Sustainability teams need forestry experts

Friday 1 Oct 2021

Soon after a tech company announced its ambition to become carbon neutral, a senior executive from its sustainability department called one of us for advice on developing and implementing a well-rounded nature-based solutions strategy.

In their own words, "… we see a lot of corporations handwaving at nature-based solutions, but we want to develop a truly impactful and robust nature-based solutions strategy. Unfortunately, however, we do not have in-house expertise in our sustainability team who can craft novel and effective initiatives."

Of course, these remarks come from a single company, but this lack of nature-based solutions expertise is not unique; it is a pervasive phenomenon. Unless it is a natural resource sector company (forestry and agriculture sector companies), the likelihood of in-house expertise in nature-based solutions is indeed slim.

Nature-based solutions harness the power of functional ecosystems to mitigate climate change. Sustainability efforts of companies in natural resource sectors, agriculture and forestry, are inherently tied to nature-based solutions.

For example, commonly adopted sustainability practices of forestry and food companies such as selective harvesting, growing native species, minimizing soil disturbance and promoting regenerative agriculture are all nature-based solutions. These ecologically responsible forest and agricultural practices provide twin benefits: They reduce CO2 emissions associated with agriculture and forestry operations and enhance the capacity of soils and forest ecosystems to store CO2.

Notably, these nature-based sustainability practices are tied to the core operations of natural resource companies. So, these companies often have nature-based solutions experts who can carefully craft effective projects.

For companies outside natural resource sectors — be it a tech company, an automobile manufacturer, a drugmaker — the situation is quite different. Nature-based initiatives are not tied to their core operations. So, even when they adopt such initiatives to bolster their sustainability efforts, they typically take a minimalistic approach.

This often results in an arm’s length engagement, that is, purchasing carbon credits from a seller on the offset market. At best, this passive approach precludes companies from harnessing the full potential of nature-based solutions, and at worst it can have negative ramifications. We feel that companies must take the following three steps for a fuller and deeper engagement with nature-based solutions.

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