Puma’s forest efforts prove how REDD+ matters to business

Puma’s forest efforts prove how REDD+ matters to business

CC license by Okko Pyykkö/Flickr

What are corporate leaders to do once they realize that their environmental impacts are significant and undercutting the very structure and function of the green infrastructure upon which we all rely? Honestly, business leaders will need to roll up their sleeves and begin to think about aspirational goals and systemic innovation around products, services and business models.

In the interim, while significant innovation is underway, it will be important to signal to investors and other stakeholders, “We’re working on it.” And that is where the (seemingly arcane) domain of forest carbon and REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) comes into the picture.

REDD+ offers one of the few areas of existing in-depth work in which corporate leaders can begin to understand how to measure natural capital and invest in its restoration with on-the-ground approaches. When designed well, REDD+ projects can address local community concerns and interests as well as offer new benefits. Those positives come from maintaining forests and addressing the reality of declining local income from extractive forest use.

Leaders at sportswear company Puma have jumped in with both feet. Following on the inaugural Environmental Profit and Loss Account and first biodegradable and recyclable Sportlifestyle collection — InCycle — the Puma Creative Factory in Rukinga, Kenya, shows how thinking about financial, natural and human capital can be integrated to drive innovative business models that leverage creativity from around the world.

Specifically, the Puma Creative Factory is part of a bigger initiative focused on driving investment into restoring and maintaining forests through a REDD+ project. This project, designed and managed by Wildlife Works, offers not only a way to offset carbon emissions, but also an opportunity to invest in sorely needed local jobs. In addition, by investing in this REDD+ project and others like it, corporate decision-makers have the opportunity to understand one approach to how natural capital can be measured, documented and monitored over time.

What does this mean on-the-ground? The PUMA partnership is further underlined by Kering having acquired a 5 percent stake in Wildlife Works Carbon last year, and this support as well as other initiatives associated with the REDD+ project in Kenya’s Kasigau Corridor have opened up a new set of economic opportunities for the local community. Support for the REDD+ project along with the Puma-sponsored factory is a source of jobs and pride for the community. The training and ongoing income generated through the factory helps families earn a source of income. The takeaway is not just a compelling product and story but also a new way of thinking about business investments in terms of a true triple bottom line.

So why aren’t all companies starting to invest in forest carbon and REDD+ projects?

Image credit: CC license by Okko Pyykkö/Flickr

There are two primary reasons for relatively small scale corporate engagement to date. First is the same reason that a 21-year-old friend had a substantial amount of money in her checking account and not a higher-yield option: “I didn’t know that there was another option.” Few know about the opportunity of REDD+. It is time to learn.

Second is that when people become aware of forest carbon projects and REDD+ there are concerns around due diligence to ensure that projects will not negatively reflect on corporate investors and indeed will benefit the local communities as well as the surrounding wildlife and biodiversity.

The good news is, with over 20 years of lessons learned, screening protocols and safeguards have been developed and refined, with reputable organizations that can offer corporate buyers confidence in quality — such as the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance. In addition, the number of guidance documents and books on REDD+ describe designing projects to work with both human and ecological communities. This expanding and deepening set of experts and guidance means that REDD+ increasingly is well established. Evidence for this state of play is provided by the Ecosystem Marketplace, which reported that forest carbon finance transactions in 2011 occurred on 18 million hectares across 40 countries.

As corporate decision-makers run scenarios of how growing scrutiny on natural capital and ecosystem services may affect their business and industry in the coming years, it is worth considering early exploratory work that will generate experience with thinking about natural capital impacts as well as investments in green infrastructure. Because, as Peter Drucker wrote in his 1999 book “Management Challenges for the 21st Century,” “One cannot manage change. One can only be ahead of it.”              

Forest carbon and REDD+ offers a way to stay ahead of the curve on understanding a company’s environmental and social impacts (both positive and negative), as well as exploring new ways to avoid, mitigate and offset these impacts. For companies, investing in REDD+ projects can be a trifecta win in the sense that these initiatives:

  • Can serve as another pillar within corporate carbon and climate change initiatives.
  • Provide experience with measuring and investing in natural capital and ecosystem services, as concerns about costs of environmental impacts grow.
  • Offer evidence of corporate investments in the communities in which they do business — through investments in climate adaptability and ecological resilience, as well as jobs — thus feeding into community and stakeholder engagement objectives.

The opportunity of REDD+ is waiting and ready for companies awakening to the problem of natural capital erosion and the need to invest in green infrastructure. Puma and Kering are two of a growing set of companies that are on the trail seeking to show us how to learn from the forest and its local residents — in multiple ways.