexico . At the same time, the U.S. loses top soil at a rate 10 times faster than it’s replenished. And carbon seeps from the plowed, exposed soil into the air, contributing to the emissions rapidly warming the planet. What’s more, it costs U.S. taxpayers a bundle to bail farmers out when they get hit by floods or droughts, or sharp drops in commodity prices. Farmers affected by severe weather and Trump’s trade war with China received more than $22 billion in government payments in 2019, the highest level of farm subsidies in 14 years. By comparison, government programs that encourage regenerative and organic growing practices, such as the NRCS’s Environmental Quality and Incentives Program and Conservation Steward Program, historically have been funded at a fraction of conventional subsidies.  Such policies have been entrenched for decades, and changing them will not be easy.  “Here’s the problem: We have lobbyists … chemical company lobbyists, the fertilizer company lobbyists … they push the senators, and the senators push the heads of the agencies,” Archuleta said. “Nobody wants to touch the subsidies, no stinking way. The Democrats and the Republicans do not have the guts to terminate them.” Unfortunately, we hear from a lot of farmers that they’re getting into the soil health regenerative ag space because they feel like they don’t have any other choice, just from a profitability standpoint. After more than 30 years working for the government, it’s easy to understand Archuleta’s skepticism. However, there are positive signs. New bipartisan legislation that would provide incentives to adopt regenerative techniques has been introduced in the Senate, and President-elect Joe Biden recently reiterated his support for climate-smart farming, saying he would pay farmers “to put their land in conservation and plant cover crops.” The think tank Data for Progress also has proposed overhauling the federal crop insurance program to limit the total acreage eligible for coverage, phase out incentives for single-crop planting and create new tax credits designed specifically for family-owned farms.  If they wanted to, large, powerful corporations that have set science-based emissions reduction targets could push politicians toward a regenerative agriculture transition, although it’s still unclear whether that will happen. In the end, the real push could come from the farmers themselves, as they find themselves struggling year after year to produce sufficient yields on conventionally farmed land.  “Unfortunately, we hear from a lot of farmers that they’re getting into the soil health regenerative ag space because they feel like they don’t have any other choice, just from a profitability standpoint,” General Mills’ Watson told me. “The current way they’re farming just isn’t working anymore. They’re having to apply a lot more input to protect yield, and at some point, that becomes unsustainable.”  Grassroots grass-fed solutions  Like Archuleta, Dobson doubts real change will come from the top. When we sit down Nov. 4 in the sparse office he uses to manage farm business at Stone House, I ask him how he feels about the presidential election, which won’t be called for three more days.  “I don’t think we can look up for a leader,” he tells me. “The solutions are going to come from people. It would be easier with a Biden presidency to make progress, but I still think it has to come from people seeing a problem and believing we have to do something about it.”  Dobson and Sheffer have been measuring soil carbon at Stone House for five years, and the trends in the data at various sites show the farm is gaining soil carbon at various levels, sequestering CO 2 at a rate of about 7 tons per acre per year. Meanwhile, the trend in the data from the conventional farm up the road, which they’ve been measuring since 2018, shows it is losing soil carbon. This month, Stone House will begin selling credits on the Hudson Carbon marketplace as its first project. The farm and the PMR Foundation plan to divide proceeds from these sales, with the farm’s portion going to overhead, while the foundation’s portion goes to infrastructure improvements and other costs related to its regenerative agriculture mission. The platform aims to add more local farms next year and eventually to go global and include forest carbon credits.  But will companies and consumers be willing to fork over $100 per ton?  At least one company is. Hudson Carbon’s first customer, Light Phone , a New York-based technology startup that makes an “anti-smartphone,” has agreed to offset its footprint by purchasing credits on the platform. Time will tell whether others follow, or whether we succeed at transforming American agriculture before the planet completely falls apart.  I’ve not felt optimistic about our willingness to undertake transformational change and save ourselves in a long time, but something about regenerative agriculture does leave you with a sense of hope — a sense that if we can, one way or another, just get farmers through the transitional phase, replacing our industrial agriculture complex with something better is actually — doable. Pull Quote The current carbon price is self-serving for those who are required to offset, like power plants and other polluters, but it doesn’t motivate behavior change on the other side of the equation. We saw operating credit as the biggest barrier to growth in sustainable agriculture. Unfortunately, we hear from a lot of farmers that they’re getting into the soil health regenerative ag space because they feel like they don’t have any other choice, just from a profitability standpoint. Topics Food & Agriculture Carbon Removal GreenFin Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) On Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off The Stone House Farm in New York is home to a new carbon marketplace tied to regenerative agriculture. Photo courtesy of C.J. Clouse Courtesy of C.J. Clouse Close Authorship

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How carbon-smart farming is catalyzing the big bucks needed to transform the way America eats

1% of global population causes 50% of all carbon pollution emitted by the aviation industry

November 20, 2020 by  
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Recent research published in  Global Environmental Change  has revealed that only 1% of people cause half of all aviation pollution globally. According to the study, regular “super emitters” are polluting the environment at the expense of millions of people who do not fly.  The study, conducted through analysis of aviation data, revealed that large populations across all countries did not fly at all in the years observed. For instance, about 53% of Americans did not fly in 2018, yet the U.S. ranked as the leading aviation emission contributor globally. In Germany, 65% of people did not fly, in Taiwan 66%, and in the U.K. about 48% of the population did not fly abroad in the same period.  These findings suggest that the bulk of pollution caused by the aviation industry comes from the actions of very few people. Further supporting this point, the study revealed that only 11% of the global population flew in 2018, while only 4% flew abroad. Comparing these numbers to the level of emission aviation causes indicates that the rich few in society fuel this pollution the most. Meanwhile, marginalized communities will likely face the harshest consequences of this pollution . In 2018, airlines produced a billion tons of CO2. Even worse, the same airlines benefited from a $100 billion subsidy by not paying for the climate change caused. The U.S. tops the list of leading aviation emitter countries, contributing more CO2 to the environment than the next 10 countries on the list. This means that the U.S. alone contributes more aviation-based CO2 than the U.K., Germany, Japan and Australia combined.  Research also indicates that global aviation’s contribution to the climate crisis continues to increase. Before the coronavirus pandemic, emissions caused by flights had grown by 32% between 2013 and 2018. If there are no measures put in place to curb the pollution, these rates will likely continue skyrocketing post-pandemic.  Stefan Gössling of Linnaeus University in Sweden, the study’s lead author, says that the only way of dealing with the issue is by redesigning the aviation industry. “If you want to resolve climate change and we need to redesign [aviation], then we should start at the top, where a few ‘super emitters’ contribute massively to global warming ,” said Gössling. “The rich have had far too much freedom to design the planet according to their wishes. We should see the crisis as an opportunity to slim the air transport system.” + The Guardian Image via Pixabay

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1% of global population causes 50% of all carbon pollution emitted by the aviation industry

Converging crises call for converging solutions

November 20, 2020 by  
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Converging crises call for converging solutions Sarah Golden Fri, 11/20/2020 – 01:45 In the words of President-elect Joe Biden, America is facing four historic colliding crises: the economy; a pandemic; systemic racism; and climate chaos.  These aren’t four separate asteroids all coincidentally headed our way at once. They’re intertwined and part of the same challenges; they’re the consequence of decades of actions and inactions that are boiling over and activating one another. It stands to reason that we couldn’t silo solutions.  Perversely, it is possible that economic crises will be the catalyst we need to address climate change. That’s because the problems have the same solution: the rapid deployment of clean technologies across the economy.  COVID, the economy and emissions As the world pressed pause this spring in an attempt to flatten the coronavirus curve, our emissions curve flattened, too. We conducted a science experiment on a historic scale: What happens to emissions when everyone (or a large majority of people) stands still?  As the year rounds to a close, the results are becoming clear: We’re on track to reduce carbon emissions from energy by 8 percent.  While significant, I am surprised that the emission reductions are so small. It reflects the limits of individual action; even if we all do everything we can, the built-in emissions to our economy still will bust our carbon budget. America is at its best — most collaborative, innovative and productive — when we have a shared enemy and objective. More distressing is the projection of emissions as our economy recovers. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s New Energy Outlook , carbon emissions are set to rise through 2027, then decline 0.7 percent per year through 2050. That would put the world on track for 3.3 degrees Celsius of warming.  In order to have a chance at 2 C warming, emissions would need to decrease 10 times faster. If we’re striving for 1.5 C warming (and we are), emissions will need to drop fourteenfold faster.  We can rebuild the economy without ramping up emissions Historically, emissions and the economy are closely related. It makes sense; when people have more money, they tend to use more energy, travel more, buy more things. Likewise, the only three times emissions fell between 1975 and 2015 were during the recessions of the 1980s, 1992 and 2009. And when the economy rebounded, so did emissions .  Climate skeptics have weaponized this correlation to frame the economy and the environment as trade-offs.  But thanks to clean energy, this relationship is no longer true. In 2016, the International Energy Agency confirmed that emissions and economic growth have decoupled. For the first time in more than 40 years, global GDP grew in 2014 and 2015 — but emissions didn’t.  That’s great news for this moment; the work we need to do to decarbonize is the same work that can pull us out of a global recession. Building a new type of future  The concept of a Green New Deal predates the COVID crises. Yet the harkening to the New Deal, the massive federal effort to pull America out of the depths of the Great Depression, feels prescient as we reckon with the worst economy in a century.  And it may be the urgency to address the faltering economy that spurs the necessary policy alignment to reach true decarbonization.  The numbers are there. Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy released a report in September making the case for investment in clean energy R&D to create jobs and boost the economy, and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy commissioned a report to analyze the spillover economic gains from such an investment. Saul Griffith’s new organization, Rewiring America , shows how decarbonizing the economy would require around 25 million jobs in the U.S.  While the New Deal did wonders for the economy, it arguably had elements that lacked a strategic lens. Case in point: The Bureau of Reclamation damming every river it could in the west, regardless whether it was justified. Imagine what would be possible with a New Deal that has a guiding principle: rapid decarbonization.  America is at its best — most collaborative, innovative and productive — when we have a shared enemy and objective. Climate change, for reasons I don’t understand, proves to be a difficult unifier. But the economy — now that’s something Americans can get behind.  This essay first appeared in GreenBiz’s newsletter Energy Weekly, running Thursdays. Subscribe here . Pull Quote America is at its best — most collaborative, innovative and productive — when we have a shared enemy and objective. Topics Energy & Climate Racial Issues COVID-19 Clean Economy Featured Column Power Points Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off

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Converging crises call for converging solutions

The chef who wants diners to fund regenerative ag

November 20, 2020 by  
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The chef who wants diners to fund regenerative ag Jim Giles Fri, 11/20/2020 – 01:30 “We have solutions that are bipartisan and cost the government $0.” That was the opening line of a message I received from award-winning chef Anthony Myint, who replied to my request for elevator pitches for president-elect Joe Biden . Myint went on to describe a scalable mechanism for capturing large amounts of carbon in agricultural soils that would, indeed, cost governments $0. If this sounds too good to be true, consider what happened 20 years ago in a different economic sector. Solar and wind are cost-competitive means of producing electricity, but this wasn’t the case in the late 1990s. Back then, renewable energy advocates were trying to figure out how to scale technologies that were more expensive than fossil-fuel incumbents.  Some state governments simply mandated the use of renewables, but in places without mandates, advocates had to get creative. Even in states with mandates, some utilities wanted to do more. One solution was to ask consumers to chip in. The thinking was that if enough people opted to pay a little extra on their electricity bill, the combined funds would be enough to swap out some coal and gas plants for wind turbines and photovoltaic panels. The idea worked. In 2019, close to 8 million people in the United States voluntarily paid for electricity from renewable sources. This mechanism alone would not have driven the extraordinary growth of renewables witnessed over the past two decades, but it played an important role in kick-starting the renewables market, said Jenny Heeter , an expert on voluntary pricing at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. This brings us back to Myint, co-founder of a fantastic Chinese restaurant in San Francisco and director of partnerships at Zero Foodprint , the organization behind his pitch to the president-elect. Myint’s idea is to add a 1 percent charge to restaurant bills — perhaps someday to every bill in every restaurant — and $1 per month to waste hauling charges. The money would be used to help farmers implement regenerative agriculture techniques that boost soil fertility and store carbon.  We’re trying to unlock the ability of citizens and consumers to take climate action. Right now, Myint and colleagues are signing up restaurants one-by-one. Although progress has been slowed by the pandemic, around 40 restaurants in California and beyond are funding carbon farming, including big names such as Noma and Chez Panisse. Farmers apply to Zero Foodprint for a share of the proceeds; the proposals that sequester the most carbon for every dollar are selected for funding. “We’re trying to unlock the ability of citizens and consumers to take climate action,” Myint told me. To take it to the next level, he’s asking regional or state governments to create legislation that would make the charge a default on all restaurant bills. Diners will be able to opt out, but data on other funding schemes that use opt-in as the default show that few are likely to do so. For policy-makers that want to establish a renewable food economy, Zero Foodprint can provide model legislation that they can use as a starting point.  There’s another similarity here with renewables. I said that voluntary charges alone would not have driven renewable growth: It took a portfolio of initiatives, including state mandates and tax credits. It’s exciting to see something similar happening in regenerative ag. Companies are paying farmers to implement regenerative practices in return for carbon offsets generated — either direct, as in the case of Cargill and Bayer , or via a marketplace, such as those offered by Nori or Indigo Ag . Producers also use regenerative branding to justify premium prices . And investors are linking interest rates to carbon storage and soil health .  The challenge of reforming the way we manage the almost 1 billion acres of U.S. farmland can seem overwhelming, but we’re seeing the emergence of a suite of solutions that might be up to the job. One critical next step will be support, or lack of it, from the incoming administration. This article was adapted from the GreenBiz Food Weekly newsletter. Sign up here to receive your own free subscription. Pull Quote We’re trying to unlock the ability of citizens and consumers to take climate action. Topics Food & Agriculture Policy & Politics Regenerative Agriculture Featured Column Foodstuff Featured in featured block (1 article with image touted on the front page or elsewhere) Off Duration 0 Sponsored Article Off Anthony Myint, director of partnerships, and Karen Leibowitz, executive director, of Zero Foodprint. Courtesy of Zero Foodprint

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The chef who wants diners to fund regenerative ag

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