Walmart and Biodiversity Conservation (Part 1 of 2): Acres for America


March 30, 2020 BY MARK ASPELIN

“The doubters got on board quickly when they saw that our P & L could benefit while we were doing good work for the environment. A constant theme for us in engaging our associates and stakeholders has been shared value: the need to integrate sustainability into business, not treat it as a separate effort, and to ensure we deliver business value as well as value for the environment and society.”
—Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart

After taking a break from writing blog posts for awhile, I’ve decided to resume writing once again, although I’ll primarily be posting to my Corporationsforbiodiversity.org site.   

I’ll be deviating a bit from the format of my earlier company profiles. Rather than cover every strategy related to biodiversity for each company, I’ll instead focus on just one or two strategies that have the most direct, tangible benefit to biodiversity / wildlife conservation, or strategies that are relatively unique.  I’m hoping that strategy will enable me to get a new post out each week.  Let’s start things off by looking at Walmart’s approach to biodiversity.

With 275 million weekly customers, it’s a safe bet that most of us have been to Walmart at one time or another. Walmart is the largest company in the world, with over US$ 514 billion in total revenue, and a staggering 2.2 million associates spread across 11,300 stores in 27 countries. The Walmart brand includes Walmart Supercenters, Walmart Neighborhood Markets, Sam’s Club (United States, Mexico, Brazil, and China), ASDA (England), and Seiyu (Japan). This behemoth’s supply chain includes over 100,000 suppliers from around the world … no small task to manage. Walmart clearly posts some jaw dropping figures in terms of it’s scale, but how does Walmart stack up in the world of biodiversity conservation?

Pretty darn good! While Walmart neglects to mention the word “biodiversity” in its 2019 Environmental, Social & Governance Report, the Company is doing a lot a great work the directly and indirectly benefits biodiversity. In fact, Walmart has become a leader in many aspects of corporate sustainability. So much so, that I ended up dedicating a whole chapter to Walmart’s conservation efforts in my book Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies that Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity.

In the case of Walmart, it has a variety of robust environmental goals associated with climate change and waste, such as the following:

  • By 2030, work with suppliers to reduce or avoid carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from by 1 gigaton from global value chains.
  • Be powered by 50% renewable sources by 2025.
  • Achieve zero waste to landfill from its own operations in key markets, including the U.S., U.K., Japan and Canada by 2025 in accordance with the Zero Waste International Alliance guidelines.
  • Achieve 100% recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable packaging in all Walmart private-brand products by 2025.

… and the list goes on.

The two goals that I’ll focus on in this post and next week’s post directly aim to address the biodiversity threat of habitat destruction / fragmentation:

  • Conserve 1 acre of land for every acre developed by Walmart stores in the U.S.
  • Achieve zero net deforestation by 2020.

This week’s post will address Walmart’s goal to conserve one acre of land for every acre developed by Walmart stores in the United States. To meet this goal, Walmart has adopted a voluntary compensatory strategy through its Acres for America Program. Here is some background on that Program.

In 2005, Walmart partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to establish the Acres for America program “to conserve lands of national significance, protect critical fish and wildlife habitat, and benefit people and local economies.”

Acres for America supports biodiversity and natural-resource conservation through four program priorities:

  1. Conserve critical habitats for birds, fish, plants, and wildlife.
  2. Connect existing protected lands to unify wild places and protect migration routes.
  3. Provide access for people to enjoy the outdoors.
  4. Support local economies that depend on forestry, ranching, and wildlife.

The results have been impressive. Walmart started with a goal to conserve one acre of wildlife habitat for every acre of land developed by Walmart stores but has achieved closer to a 10:1 ratio of conservation to development.

To provide an example of how Walmart and the NFWF leverage those funds each year, let’s look at how those funds were allocated in 2019. In November of 2019, the Acres for America program awarded $3.6 million in grants, and leveraged an additional $70.2 million in matching contributions, to conserve 70,300 acres in Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Washington, Iowa, and Kansas. The funds were allocated to support the following seven projects:

  • The Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy will permanently conserve a 19,200-acre mountain property (Fisher’s Peak Ranch) located south of Trinidad, Colorado, which will become Colorado’s newest State Park. The property links intact habitat between the Eastern Plains of Colorado and the Western Slopes of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Grant amount $650,000.
  • The Iowa Department of Natural Resources will protect an 834-acre tract of untilled prairie and oak woodland in the Loess Hills of western Iowa just outside Sioux City. This area will become a State Wildlife Area within a 10,000 acre conservation area, ensuring that the grassland and savanna woodland species are properly managed. Grant amount $270,000.
  • Ranchland Trust of Kansas will partner with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, state and local partners to create a perpetual conservation easement on 9,250 acres of grasslands on the Ballet Ranch in the Red Hills ofKansas. The conservation easement will provide suitable habitat for species of concern, such as cave-dwelling bats, lesser prairie-chicken, plains minnow, longnose snake, and numerous grassland-obligate and migratory birds, while sustaining local economic viability as a working cattle ranch. Grant amount $650,000.
  • In eastern New Mexico, the Trust for Public Land will work with the Bureau of Land Management to acquire an 8,914-acre Cañon Ciruela property as an addition to the Sabinoso Wilderness, while will result in over 30,000 acres of protected wilderness. Grant amount $450,000.
  • In New York, the Nature Conservancy will establish a freshwater preserve at Follensby Pond in Adirondack Park, protecting 14,700 acres that are adjacent to the 275,000 acre High Peaks Wilderness Area. Grant amount $650,000.
  • In Oregon, the Trust for Public Land will work with federal, state and local partners to acquire the 7,500-acre Spence Mountain property on the shore of Upper Klamath Lake, providing critical fish and wildlife habitat. Grant amount $435,000.
  • In Washington, the Columbia Land Trust, in partnership with the Yakama Nation and federal and state agencies, will acquire 9,900 acre Mount Adams-Klickitat Canyon Forest in an effort to protect and restore the Wild & Scenic Klickitat River and its watershed. The canyon will connect federal and tribal protected habitat with thousands of acres of state and private conservation lands, providing critical habitat for 36 federally and state-listed wildlife species. Grant amount $500,000.

Walmart’s Acres for America program should not be confused with a traditional biodiversity offset program. Walmart’s voluntary compensatory action approach differs from a formal biodiversity offset in one important way: there’s no link between the actual biodiversity impacts of the company’s development activities and the biodiversity gains from purchasing land for conservation.

In other words, biodiversity offsets take the Walmart “acres-for-acres” conservation approach a step further by formally requiring no net loss of the biodiversity value of the land. Ideally, the goal is to obtain a positive net gain of biodiversity value from the transaction. The downside of biodiversity offsets is that they are more complex and expensive to implement. The costs and resources required to do a biodiversity offset can make traditional philanthropy and “acres-for-acres” conservation approaches more appealing and a better fit with stakeholder expectations, depending on the company, industry, and location.

In the case of Walmart, it’s very likely that the conservation value of the land purchased through the Acres for America program is greater than the conservation value of the land that Walmart is developing for its stores. As a result, the company chooses not to assess the type, scale, or amount of biodiversity lost and gained from each development project and land-conservation purchase. Instead, Walmart simply looks at the overall footprint of land developed for new stores and ensures that the company protects at least that many acres of high value habitat for conservation.

The results tell a compelling story. As of 2019, the Acres for America program has protected nearly 1.5 million acres, bringing it closer to its goal of conserving 2 million acres by 2025, and it has become the leading public-private land conservation partnership in the United States. It’s an effective approach that many other companies could benefit from imitating.

Well that’s all for today. Next week, we’ll look at another effective strategy that Walmart is putting into place that addresses the biodiversity threat of habitat loss: zero net deforestation.

Thanks for reading!

Mark

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth A Reality: Reducing the Threat of Overharvesting

October 29, 2018 By Mark Aspelin

Part 5 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at www.half-earthproject.org/news-notes

———————————————————–October 11, 2018

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth a Reality: Reducing the Threat of Overharvesting

by Mark AspelinPart 5 of a 5-part series

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth a Reality: Reducing the Threat of Overharvesting

October 11, 2018, by Mark Aspelin

Part 5 of a 5-part series

So far in this blog series, we’ve been looked at the role of corporations in addressing three major threats to biodiversity: habitat destruction, invasive species, and pollution. In this fifth and final post, we’ll explore another big biodiversity threat: overharvesting.

“Overharvesting” is a broad term that refers to the harvesting of a renewable resource at a rate that is unsustainable. The term can apply to plants, fish stocks, forests, grazing pastures, and game animals. The motivation behind hunting, fishing, and plant collection may be for food, economic reasons, cultural reasons, or sport. Regardless of the reason, overharvesting implies that changes need to be made to current harvesting practices or else animal and plant populations may not recover. The result can be species extinction at the population or species level, and major ecosystem disturbances due to imbalances in predator–prey relationships.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen many examples of overharvesting over the years—everything from passenger pigeons, tigers, rhinos, and certain species of fish. Let’s look at passenger pigeons as an example.

When famous naturalist and artist John James Audubon was on a trip to St. Louis, Missouri, he noticed a sky that was darkened by a large flock of passenger pigeons flying overhead. He described the flock as having no beginning and no end, and the flock continued as a steady stream for three days. As the story goes, Audubon started to count the number of pigeons that he could see in the sky, but he soon gave up. There were too many to count. Today, it’s quite easy to count how many passenger pigeons are in the sky: zero. They are extinct.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, passenger pigeons were one of the most abundant bird species in the world, with an estimated population of three to five billion birds. That’s twice the number of people on Earth at the time. In only 100 years, passenger pigeons were wiped out of existence, primarily through hunting.

The last verified record of a wild passenger pigeon was in March 1900, when a boy in Pike County, Ohio, shot the bird because it was eating corn at his farm. That left just a few remaining passenger pigeons in a single captive flock at the Cincinnati Zoo. Breeding attempts failed, and the flock dwindled until there was only one left: Martha. A US$ 1,000 reward was offered to anyone who could find a mate for Martha, but none was found. On September 1, 1914, Martha—the last known passenger pigeon—died at the Cincinnati Zoo at the age of 29. Martha’s body is periodically on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and a memorial statue of Martha can be found at the Cincinnati Zoo aviary.

Even if you consider pigeons to be flying rats, the story of the passenger pigeon’s demise still represents a failure of epic proportions when it comes to fulfilling our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment.

In the 1800s, the idea that a species could be hunted to extinction was a foreign concept to most people. Now that we’re in the 2000s, I would like to be able to say that we’ve learned our lesson; unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet. Overharvesting is alive and well. For example, unsustainable fishing practices, such as bottom trawling and blast fishing, are still practiced today, and we’ve seen significant declines in several commercial fish populations, such as Atlantic halibut, to the point where their survival is threatened. Tigers and rhinos have been overhunted, primarily for traditional medicines derived from various parts of these magnificent animals. While it’s illegal to hunt and kill tigers and rhinos, the economic incentive from Asian medicinal markets is so great that the hunting of these endangered animals continues.

Thankfully, we may be rounding the corner for some charismatic animal species, such as the tiger. For the first time in more than a century, the world population of tigers is on the rise. The number of tigers has increased from 3,200 to 3,890 from 2010 to 2016. However, there’s still much work to be done to keep this trend heading in the right direction.

Let’s not forget about plants. Roughly 75% of the top 150 prescription drugs in the United States are based on natural sources, and over 25% of prescribed medicines in developed countries are derived from wild plants. We’ve also seen a multibillion-dollar boom in the herbal market, fueled largely by a desire to find “natural approaches” to medicine. In addition, up to 80% of people in developing countries are totally dependent on herbal drugs for their primary healthcare. When you add all of this up, it’s no surprise that medicinal plants are facing significant overharvesting pressures. Roughly 15,000 species of the 50,000 to 80,000 flowering plant species used for medicinal purposes worldwide are threatened with extinction from overharvesting and habitat destruction.

What Can Corporations Do?

The best way that most companies large and small can help prevent overharvesting is to “green” their supply chain. “Greening the supply chain” adds an environmental lens to traditional supply-chain management practices. Greening the supply chain is also an effective strategy for combating other biodiversity threats, such as habitat destruction and pollution.

Activities to green the supply chain may include a variety of environment-focused actions that guide a company’s interactions with its various suppliers, including:

  • Setting environmental standards that all suppliers must meet.
  • Creating performance goals, metrics, and supplier scorecards that are used to monitor and evaluate supplier performance over time.
  • Establishing a supplier-audit program to verify that suppliers have successfully implemented processes that are effective in reducing environmental impacts.
  • Improving business processes to reduce environmental impacts.
  • Identifying alternative materials that have a smaller environmental footprint.
  • Partnering with government agencies, industry groups, and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to look for new ways to improve environmental performance.

Greening the supply chain is definitely a profitable-conservation strategy—just ask Dell Computer. Dell holds supplier-innovation summits to generate new ideas for improvements across all areas of the supply chain. For example, one supplier-innovation summit generated the idea that it can remove toxic paints from some of its computers and replace it with a much safer film covering.

Another Dell supplier came up with the idea to mix in straw grass with wood-based pulp for some of Dell’s corrugate boxes. Straw grass is a more quickly renewable resource compared to trees. In addition, straw grass is burned as a farming waste product in parts of China. Rather than burn the straw grass, it could be utilized in the corrugate boxes. Because of this suggestion, Dell now uses a mix of 30% straw grass pulp in some of its boxes. Dell’s innovation program has reduced supply-chain costs by roughly US$ 100 million annually for the past two years.

Dell is not alone. In 2013, Walmart announced that it saved US$ 150 million from supply-chain sustainability efforts in that year alone. General Motors established a reusable-container program with its suppliers and was able to reduce disposal costs by US$ 12 million while reducing environmental impacts. Texas Instruments saves about US$ 8 million per year through supply-chain management practices, such as reducing source materials and reducing and reusing packaging.

As you can see from the examples above, greening your supply chain can add real value to your business by cutting costs, driving innovation for new products and processes, improving customer and consumer perception of your company, and helping you meet or exceed environmental regulations and performance targets.

Greening the supply chain isn’t the only strategy that corporations pursue when it comes to preventing overharvesting. Some companies are leveraging their technology to help prevent hunting of endangered wildlife. Let’s look at Cisco Systems as an example.

Cisco Systems has partnered with Dimension Data on a Connected Conservation initiative to track rhino poachers at a game reserve in South Africa. Cisco and Dimension Data are using seismic sensors, drone cameras, thermal imaging, biometric scanning, and networking technology to track the movements of all humans who enter the reserve grounds. Park rangers use these new tools in combination with traditional sniffer dogs and trained soldiers on the ground to catch and deter poachers while minimizing disturbances to the endangered rhinos. The results have been impressive so far. The Connected Conservation initiative has been successful in reducing rhino poaching at the South African reserve by 96%.

In the future, this approach may be leveraged to protect other endangered species throughout the world. The main obstacle that prevents the spread of this technological approach is the US$ 1.5 million-per-year cost of the system. More and more companies are leveraging their products and technologies to develop solutions that directly help in the fight against overharvesting.

Parting Words

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog series highlighting four of the major threats to biodiversity, and the role that businesses play in helping us get to Half-Earth.

Before I sign off, I want to provide you with one last reminder of the upcoming Half-Earth Day event that will be held on October 22, 2018 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This year’s event includes a “Learning from Local Stewards” panel discussion highlighting key learnings from in-country indigenous and local community leaders, as well as a panel called “Half-Earth: How to Save the Natural World” that will be moderated by The New York Timescolumnist Thomas L. Friedman and feature E.O. Wilson and legendary recording artist Paul Simon. To learn more about Half-Earth Day, visit http://www.half-earthproject.org/half-earth-day. It’s going to be a great event.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog series, and I look forward to meeting you at Half-Earth Day!

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth A Reality: Mitigating Pollution and Climate Change

October 15, 2018 By Mark Aspelin

Part 4 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at www.half-earthproject.org/news-notes

———————————————————–October 4, 2018

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth a Reality: Mitigating Pollution and Climate Change

by Mark AspelinPart 4 of a 5-part series

This week, we’ll focus on the role that companies play to address pollution, the third biggest threat to biodiversity. This post will also cover the special form of pollution known as climate change.

“Pollution” refers to the introduction of contaminants, such as chemicals, light, noise, or heat, into the natural environment where they may cause negative changes. For example, herbicides and pesticides cause harm to nontarget species, such as insect pollinators, and pose a risk to human health. The discharge of detergents, fertilizers, and sewage into aquatic systems can cause an excess of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which disrupt ecosystems by causing the overgrowth and decay of plants, algae, and phytoplankton. The result is a severe decline in water quality and the creation of an aquatic environment that promotes the survival of simple algae and plankton over more complicated plants.

Then we have the example of acid rain. The burning of fossil fuels generates air pollutants that can either remain in the air as particle pollutants or fall to the ground in the form of acid rain. The sulfuric- and nitric-acid components of acid rain can lead to the acidification of lakes, streams, and forest soils. Species of fish, amphibians, clams, snails, insects, and plants can have a difficult time surviving in acidic conditions. Fish eggs can’t hatch if the pH of water is too low, and fish species, such as salmon, may abandon their spawning areas. When fewer fish spawn and fewer eggs hatch, it creates fewer food options for predators. Acid rain also harms plants and trees by slowing their growth, damaging their leaves, and making the soil more toxic to plants. The key point is that pollution, in all its forms, can cause serious, widespread harm to wildlife and the ecosystems upon which they depend.

Then we have the special form of pollution known as climate change, caused by the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the environment. The biggest human-caused sources of these “greenhouse gases”—particularly carbon dioxide—are a result of burning fossil fuels and cutting down carbon-absorbing forests.

Increases in temperature can have a massive impact on wildlife. Some habitats may disappear due to rising sea levels, which are caused by the melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets. Temperature changes have an impact on flowering and fruiting times for plants. They also have a significant impact on the habitat ranges that are occupied by animals. Biologists on the ground are witnessing significant shifts in habitat ranges and species composition in different parts of the world. Some species are showing up in areas where they haven’t been seen previously while other species are starting to disappear from areas where they were once abundant. I recently went to a presentation that showed slide after slide of striking shifts in locations where New Mexico birds have been spotted in the state over the past few decades. For species that can survive in a wide variety of habitat patches, climate change may not pose a major threat. However, species that are isolated in just a few habitat patches or are restricted to mountaintops may not be able to rapidly shift their distribution to survive.

What Can Corporations Do?

Fortunately, pollution is one biodiversity threat that corporations of all shapes and sizes are willing to address, at least to some degree. This is largely due to the thousands of pages of environmental regulations with which corporations must comply to ensure that processes and controls are in place for air emissions, wastewater and stormwater discharge, and hazardous-material transport and storage. However, regulatory pressure isn’t the only reason why corporations pay close attention to pollution. Many of the actions that corporations take to prevent pollution also produce significant cost savings. In addition, the approach that corporations need to take to address pollution include processes and ways of thinking that are familiar to them. When you talk about “minimizing waste” and “improving process efficiency,” you’re speaking the language of business. Waste minimization and process efficiency are topics that already get a lot of attention in corporations through a variety of initiatives, such as Lean, Six Sigma, and quality-management systems.

Companies typically adopt one or more of the following five strategies to address the threats of pollution and climate change: pollution prevention, carbon offsets, environmental design, green building, and green infrastructure. Let’s look at each of these strategies in more detail.

Strategy #1: Pollution Prevention. Most corporations have a pollution-prevention program or project in place, often using the well-known “reduce, reuse, and recycle” concept. Many of these pollution-prevention efforts are driven by regulations, following specific guidance from various regulatory agencies. Other pollution-prevention initiatives aim to go beyond compliance, driven by a company’s desire to identify cost-saving opportunities that also reduce pollution. Pollution-prevention activities that yield the greatest value for business and the environment will vary, depending on the company, industry, and location, but they typically include a combination of training programs, energy audits, “green IT” practices, transportation and fleet efficiency efforts, and initiatives to reduce food and beverage waste and unnecessary packaging. For example, Walmart created a tool for apparel buyers and sourcing teams to help them optimize the size of corrugated cardboard shipping cartons. As a result, Walmart was able to reduce the number of boxes shipped by 8.1 million in one year, saving 6.3 million pounds of corrugate, 7,800 metric tons of greenhouse gases, and US$ 15.3 million in operational costs.

Strategy #2: Carbon Offsets. Carbon offsets (also known as “greenhouse-gas offsets”) are a popular tool that corporations use to address climate change, where the company reduces emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases in one area to compensate for emissions that are made elsewhere. This benefits companies by enabling them to meet regulatory requirements at a significantly lower cost compared with the effort and resources required to directly reduce emissions from operations. As for the benefits of carbon offsets to wildlife and biodiversity, the jury is still out.

Strategy #3: Environmental Design. A third powerful corporate strategy for addressing pollution and climate change is to design products, processes, or services in a way that reduces impacts to human health and the environment. This approach is often called Design for the Environment (DfE), and the concept has been around since the early 1990s. Companies like IBM, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Philips use DfE to identify chemical alternatives that are better for the environment without sacrificing product quality or performance. These companies also look for ways to make it safer and easier to reuse or dispose of products at the end of a product’s useful life. For example, HP’s DfE program identified an opportunity to use recycled plastic instead of virgin plastic for most of its ink cartridges. This enabled HP to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 43 million pounds from 2013 to 2015, which is equivalent to taking 4,125 cars off the road for one year.

Strategy #4: Green Building. Green building is a well-known, cost-effective, environmental-management strategy that businesses have adopted with enormous success. Its popularity continues to grow thanks to numerous examples of green buildings that have yielded significant reductions in environmental impacts while providing a substantial return on investment. For example, in 2006, Adobe estimated a net-present-value rate of return of nearly 20:1 for the initial investment in its headquarters towers. The U.S. Green Building Council estimates that commercial building owners and managers will invest US$ 960 billion globally between 2015 and 2023 on greening their existing buildings. The primary areas of focus are expected to include the installation of more energy-efficient windows, lighting, plumbing fixtures, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Strategy #5: Green Infrastructure. Green infrastructure is similar to green building, but it can take some different forms than a building or roof. The term “green infrastructure” is defined differently by various organizations, but it generally refers to natural systems that are managed to address urban challenges, such as stormwater management, climate adaptation, clean water, and healthy soils. For example, Union Carbide Corporation, a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company, constructed a 110-acre wetland in Texas to serve the function of a wastewater-treatment facility. The wetland was 100% compliant from day zero with all discharge requirements. In addition, the constructed wetland has low energy, maintenance, and resource requirements with no need for pumps, additives, an oxygen system, or added water, and there are no biosolids to handle or dispose. Compared with a wastewater treatment plant, the wetland supports greater biodiversity of plants, animals, and micro-organisms. From a cost perspective, the US$ 1.4 million initial investment and operational capital pales in comparison to the US$ 40 million price tag for a gray infrastructure alternative. It’s a good example of a win-win, profitable-conservation project.

I hope this post gives you a better understanding of how companies can mitigate pollution and climate changes in ways that also benefit biodiversity and wildlife, and can help us get to Half-Earth. In next week’s post, we’ll turn our attention to the final biodiversity threat that we’ll be covering in this series: overharvesting.

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth A Reality: Combating Invasive Species

October 1, 2018 By Mark Aspelin

Part 3 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at www.half-earthproject.org/news-notes

———————————————————–September 27, 2018

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth a Reality: Combating Invasive Species

by Mark AspelinPart 3 of a 5-part series

You may be surprised to learn that invasive species rank second only to habitat destruction when it comes to the biggest threats to biodiversity.  In the United States alone, there are an estimated 1,000 invasive species. Some of these species, such as kudzu (pictured above), were brought in the U.S. deliberately, while other species, like the zebra mussel, arrived by accident. Regardless of how they arrive, invasive species can do a lot of ecological and economic damage. The overall economic cost of invasive species in the U.S. is estimated to be around US$ 120 billion per year.

One of the more infamous examples is the zebra mussel, which frequently appears on lists of the worst invasive species. Back in 1988, the zebra mussel hitched a ride in the ballast water of a transatlantic freighter, arriving in Lake St. Clair—a freshwater lake located between Ontario and Michigan. The mussel quickly spread to other watersheds, such as the Great Lakes and the Hudson River, by riding the currents and hitching a ride on anchors, the bottom of boats, and other human-mediated modes of transport. Zebra mussels like to attach to stable objects. Stable objects can take the form of clams and other mussel species, which they can kill by reducing their ability to move, feed, and breed. This is how the zebra mussel wiped out certain species of clams in Lake St. Clair as well as other freshwater mussel species in Ireland. It’s estimated that at least 30 species of freshwater mussel are threatened with extinction because of the zebra mussel. Other stable objects to which zebra mussels like to attach include water-treatment-facility pipes and electricity-generation infrastructure. The mussels grow in thick densities, which can block pipes and clog water intakes. As a result, corporations in these industries spend a great deal of time and money monitoring and removing mussels from their infrastructure, and companies in the shipping industry must manage their ballast water to ensure that invasive species aren’t along for the ride.

When it comes to invasive species, there are three basic strategies that corporations can adopt to manage the issue: prevention processes, early detection and rapid response, and restoration of native habitat.

The best—and most cost-effective—way to manage invasive species is to prevent them from entering in the first place. Of course, that’s easier said than done. To accomplish this, a company will need to implement a systematic process that monitors for high-risk invaders at critical control points such as wooden packing material, horticultural plants, and ship ballast water, as we saw in the zebra mussel example above.

While prevention is our first line of defense, no matter how many regulations or how much money we throw at preventing invasive species, some will continue to arrive. When they do arrive, we’ll want to have a second strategy in place to address this threat: early detection and rapid response (EDRR). The earlier we detect an invasive species, the better chance we have at eradicating before it before it multiplies and spreads, which translates into substantial costs and resources. Companies can participate in an EDRR system using their own staff, or by partnering with local universities, Native Plant Society organizations, and other trained experts to help with a baseline inventory and ongoing monitoring.

For the “rapid response” piece of EDRR, our goal is to eradicate—or at least slow down—the invasive species after we spot it. In some cases, scientists will recommend that a newly introduced species be tolerated and monitored, as the cost of eradication may be too great, and some invasions will recede on their own. In other cases, it’s time to act by using a variety of mechanical, chemical, or biological control techniques. Each of these control techniques has a variety of pros and cons that go beyond the scope of this short post.

The third strategy that corporations can take to combat the issue of invasive species is to restore habitat by removing invasive species and replacing them with native species. This may take the form of landscaping with native plants, planting meadows and gardens that are attractive to pollinators, and building wetlands or artificial ponds that provide water sources for local wildlife.  For example, in Pacheco, Argentina, Volkswagen created an artificial lake near its facility to collect rainwater and provide a habitat for indigenous flora and fauna. This effort provides a natural landscape for the industrial center, and 62 species of birds have been counted at the lake.

For many companies, the value proposition for these three strategies to combat invasive species will come in the form of ecosystem services and more intangible benefits in the forms of employee satisfaction and fostering goodwill with customers, regulators, and the local community. For other companies, the proactive implementation of programs to prevent, detect, and respond to invasive species can yield more tangible cost savings. Let’s take another look at the zebra mussel’s impact on water-treatment and electricity-generating facilities.

In the United Kingdom, Thames Water spends £1 million a year on clearing zebra mussels from its raw water pipes and water-treatment facilities and applying heavy doses of chlorine to deter the mussels, while Anglian Water spends £500,000 a year tackling the problem. In the United States, zebra mussels are estimated to have cost municipalities and power companies over US$ 1.5 billion over the past 25 years. Another study came up with a cost estimate of US$ 267 million for all water-treatment and electricity-generating facilities from 1989 through 2004. These are big numbers. Any prevention, early detection, and rapid-response actions that corporations in those industries successfully implement can yield a significant return on investment.

Coming attractions: In next week’s post, we’ll turn our attention to the biodiversity threats of pollution and climate change. In the meantime, don’t forget to make plans to attend the October 22, 2018 Half-Earth Day event in New York City – it’s going to be a great event!  To learn more about Half-Earth Day, visit http://www.half-earthproject.org/half-earth-day.

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth A Reality: Introduction

September 3, 2018 By Mark Aspelin

Part 1 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at www.half-earthproject.org/news-notes

———————————————————–September 12, 2018

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth a Reality: Introduction

by Mark Aspelin, Part 1 of a 5-part series

When it comes to protecting half of the Earth to conserve biodiversity, we all have a role to play, and corporations are no exception.  In fact, businesses of all shapes and sizes will play a critical role in making Half-Earth a reality.

In this five-part blog series, we’ll explore how corporations can address four of the five major threats to biodiversity, often referred to as HIPPO: habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, and overharvesting. Climate change is part of “H” as it plays a major role in altering and destroying habitats.   I’ll be providing you with some real-world examples of how companies are tackling these issues today.  We’ll also look at how businesses can work with the Half-Earth Project to manage these threats to biodiversity.While the goal of Half-Earth is to protect half the land and sea in order to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity, this does not mean that large tracts of land will be fenced off and protected from human trespass.  As anyone with on-the-ground conservation experience can attest to, conservation measures can’t be separated from human activities and interests.  To be successful, strategies to protect biodiversity must be integrated with strategies that consider economic and social concerns.

The Half-Earth Project is busy working on a variety of initiatives to drive research, provide leadership, and engage people to participate broadly in the goal to conserve half of our planet.  One important initiative that launched in March 2018 and was featured in a NY Times Op-Ed by E.O Wilson, “Mapping Earth’s Species to Identify Conservation Priorities” (https://www.half-earthproject.org/blog-posts/2018/3/5/mapping-earths-species-to-identify-conservation-priorities), is the creation of a cutting-edge biodiversity map that will support data-driven conservation.  As the map takes shape in the coming years, we’ll no doubt discover that a significant chunk of the land that we would like to protect is either privately held or greatly influenced by the operations and purchasing decisions of corporations.  The achievement of Half-Earth will, therefore, include broad stakeholder participation.

My hope is that this blog series will provide you with a glimpse of how we can bridge the gap between the efforts of corporations and biologists to protect our planet’s wildlife, biodiversity, and natural resources.  Fortunately, conservation versus profit is not a zero-sum game where the winner takes all. There are many win-win scenarios, which are good for business (e.g., reduced costs, reduced risk, and increased profits) and good for biodiversity (e.g., healthy species, populations, and ecosystems).

Next week, I’ll be focusing on the biggest threat to biodiversity, habitat destruction, and I’ll share some strategies and examples of how companies can address this issue.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll make plans to attend the October 22, 2018 Half-Earth Day event that will be held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  This year’s event includes a “Learning from Local Stewards” panel discussion highlighting key learnings from in-country indigenous and local community leaders, as well as a panel called “Half-Earth: How to Save the Natural World” that will be moderated by NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman and feature E.O. Wilson and legendary recording artist Paul Simon.  To learn more about Half-Earth Day, visit http://www.half-earthproject.org/half-earth-day.  I hope to see you there!

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Habitat Fragmentation Edge Effects: When Having an Edge is Not a Good Thing

August 6, 2018 By Mark Aspelin

The following is a longer version of an article that was published on GreenBiz on 8/13/18: https://www.greenbiz.com/article/when-it-comes-habitat-having-edge-not-good-thing

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We usually think it’s great when we have an edge, but that’s certainly not the case when we’re talking about habitat fragmentation edge effects and their impact on biodiversity and wildlife.  In this post we’ll explore the topic of edge effects and how it relates to business and biology.

Habitat destruction is the #1 issue that impacts wildlife and biodiversity today.  This fact shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.  When we think of all the roads, power lines, buildings, clearcutting, and other development activities taking place all over the world, we can quickly get a sense of the widespread reality of this issue.

The World Wildlife Fund estimates that forests cover about 31% of the land area on Earth and, for a variety of reasons, we’re losing about 46,000 to 58,000 square miles of forest each year – roughly equivalent to losing 48 football fields every minute.  In the Amazon alone, we’ve lost about 17% of the forest over the past 50 years, mostly due to forest conversion for cattle ranching.  Habitat destruction is clearly a big issue, and it won’t be going away anytime soon.

The term “habitat destruction” can refer to the complete destruction of a habitat or, more commonly, habitat fragmentation, where a large, continuous area of a habitat is divided into two or more fragments.  The primary culprit behind habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation is a change in land use, usually in the form of agriculture, logging, mining, and urban or residential development.  

There are three important conditions that characterize habitat fragmentation: smaller habitat, increased edge effects, and increased isolation.  Today, we’ll focus on the second characteristic – edge effects, which refers to the effect of an abrupt transition between two different, adjoining ecological communities.

We can see examples of edge effects occurring naturally all over the place.  These natural edges, such as the forest and meadow pictured below, can lead to greater biodiversity in the area.

However, the edge effects that I’m focusing on in this post are man-made edges that are created in the middle of an existing natural habitat.  From a business perspective, habitats are commonly fragmented by the construction of roads, power lines, and buildings, or the clearing of land for agriculture and forestry.

In the context of habitat fragmentation, edge effects increase the proportion of habitat edges in relation to the total area.  In other words, any given point within the fragment of land is, on average, closer to an edge.  Why does that matter?  Edges matter because they create changes in the species composition for a given chunk of land.  These species-composition changes found at edges are caused by the following conditions:

  • Edges of a forest have microclimatic changes that impact the types of vegetation that can grow there.  These microclimatic changes include more direct sunlight, higher soil temperatures, differences in humidity and depth of humus, and increased wind exposure and snow loads compared with the interior of a forest.  The seeds of some plant species are sensitive to drying out with increased sun and wind, leading to significant differences in the types of vegetation found at a forest edge compared with the forest interior.  To make matters worse, these species alterations extend into the forest interior.  In some tropical rain forests, vegetation changes have been detected as far as nearly 1,500 feet from the edge.  In the scenario where we have a small fragment of a natural habitat or a narrow corridor of land, the microclimatic changes associated with the edges can permeate throughout the entire piece of a habitat.  The result may be a decrease in the presence of rare and sensitive species, while weedy species and generalist predators may thrive.
  • Edges are suitable for some species but unsuitable for others.  If we build a road through a forest, some plant species will thrive with the extra sunlight, and some bird species will enjoy perches next to these open areas where they can pounce on exposed prey.  “Edge species” such as deer and elk like forest edges because they can find food in open areas and take cover in the forest.  Other species of animals will actively shy away from areas of increased sunlight and exposure, moving further into the interior habitat where the characteristics of land remain unchanged.  For example, spotted owls (pictured below) prefer old-growth, mature forests with a lot of canopy and few edges.  When we push these species into the now-smaller interior habitat, we are likely to see increased competition for limited resources.
  • Edge-tolerant species are often generalist predators and exotic species that outcompete native species and habitat specialists.  Examples of edge-loving species include brown-headed cowbirds, crows, raccoons, and opossums.  These species thrive in an edge habitat and act as nest predators and cavity competitors of interior species, which can decrease the populations of forest songbirds, ground-nesting birds, reptiles, and amphibians in the remaining habitat fragments.
  • Edges become areas with increased noise, light, pollution, human recreation, and roadkill.  The increased noise, light, and human activity may cause some species to move further inland, away from habitat edges. Traffic on adjacent roads can cause pollution in the form of nitrogen deposition, and the increase in noise and light can deter or disorient animals.  Roadkill continues to be a significant source of wildlife mortality with several million collisions per year reported worldwide.  In one study in Saguaro National Park on the United States–Mexico border, an estimated 30,000 animals were killed by vehicles annually.  This included a variety of reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals, such as the mountain lion pictured below at Saguaro National Park.

Business Strategies for Managing Edge Effects

To address the issue of edge effects, corporations typically use one or more of the following four strategies:

Avoidance: The first—and best—strategy that companies can adopt to address edge effects is a simple one: Avoid the construction of buildings, roads, trails, power lines, pipelines, etc. in areas with high-quality habitat for species that are classified as endangered, threatened, or vulnerable to extinction.  This avoidance strategy may also be extended to a high-quality habitat for species that are classified as “species of concern,” depending on the health of the populations of those species as well as the degree and types of potential impacts.  To identify these “avoidance zones,” you’ll need to conduct a biodiversity assessment to collect data about the species that are in the areas where you hope to develop or operate.  

Minimization: For land that is not categorized as an avoidance zone, corporations shift their attention towards minimization strategies that reduce the duration, intensity, and extent of their impacts for biodiversity and wildlife.  For example, some oil and gas corporations take steps to reduce the width of land cleared for the construction of a pipeline or road.  In another example, the State Grid Corporation of China implemented an “Electricity Caravan” concept to minimize environmental impacts in a fragile plateau environment in the area of Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve (pictured below), known as “the water tower of China”.  This project between Golog and the main grid of Qinghai needed to adhere to strict environmental and water protection requirements.  To do this, workers from SGCC Qinghai Electric Power Company didn’t build any roads or bridges, but used horse caravans known as “Electricity Caravans” to transport the material and facilities needed for the project.  This alternate mode for transporting materials also served to reduce edge effects compared with the normal practice of building a road or bridge.

Rehabilitation and Restoration: In situations where avoidance and minimization are not practical or feasible, companies may turn to a third strategy: rehabilitation and restoration.  With this strategy, a company attempts to rehabilitate degraded ecosystems or restore cleared ecosystems in areas that have previously been cleared, developed, or neglected.  In another example from China, The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) pursued an ecological restoration effort as part of its Western Pipeline project.  As soon as the new pipes were laid down and buried, CNPC planted vegetation in an attempt to restore the original landscape.  In addition, CNPC adopted a higher design grade, increased the pipeline burial depth, enhanced the anti-corrosion grade of the pipes, and installed cut-off valves to prevent oil leakage in the event of any accidents.  Since the project was launched in 2004, CNPC has followed up with monitoring and remediation measures on an annual basis to ensure that the restoration effort is a success.

Biodiversity Offsets and Voluntary Compensatory Actions: If avoidance, minimization, and restoration strategies aren’t a viable option, then companies may turn to a fourth strategy: biodiversity offsets and voluntary compensatory actions.  The concept of a biodiversity offset is relatively simple. A company has a proposed project that will result in negative impacts to biodiversity at the target site.  To offset that loss, the company enters an agreement to protect biodiversity at another site.  The result is no net loss of biodiversity or, preferably, a net gain of biodiversity from the perspective of species composition, habitat structure, ecosystem function, and cultural values of biodiversity.  Biodiversity offsets differ from philanthropic donations and other compensatory actions by linking the offset to the biodiversity impacts of a specific project.  With voluntary compensatory actions, there is no formal link between the actual biodiversity impacts of the company’s development activities and the biodiversity gains from purchasing land for conservation.

Are these strategies “profitable conservation” strategies?

The short answer is, it depends.  From a business perspective, the business case is not always attractive.  In some industries, businesses are encouraged, and sometimes required, to implement these strategies in order to obtain permission to operate in certain areas.  The permission to operate in these areas can lead to huge financial gains.  In other cases, these approaches have fewer tangible benefits to the bottom line, but they can be effective risk-management strategies that are well received by regulators, customers, employees, and the local community.

From a biodiversity and wildlife perspective, anything that we can do to minimize impacts to the habitat they depend upon is a good thing.  However, the reality is that the cumulative impact of development projects is taking a toll on the health of wildlife populations throughout the world.

Parting words and coming attractions

Well there you have it!  I hope this post gives you a better idea about the topic of edge effects, why it matters from a biodiversity perspective, and the steps that businesses can take to minimize edge effects during planning and construction activities.

Next week, we’re off to The Netherlands, where we’ll be looking at oil and gas giant, Royal Dutch Shell, and it’s profitable conservation strategies that are good for business, biodiversity, and wildlife.

Thanks for reading!

Mark

New Book Launch! Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies that Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity

July 23, 2018 By Mark Aspelin

After chipping away on it for just under two years, I’m happy to announce that I just published a new book!  It’s called Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies That Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity.

I focus on a key idea that I call “profitable conservation,” meaning any action that benefits wildlife, biodiversity, and business.  A long list of actions may meet that criteria; however, as the late, great, personal development guru Jim Rohn used to say, “There are always a half-dozen things that make 80% of the difference” for any area of life.  In this book, I share the half-dozen things that businesses can do that make 80% of the difference when it comes to benefiting wildlife, biodiversity, and the bottom line.

This book tackles, head-on, the big question with which corporate managers all over the world typically struggle: “What environmental investments are worth pursuing for my organization?”

Of course, the answer to this question is the ever-popular, “It depends.”

The answer depends on a variety of factors including company strategy, pressure from customers and competitors, and the regulatory environment. To help you answer this question for your organization, the book includes success stories from a variety of corporations and industries and discusses the key factors that you should consider in determining if a strategy is a good fit for your business.

While biodiversity and wildlife conservation may not be a top-of-mind priority for many companies today, it will become more and more of a concern in the years to come. Biologists are alerting us to the fact that we’re experiencing major losses of wildlife habitat and biodiversity throughout the world, and they’re taking steps to minimize the damage. Corporations, on the other hand, are expanding operations and hoping to grow. It’s just a matter of time before the actions of corporations and biologists collide. Corporations will face increasing stakeholder scrutiny and pressure to do their part to protect our planet’s biodiversity and wildlife. This is already happening in some industries, and this trend will continue to increase as we witness the extinction of more and more species.

Corporations play a critical role in biodiversity conservation. After all, they own a significant chunk of the land throughout the world, and their operations and purchasing decisions have direct and indirect impacts on our planet’s biodiversity and limited natural resources.

Fortunately, conservation versus profit is not a zero-sum game where the winner takes all. There are many win-win scenarios, which are good for business (e.g., reduced costs, reduced risk, and increased profits) and good for biodiversity (e.g., healthy species, populations, and ecosystems).

As someone who’s been in the trenches, implementing corporate-sustainability and conservation-biology programs and projects, I provide a clear action plan on what corporations can do to help protect biodiversity and wildlife as well as guidance on how you can implement those strategies in your organization.

My goal for this book is to have you walk away with a few ideas that you’ll experiment in your organization or your own life – if that happens, then I’ll consider this book to be a fantastic success!

To purchase the book, please click here to be taken to the book page on Amazon.com.

Coming attractions

For our next post, we’ll focus on a topic where having an edge isn’t a good thing: Edge effects, and how it relates to business and biodiversity.

Thanks for reading!

Mark

State Grid Corporation of China’s Profitable Conservation Strategies for Biodiversity and Wildlife Conservation

June 11, 2018 By Mark Aspelin

As you can imagine, the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) is huge. After all, the company’s 1.72 million employees construct and operate power grids that supply energy to over 1.1 billion people, covering 88% of China. SGCC also owns and operates grids in outside of China, in countries such as the Philippines, Brazil, Portugal, Australia, and Italy. Not surprisingly, this makes SGCC the largest electric utility in the world, and places the company at #2 on the 2018 Fortune Global 500 list.

In reading through SGCC’s 2015 and 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Reports (the 2017 CSR Report was published in February 2018 but is not available on the SGCC website) and “White Paper on Green Development”, it quickly becomes clear that SGCC’s primary focus from an environmental perspective is on Global Energy Interconnection (GEI), which includes the use of ultra-high-voltage (UHV) electricity transmission, smart grid technologies, and the conversion to clean energy. The reasons for this approach are both practical and strategic. China’s energy resources are located far from the major population centers. For example, most of China’s abundant coal resources are located in the northwest, and its hydropower resources are located in the west, but most of the demand is in eastern and southern China. Ultra-high-voltage electricity transmission enables SGCC to reduce transmission losses to an acceptable level as the electricity is delivered to where it’s needed.

UHV grids also enable SGCC to build new, cleaner, more-efficient power generation plants that are based on wind, solar, and nuclear energy, and then deliver that electricity across long distances to major population centers. And when SGCC says “global energy interconnection” they aren’t kidding. SGCC intends to connect large energy bases and distributed generation at the North Pole (wind) and the Equator (solar) and deliver the energy to customers across the world. As SGCC Chairman Liu Zhenya puts it, “Global energy interconnection can connect power grids in different continents with time zone and seasonal differences to solve energy and environmental problems that have been bothering human development for a long time, ensuring safe, clean and sustainable energy supply. Life will be better as the world is turning into a bright, peaceful and harmonious global village with sufficient energy, green land and blue sky.”

With the help of Global Energy Interconnection, SGCC anticipates that global clean electricity generation will account for 80% of total primary energy by 2050, reaching 66,000TWh, which represents a nearly ten-fold increase from 2010.  This will replace 24 billion tons of standard coal every year, reducing CO2 emissions by 67 billion tons and SO2 by 580 million tons.

When it comes to biodiversity and wildlife conservation,  SGCC focuses on the link between climate change and biodiversity with the following quote from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, along with a photo of a polar bear: “If global temperature rises by 1.5 ~ 2.5 ℃, 20% ~ 30% of the assessed species could face extinction. If the temperature rises by over 3.5 ℃, 40% ~ 70% of the assessed species may become extinct. (“IPCC Second Assessment”, 1995).”  SGCC also points out that a large number of species are facing extinction risk due to the slow rise of sea levels that can be attributed to the receding and melting of glaciers and permafrost.

Let’s take a quick tour of the SGCC’s efforts to address the following four major threats to biodiversity: habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, and overharvesting.  Even though climate change poses a major threat to habitats, I generally put corporate climate change activities under the Pollution section, since the actions that companies take usually come in the form of pollution prevention initiatives.

Habitat Destruction

Reduce Land Use: SGCC has a goal to reduce land use by 10% and to reduce construction areas by 20%. To accomplish this, SGCC uses several different strategies, which are illustrated by the following success stories.

  • In North China Grid Company’s ”11th Five-year Plan”, 50,225,100 square meters of land has been spared by applying compact lines and multi-circuits on the same tower, 533,600 square meters of land were saved by utilizing GIS and HGIS, and 3335 square meters of land was saved by promoting large capacity transformer technology.
  • SGCC implemented an “Electricity Caravan” concept to minimize environmental impacts in a fragile plateau environment in the area of Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve (pictured below), known as “the water tower of China”. This project between Golog and the main grid of Qinghai needed to adhere to strict environmental and water protection requirements. To do this, workers from SGCC Qinghai Electric Power Company didn’t build any roads or bridges, but used horse caravans known as “Electricity Caravan” to transport the material and facilities needed for the project.
Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve

  • The Fujian Baihua-Bili 220kV Transmission Project includes 2-circuit 220kV and 4-circuit 110kV lines. “The project performs remarkably with less land occupation and less consumption of materials and resources, reducing the crossover of 25 civil buildings, 114,724 square meters of land occupation, over 120m of corridor width, and 13% of steel consumption, on the other hand, increasing the unit corridor transmission capacity by 235%, thus bringing down the total investment of RMB 5.32 million.”
  • SGCC estimates that it reduces the amount of land needed by 25% – 50% by using EHV AC lines rather than transporting coal by railroad and sea.

Charitable Giving and Volunteer Efforts: In 2015, SGCC gave 128 Million RMB (~$19 Million US Dollars) in public donations, provided 15 Million RMB (~2.2 Million US Dollars) via the State Grid Foundation for Public Welfare, and staff provided 2 million hours of volunteer work to support various efforts, such as poverty alleviation and scholarship funds. In addition, 2.8 million employees have participated in 1,365 tree planting activities, resulting in the planting of 677,811 trees over a period of 5 years.

Invasive Species

There is no mention of any efforts to address invasive species in SGCC’s various reports and website.

Pollution

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: The primary effort that SGCC is focused on from a biodiversity and wildlife conservation perspective is to reduce its contribution to climate change through the development of a strong and smart grid.  SGCC is actively pursuing the use of clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels, such as wind, hydropower, solar, and nuclear energy. In addition SGCC has actively supported the development of electric automobiles by building 1,537 charging stations, 29,600 charging piles, and a quick charge network that covers 81 cities and 11,000 kilometers of highways. In rural parts of China, SGCC is also partners with the government to implement projects that substitute electricity for coal, oil, and firewood.

Pollution Control: SGCC’s primary pollution control efforts come through its reduction of greenhouse gases. For example, one of its pollution control strategies is focused on recollecting sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). SGCC established SF6 gas recollection and treatment center at a provincial level to strengthen the regulation on the recollection, treatment, and recycling of air, which contributes to the reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases. In 2015, these provincial centers recollected and treated 47.1 tons of SF6 gas, which is equivalent to a reduction of 1.126 million tons of CO2 emissions.

Training: SGCC organizes a variety of environmental protection training activities. “In 2015, the company organized 112 training courses on environmental protection with 4,550 participants, and organized more than 180 activities concerning the development of grid, energy conservation, and emission reduction.”

Overharvesting

Overharvesting and overhunting threats to biodiversity are not addressed in SGCC’s website or reports.

Profitable Conservation

The CSRs and White Paper do not provide much in the way of return on investment data for the company’s environmental efforts. Nearly all of the RMB figures in the two reports specify how much the company has invested, rather than return on investment. For example, SGCC reports the following environmental investments:

  • Total investment in environmental protection: RMB 5.72 billion
  • Investment in environmental protection for construction projects: RMB 5.32 billion
  • Investment in environmental protection during grid operation: RMB 230 million
  • Investment in environmental research and special areas: RMB 170 million
  • Investment in environmental protection management: RMB 120 million
  • Investment in environmental protection governance: RMB 93 million
  • Cost of environmental protection facilities’ operation and maintenance: RMB 15 million

We can compare SGCC’s clean energy capacity figures with the company’s overall revenues, as summarized below, to give us a rough idea of what priorities SGCC is focused on in the world of clean energy, with the assumption that these efforts must be profitable in some way or else SGCC would not pursue these options.

Energy Source (Integrated Capacity in GW)

  • Nuclear Power: 6.4 GW in 2011, 17.02 GW in 2015
  • Hydropower: 156.17 GW in 2011, 207.82 GW in 2015
  • Solar (Photovoltaic) Power: 2,320 GW in 2011, 44,465 GW in 2015
  • Wind Power: 35,190 GW in 2011, 116,640 GW in 2015

Total Revenues (Billion RMB)

  • Total Revenues 2011: 1675.4
  • Total Revenues 2015: 2075.0

SGCC does provide some return on investment data for the following efforts:

  • Jinyun, Zhejiang In Jianchuan County, Xinjian Town, implement pilot projects of distributed PV (solar) generation for 60 low-income families. These projects earned over 2,000 RMB per household every year, and most of the farmers were able to get out of poverty.
  • The Fujian Baihua – Bili 220kV Transmission Project includes 2-circuit 220 kV and 4-circuit 110kV lines. The project performs remarkably with less land occupation and less consumption of materials and resources, reducing the crossover of 25 civil buildings, 114,724 square meters of land occupation, over 120m of corridor width, and 13% of steel consumption, on the other hand, increasing the unit corridor transmission capacity by 235%, thus bringing down the total investment of RMB 5.32 million.

Biodiversity & Wildlife Conservation Performance Assessment

SGCC has adopted climate change as its key issue of concern.  This shouldn’t come as a big surprise given that SGCC is in the electric power industry, coupled with the fact that China has an abundance of dirty coal and a shortage of electricity.  China needs to look at alternative energy options in order to make progress on its commitment to achieve a 40-45% reduction in CO2 emissions per unit of gross domestic product from by 2020, using the year 2005 as a baseline.  To its credit, SGCC is aggressively pursuing alternative energy and smart grid technologies to help achieve that objective.

I was also happy to see SGCC’s goal to reduce land use by 10% and to reduce construction areas by 20%.  However, SGCC’s CSRs and White Paper are relatively weak when it comes to discussing the company’s direct impact on biodiversity and wildlife. With 889,900 km of transmission lines in China alone, SGCC’s operations certainly have a significant, direct impact on biodiversity and wildlife.  As the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service points out on its website:

“Transmission lines and other linear developments like pipelines, roads and trails, can increase human access into natural areas, displace wildlife from their habitat, act as barriers to wildlife movement and affect migration routes. They have the potential to impact sensitive ecosystems such as wetlands, impact high quality fishery resources when waterways are crossed, and create pathways for the spread of invasive species.  Operation and maintenance of transmission line right-of-ways (ROWs) may also result in environmental impacts. ROW maintenance often involves the chemical or mechanical control of vegetation that can contribute to the loss of native plant species diversity.  Cleared ROWs may be a continuous source of sedimentation into waterways.  In addition to these potential impacts, transmission lines can pose collision and electrocution risks to migratory birds.”  

In addition to transmission line corridors, the utilities industry also has the potential for significant biodiversity and wildlife impacts through extensive water use and the siting of new infrastructure.  Any company with such a large ecological footprint and direct impact on wildlife should have more to say on the topics of biodiversity and wildlife conservation.  This is an opportunity for SGCC to consider in future CSRs.

However, based on SGCC’s stakeholder and customer analyses, where the company plots environmental topics on a graph with a value creation dimension (relevance, importance, and feasibility) on the x axis and a social concern dimension on the y axis, biodiversity is not even on the list of contenders.  The top environmental issues that were identified include governing air pollution, combatting climate change, constructing electric vehicle (EV) charging facilities, and improving energy efficiency.  In addition, a major reporting standard, the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), considers biodiversity to be “not likely a material issue” for companies in the utilities industry, although SGCC uses the GRI reporting standard for its CSR.  These factors may explain why SGCC chooses not to cover biodiversity and wildlife conservation in more detail in its various communications.

SGCC was the first state-owned enterprise in China to issue a Corporate Social Responsibility Report (in March of 2006), and I applaud SGCC’s efforts to share its environmental performance in its CSRs and White Paper.  I hope to read more about SGCC’s progress in its efforts to protect wildlife and biodiversity in the years to come.

Coming Attractions

For our next company, we won’t have to journey far.  We’re just headed down the street in Beijing to learn about Sinopec, #3 on the list of the Global 500.  We’ll explore what Sinopec is doing in the areas of biodiversity and wildlife conservation.  Zàijiàn!

Thanks for reading!
Mark

Welcome to Profitable Conservation!

Helping businesses engage in biodiversity and wildlife conservation in ways that are profitable for their business

Welcome to Profitable Conservation!  In this blog, I’ll bring business and biodiversity together by sharing best practices in “Profitable Conservation” – a term that I used to describe actions that are profitable from the perspectives of business, biodiversity, and wildlife.  I’ll be covering a wide variety of biodiversity-related topics, with a focus on the role that businesses can play in protecting our planet’s wildlife and biodiversity.

Many corporate environmental managers struggle with the question “What environmental investments are worth pursuing for MY organization.”  Of course the answer to that question is the ever popular, “it depends.”  It depends on a variety of factors such as the company strategy, pressure from customers and competitors, the regulatory environment, and so on.  To help you answer that question for your organization, we’ll look at a wide variety of corporations and industries and highlight best practices that have resulted in significant, positive, and quantifiable results for biodiversity, wildlife, and the bottom line.

This blog is intended for a broad audience within the narrow niche.  You may be a corporate manager who is responsible for implementing sustainability initiatives, or you may be a member of a non-profit organization, government agency, or academic institution that is interested in partnering with corporations to support your efforts to protect wildlife and biodiversity.  The ideas that I’ll share will be useful no matter what side of the fence you’re on.  My hope is that you’ll find a few ideas to experiment with in your own organization.

The tension between corporate expansion and biodiversity conservation will become bigger and bigger in the years to come.  After all, corporations own a significant chunk of the land throughout the world, their operations and purchasing decisions have a direct impact on our planet’s biodiversity and natural resources, and corporations benefit from many of the services provided, free of charge, by healthy ecosystems.  In the meantime, we’re facing the prospect of major losses to biodiversity and wildlife throughout the world.  It’s just a matter of time before corporations face significant stakeholder pressure to be do their part to conserve biodiversity and wildlife.

While most companies want to be responsible corporate citizens, they want to do it in ways that will yield positive impacts for society, the environment, AND the bottom line.  Corporations typically treat environmental problems as business issues, with the expectation that environmental investments will yield positive returns or reduce risk for the organization.  So my goal is to speak the languages of both business and science in my articles, and present the business case for a wide variety of initiatives that benefit business, biodiversity, and wildlife.  I’ll do this through the following methods:

  1. Sharing best practices that companies have implemented in a wide variety of industries and countries to protect wildlife and biodiversity.
  2. Summarizing the latest scientific research on biodiversity-related topics that are actionable and relevant to corporations.
  3. Providing company case studies that include details on how the featured company tackles the issue of biodiversity and wildlife conservation, which will include any available return on investment data that are available.
  4. Conducting interviews with business managers, biodiversity thought-leaders, and conservation professionals from a wide variety of organizations to highlight future trends that you can expect to see in biodiversity and wildlife conservation.

Before we get started, I suppose we should start with a few housekeeping issues.  For starters, how do we define the term “biodiversity”, and who the heck is writing this blog?

How we define “Biodiversity”

Biodiversity simply refers to the variety of life in the world or in a specific habitat or ecosystem.  The most common unit of measurement for biodiversity is the species, and there are a lot of them.  So far we’ve identified over 2 million species on Earth, a number that is conservatively estimated to represent about 20% of all species on our planet.  In other words, the Earth really is a little known planet.  At the rate we’re going, it’s estimated that we won’t complete the global census of biodiversity until we’re well into the twenty-third century.  Of course if we ramp up our efforts, then we may be able to complete the census by the end of this century.

But identifying species is just the beginning.  Each species plays a particular role in its habitat, and there are many species interdependencies in any given habitat.  Given that we don’t even know 80% of the species on the planet, it’s safe to say that we’re in our infancy when it comes to understanding and mapping the complex species interactions that make up healthy, functioning ecosystems.  This is one reason why many conservationists prefer the approach of protecting large chunks of land as preserves, rather than tinker with ecosystem dynamics that we don’t fully understand.

While there may be plenty of disagreement on the best way to manage land, when it comes to identifying the biggest threats to biodiversity on this planet, biologists are generally in agreement.  Biologists use the acronym HIPPO to list, in order, the biggest threats to biodiversity:

  1. Habitat destruction (this includes climate change)
  2. Invasive species
  3. Pollution
  4. Population growth
  5. Over-harvesting / Over-hunting

The impact that most corporations have on biodiversity is concentrated in the areas of habitat destruction and pollution, although some companies also play a significant role in over-harvesting and invasive species.  As for population growth, I don’t think many companies will be touching that hot potato anytime soon so it’s not something that we’ll be covering in this blog.

Putting on our conservation biology hat, the best things that we can do to protect biodiversity on this planet include the following ambitious goals

Goal #1: Set aside about half of the earth’s surface (this includes oceans) as a natural reserve, undisturbed by man, following the guidance of renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson.  This would involve protecting large tracts of land in places like the Amazon region, the Congo Basin, and New Guinea, as well as stringing together patches of land in the industrialized world with wildlife corridors and restored habitat, and protecting large amounts of marine waters.  As of 2015, every sovereign nation in the world has some kind of protected-area system in place.  There are a roughly 161,000 reserves on land and 6,500 reserves over marine waters, representing approximately 15% of the Earth’s land area and 2.8% of the Earth’s ocean area.  We have a long way to go, but the protected-area coverage trend is moving in the right direction – it is increasing gradually.

Goal #2: Be good stewards of the land outside of natural reserves.  For corporations, this includes goals such as zero carbon emissions, zero waste, 100% renewable energy use, planting/protecting native vegetation, and eliminating invasive species

I told you these goals were ambitious!  But they aren’t as far out of reach as you might think.  Plus these goals give us a clear vision of our desired destination from a biodiversity perspective.  Of course we also have competing social and economic perspectives to consider, but why not strive for the ideal … you like a challenge right?  Let’s get busy figuring out how to get there.  Some companies are already well on their way, as you’ll see in future posts.

Who is the author of this Blog?

That would be me, Mark Aspelin.  I’m the author of a book called “Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies that Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity”.  I’ve spent the past 20 years working on a wide variety of projects in the areas of Corporate Sustainability, Conservation Biology, Environmental Planning, IT, Process Improvement, and Business Intelligence & Analytics.  This has included work experience in a wide variety of organizations and industries … places like The Coca-Cola Company (Environmental Programs Manager), The Nature Conservancy (Conservation Biologist), The International Crane Foundation (Aviculturist and Conservation Biologist), Intel Corporation (Business Process Reengineering Specialist), Fidelity Investments (Senior Operations Project Manager), KPMG (Consultant – Environmental Management Practice), Sandia National Laboratories (Senior Project Manager – Environmental Planning and International Security), DaVita Medical Group (IT Project Manager), Molina Healthcare (Senior Project Manager), Optum (Senior Program/Project Manager), and environmental consulting work with transportation planning and environmental management consulting firms.

As for my educational background, I have a B.S. in Biology from The University of Notre Dame, M.S. in Biology from Creighton University, and an MBA with concentrations in Natural Resource & Environmental Management and Operations Management from The University of Texas at Austin.  I’m also a Certified Project Management Professional (since 2005) and I received certification in Corporate Sustainability Reporting from GRI in 2012.

I’ve also traveled … a lot.  So far I’ve been to 100 countries and all 50 U.S. States, many of them on business.

In other words, I’ve been around the block a few times in the world of biodiversity conservation and corporate sustainability and I hope that you’ll find that I have a few ideas and insights that prove to be useful for your own organization.

Coming attractions

Whew!  Now that we have our introductions out of the way, let’s dive into the world of Profitable Conservation.  I think you’ll discover a few surprises and valuable ideas along our journey.

If you have topics that you would like to see me cover in the future, feel free to contact me at mark@profitableconservation.com.

Thanks for reading!

Mark