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Natural Climate Solutions: How 4 global companies leverage nature to tackle the climate crisis

Sponsored: Danone, General Mills, Barry Callebaut and Braskem accelerate climate action through nature-based solutions.


Nature-based climate solutions accelerate progress toward carbon reduction goals. Source: Patrick Dzieza, Unsplash

This article is sponsored by Quantis.

It’s 2020. We’ve officially entered the defining decade to tackle the climate crisis. As businesses ramp up climate action commitments through science-based targets and net-zero or carbon neutral goals, they are realizing there are untapped opportunities to work with nature instead of against it. Nature-based climate solutions will provide the lever of change to make faster progress toward those goals, and it just might help them go above and beyond.

For companies in land-based industries, natural climate solutions — conservation, restoration and regenerative land management activities that draw carbon out of the atmosphere — are the most relevant and the most untapped reduction opportunities for corporate carbon strategies. I’ve picked four stories from Danone, General Mills, Barry Callebaut and Braskem to share concrete examples of how global companies are harnessing the power of forests, soils and farm lands to accelerate their climate action. 

Before we set off, here’s a little backstory. The knowledge that there are benefits from natural climate solutions is not new, yet businesses were struggling to quantify them. We know that you need to measure if you want to manage.

This need prompted Quantis to organize a precompetitive, multi-stakeholder initiative with 40-plus organizations to develop the "Accounting for Natural Climate Solutions Guidance," a standardized GHG accounting methodology to measure land-based impacts and integrate them into corporate footprints and climate action plans. This work has been a catalyst for companies that can quantify impacts and progress, as well as for (spoiler alert!) future reporting standards.

Sustainability managers that set off on the natural climate solutions journey will travel with different partners along the way (forest teams, climate teams, sourcing departments and suppliers) according to their company’s focus areas and commodities. Image source: Quantis.

Step 1: Understand and measure your impacts

To start on the natural climate solutions journey, your organization needs to understand where it stands and find its trailhead. That means mapping impacts to understand how emissions could be reduced by addressing land-based impacts in your supply chain. To assess your organization’s most significant risks (often from deforestation and land-use change), begin with a high-level carbon footprint screening using national data averages. Once you’ve identified the "hot spots" across the supply chain, your team can dig into more granular data to better benchmark and track progress.

Brazilian petrochemical company Braskem produces plant-based polyethylene (Green PE) plastic from sugar cane-derived ethanol. When Braskem wanted to assess the land-use change impact of its sugarcane ethanol production in Brazil, it knew that national data would be too generic to build targeted strategies.

To dig deeper, it teamed up with its ethanol supplier, Atvos, to collect farm-level data on land-use change impacts of the Brazilian sugar cane fields used for ethanol production. Metrics from this project gave Braskem the solid foundation it needed for its climate strategy, risk management and communications.

Step 2: Integrate with your climate strategy

Once your team knows where it stands, you can plot a course for where you want to go. To build the strategy, you’ll need different teams within your company to collaborate.

Working with natural climate solutions requires a mindset shift in many businesses where forests, farm-level or sourcing initiatives have developed independently from climate strategies. Now, land-based initiatives can be translated into carbon reduction opportunities and integrated into climate targets. This allows businesses to harness work already being done and focus efforts where they matter most to build an ambitious climate strategy.

Leading food company Danone has set bold climate goals through the Science-Based Targets initiative. Because dairy ingredients and other raw materials represent 60 percent of its value chain carbon footprint, Danone identified regenerative agriculture as a key emissions reduction lever that fosters healthier soils, sequesters carbon and also produces positive outcomes for farmers. Read how Danone set science-based targets that fully integrate regenerative farming initiatives into its climate action plan.

Step 3: Execute plan with partners in your supply chain

After integrating land-related reduction opportunities into your corporate carbon strategy, it’s time to get moving down the trail. This step involves partnering across the supply chain to implement carbon reduction projects in areas of greatest impact and track on-the-ground progress.

That’s what happened when Quantis worked with global chocolate supplier Barry Callebaut to develop an innovative methodology that assesses land-use change and deforestation impacts driven by cocoa farming.

This first-of-its-kind methodology combines GPS data, satellite imagery and farm-level data to enable Barry Callebaut to identify targeted supply chain interventions. The company can partner closely with cocoa farmers in priority impact areas to drive actions that eliminate deforestation and land-use change. To learn more about Barry Callebaut’s pioneering work, read about the project and watch this recent GreenBiz webcast replay

(Some exciting developments on the horizon combine geospatial and environmental footprinting data to drive sustainable agriculture. Check out geoFootprint.)

Step 4: Report and communicate on your progress

Sharing your organization’s progress on climate action is a critical dimension — you should plant a flag at each mile-marker to recognize each step in the journey. Stakeholders want to know you organization is making good on its commitments, and other companies can learn from your experiences to accelerate sustainable transformation.

Regenerative agriculture has become a focal point of General Mills’ climate strategy, and it wants to drive conversations on soil health forward industry-wide. Its work with beef supplier White Oaks Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia, is a prime example.

"By sharing knowledge, best practices and learnings from our efforts, such as our work with White Oak Pastures, we hope to empower stakeholders across our value chain — from farmers to suppliers, internal teams and even consumers — to accelerate the transition to a holistic and regenerative food ecosystem," said Mary Jane Melendez, vice president and chief sustainability and social impact officer at General Mills.

From Brazil to Bluffton, it’s an exciting time to harness natural climate solutions. Next year, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol will release a Carbon Removal Standard and a Land Sector Guidance, leveraging the methodology from Quantis’ Accounting for Natural Climate Solutions Guidance. At that point, reporting on these land-based GHG impacts will become standard practice.

You have everything you need to kick off your natural climate solutions journey. This is the defining decade on climate action, so let’s make it count. Because we can literally count on natural climate solutions.

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