When corporations decide they want to green up their operations, whether to satisfy their shareholders or out of genuine concern for the environment, they often turn to sustainability experts for help. Working either as full-time employees or independent consultants, these experts have a grasp on the big picture of corporate sustainability, and what changes can be made to lower waste and emissions while contributing to a more ecologically sound future. But, as a recent op-ed on GreenBiz.com explains, many of these companies need more than just a generalist on their sustainability team. Forestry and natural resource experts bring firsthand experience to the table that they won’t get anywhere else.
Penned by Rajat Panwar, Associate Professor at Oregon State University, and Thomas DeLuca, Dean at the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, the piece elucidates how forestry professionals can help companies implement a “well rounded nature-based solutions strategy” to become carbon neutral. Nature-based solutions use the power of functional ecosystems to mitigate climate change, and they’re commonly adopted by forestry and food companies in the form of selective harvesting, growing native species, minimizing soil disturbance and promoting regenerative agriculture.
“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.”
Panwar and DeLuca explain that these companies must follow three steps to engage with nature-based solutions: develop a byproducts orientation, essentially replacing products made of nonrenewable materials with those made of renewable materials; “turn offsets into onsets” by forging strategic alliances with large-scale offset operations; and “beware of landmines,” i.e. carefully consider all the possible outcomes of sustainability-minded endeavors, including potential negative ones.