By Susan Fernandes
When the U.S. signaled its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change last month, the news was disappointing. But within days, that news was followed by some promising and significant developments: coalitions formed among a cross-section of unusual allies dedicated to climate progress. Business, civil society, academic, and government leaders at the local and state levels joined together and pledged to work to achieve the U.S. national commitments made in advance of COP21.
These groups understand that climate action is really an opportunity to innovate—which will not only advance progress on the biggest environmental issue of our time, it will deliver real, sustainable value to the U.S. economy and the American people.
These coalitions are building on momentum that has been growing over the past several years, in large part because of leadership from business.
Global companies understand they must adhere to the rules and approaches of all countries, including those with strong commitments to carbon reduction. Business leaders are planning for the effects of climate change on their operations, employees, and customers—effects that include extreme weather, drought, flooding, rising sea levels, health impacts, and disruptions to business operations and supply chains. Moreover, these companies know that most of their stakeholders—investors, customers, shareholders, and business partners—don’t just demand action, they expect it.
But to move further, faster, companies are looking for solutions that are collaborative, innovative, and deliver a meaningful ROI. They want to join groups that are acting beyond the four walls of business operations to make a true social impact. They want to leverage new technologies and ambitious visions that will leapfrog progress. And they want a guarantee that the investments they are making in climate change deliver real results.
Now is the moment for business to lead. But to do so, companies need solutions that are collaborative, innovative, and measurable. And given the urgency of the challenge, they need solutions they can act on now.
Over the past 25 years, my organization, the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD) has mobilized collaborative “boots on the ground” solutions that provide businesses with practical, innovative platforms to design, implement, and scale sustainability solutions.
In 2016, we formed a strategic alliance with Restore the Earth Foundation that gives business a collaborative opportunity to invest in an innovative solution creating measureable progress on climate change—and much more. Through landscape scale restoration, large tracts of land are restored to healthy ecosystems: enhancing habitat, biodiversity, and communities in self-sustaining systems.
That solution? A Collaborative Fund leveraging private and public dollars to restore one million acres in the Mississippi River Basin, “North America’s Amazon,” which will reduce the U.S. climate footprint by two percent while generating $12 billion in shared environmental, economic, and social value.
Innovation: The One Million Acre Opportunity
When it comes to climate change, landscape-scale restoration is so important that it is enshrined in Article 5.1 of the final Paris Agreement. Last year, Restore the Earth Foundation and the US BCSD joined in breaking ground on a bold new vision to address climate change by restoring one million acres of degraded land in the lower part of the Mississippi River Basin. This initiative will not only help the U.S. meet its national climate targets, it will also protect people and economic infrastructure along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast from the threat of increasingly harsh storms and weather events such as last year’s unprecedented floods in Louisiana.
Restoring one million acres in North America’s Amazon has the added value of reducing the nutrient-fed, oxygen-free “dead zone” at the mouth of the Mississippi River by up to 12 percent. The Louisiana legislature recognized the importance of the nutrient overloading challenge in June 2017 by passing breakthrough legislation that opens the door to multi-state nutrient trading.
Collaboration: A Private-Public Partnership
When it comes to climate progress, large-scale collaboration is the way of the future. The Collaborative Fund has gathered allies from diverse industries who are coming together around a common goal that benefits all.
The companies that have joined our fund—including Shell, Entergy, CITGO, VMware, and ERM—are attracted because of the opportunity to make an exponential difference regardless of their size.
We have created a fund that allows companies to contribute at a level that suits their business and sustainability goals and still makes an impact. The Collaborative Fund maximizes each investment by using private dollars to unlock public funds—allowing us to restore more than three times the number of acres per dollar than could be accomplished by a conventional philanthropic model.
Regardless of why individual businesses join the Collaborative Fund—whether they want to protect land or industrial operations in their state, or because they want to deliver on commitments to reduce their company’s climate, water, or ecosystem impacts—each investment is maximized the same way. The visionary organizations that have joined the Collaborative Fund recognize that it takes multiple partners to do something that has significant impact.
Investment Returns in Environmental, Social, and Economic Value
The final ingredient business needs in their desire to invest in a climate solution is a proven ROI and social ROI (SROI), which is something our alliance with Restore the Earth delivers.
As noted above, landscape-scale restoration results in tremendous environmental, social, and economic value because it strengthens the performance of entire ecosystems. To address the business need to account for this ROI and SROI, Restore the Earth developed its EcoMetrics™ Model, which uses in-depth analytics to measure the value for each environmental, social, and economic outcome produced by ecosystem restoration. Fund investors receive reports on those outcomes in monetary terms, fully documented, third-party verified, and ready for audit.
Restore the Earth has proven that every $1 invested in restoration results in between $9 and $15 in social, economic, and environmental returns. But this is just an average. Based on one restoration project in Louisiana’s Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge, an independent report on the social value of restoration revealed that $1 invested in reforestation by corporate sponsors returned more than $20 to the community.
We are excited about this alliance because we know business is looking for collaborative, innovative solutions that deliver measurable progress. We also understand the very real sense of urgency within the business community to act on climate now. For those already taking action, there’s a push to be more ambitious. For those who haven’t, now is the time to join one of the growing number of collaborative, innovative solutions available.
Susan Fernandes is Director of Operations, U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD)
Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight, Flickr