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Climate Change Driving Soil Restoration

[fa icon="calendar'] Jun 25, 2013 10:06:46 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

With all the noise about reducing fossil fuel emissions – articles, boycotts, lawsuits, PRhealthy soil battles, news stories, even TV advertising – weaning ourselves off fossil fuels can sometimes feel like a hopeless struggle. On the other hand, the idea of pulling existing carbon out of the environment still holds a lot of excitement.

The buzz started with trees. From New York mayor Bloomberg’s million trees commitment to Africa’s Green Belt Movement, now 51 million trees strong, even school children know about reforestation. NGOs use public pressure to limit deforestation and encourage tree planting. Investment funds that maintain forests rather than cutting them down pay returns based on carbon credits and grants from agencies such as Forest Carbon Partnership Facility, the Global Environment Fund and the UN-REDD Programme in developing countries.

But forests are only one way nature can help mitigate climate change. Another is healthy soil.

The carbon-capturing quality of healthy soil and the carbon release of degraded soil have been mostly the province of science and professionals – the farmers and ranchers whose livelihood depends on productive soil. What’s holding soil back from getting the same affection as trees? Maybe it’s healthy soil’s distinctly unglamorous origins — decaying organic material, animal dung and yes, human excrement.

Soil is a strategic resource that can absorb enough carbon to offset 5-15% of global fossil fuel emissions. On the other hand, soil stripped of organic material and healthy microbes actually gives off heat-trapping CO2. A 2004 study by R. Lal of Ohio State University showed that depleted soil has contributed 21% of global atmospheric carbon.

With our most promising chance for climate mitigation in carbon sinks, our attitude towards soil has to improve.

The first Summit of the Northwest Biocarbon Initiative (NBI) was subtitled “Restoring Nature - Storing Natural Carbon.” Keynote speaker David Montgomery, MacArthur Genius and author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations argued that only now, seven years after his book was published, is attention to soil becoming a reality. Why? Because the impact of healthy soil on climate change makes the issue topical and personal for our largely urbanized civilization.

The soil buzz has begun in earnest. A recent TED Talk from the African soil restoration guru Allan Savory has gotten 1.7 million views. Savory has been advocating since the 1960s for mixing livestock and crops. Mimicking the way nature developed, with large herds grazing for short periods between which grass can regrow, Savory’s method insures that organic matter can restore soil. Savory’s Holistic Management method has expanded through the organization that bears his name, the Savory Institute.

The momentum for soil builds, even with consumer audiences. NPR did a twenty-minute segment with Judith Schwarz on her book Cows Save the Planet: Soil’s Secrets for Saving the Earth. And conferences like the NBI Summit and the Savory Institute’s first international conference being held this week bring together what have been obdurately distinct silos of environmentalism and agriculture. The Institute is also launching its first 10 U.S. training and education hubs. Savory’s vision is to have 100 hubs operational by 2025, restoring 2.4 billion acres of desertified or dead soil.

Maurice Robinette, owner of Lazy-R Ranch near Spokane and speaker at the NBI Summit, has been practicing and teaching Holistic Management sessions for 15 years. He told me that among the issues Savory’s organization is considering is how to brand the advantages of holistically managed beef — healthier meat from food with more nutrients, healthier soil, healthier environment — with end consumers.

The buzz grows.

There’s also a conversation about using treated human waste, or the more palatable “biosolids,” as an earth-cooling and soil-healing replacement for chemical fertilizer from companies like Monsanto.

[csrhubwidget company="Monsanto-Company" size="650x100" hash="c9c0f7"]

Using treated waste as natural fertilizer is not a new idea. For 20 years, King County, Washington has been supplying biosolids to farmers in Eastern Washington. But just last year, at the instigation of Jesse Israel of the County’s Resource Recovery Section, a new branding effort was launched under the name Loop to expand awareness of biosolids as part of nature’s cycle.

The Loop brand features an infinity symbol and the tagline, “Turn Your Dirt Around.” A consumer compost product called GroCo carries the logo to indicate the local biosolid ingredient. According to Peggy Leonard, Biosolids Program Manager, “Soil is underappreciated and biosolids are even more underappreciated than soil. It’s exciting to see people get excited about the power of soil, and even more so when they see that organic amendments are right under their noses.”

Photo courtesy of NRCS Soil Health via Flickr CC.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 7,300 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 7,300+ companies from 135 industries in 93 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 230 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Allan Savory, biocarbon, biosolids, carbon capture, Carol Pierson Holding, David Montgomery, fossil fuels, GroCo, Judith Schwarz, Lazy-R Ranch, Loop, MillionTrees NYC, Monsanto, Northwest Biocarbon Initiative, Planned Grazing, R. Lal, Savory Insitute, soil restoration, Uncategorized

How to Use CSRHUB for Company Benchmarking

[fa icon="calendar'] May 5, 2011 9:31:09 AM / by CSRHub Blogging

 

By Jana Petrikova

 

 

Monsanto Several times we have been asked how to use CSRHUB to do benchmarking. One approach to this would be to look at a controversial, but well-known and well-studied company, such as Monsanto.

 

CSRHUB has 23 data sources for Monsanto including socially responsible investment data (Asset4, IW Financial, RiskMetrics, Trucost, and Vigeo), standards organizations (GRI), government organizations (UNGC), NGOs (CDP, Human Rights Campaign, BSR, Covalence, Hispanic Magazine), crowd-based sites (Newsweek, Fortune), and product level, certification, supply chain sources (CDP is working with Sustainability Consortium). Together, these sources include over 500 pieces of information on Monsanto’s behavior.  However, these data points reflect significant variations in perspective.

 

For example, GovernanceMetrics International, RiskMetrics Intangible Value Assessment and the RiskMetrics Global Compact + ratings—all related to governance—vary somewhat significantly. Other examples of inconsistencies appear in ranking lists. In 2010, Monsanto was named one of CR Magazine's 100 Best Corporate Citizens. At the same time, Monsanto ranked last on the list of “Most Ethical Companies” produced by Swiss research firm Covalence. While Monsanto has been a member of Business Social Responsibility (BSR), a group of companies committed to improving their sustainability performance, the company ranked at the bottom of Newsweek’s “Green Rankings 2010: U.S. Companies”.

 

One reason for discrepancy among sources may be the different perspectives that CSR sources or CSR ratings users represent. For example, Monsanto is a pioneer in genetically modified organism (GMO) technologies. Some people and groups oppose GMOs based on the belief that they are harmful to human health and the ecosystem. Other groups believe that GMOs are reasonably safe and represent a great opportunity for reducing hunger through the improvement of agricultural productivity.

 

Another example came in 2011, when Monsanto received a 100% score from The Human Rights Campaign Foundation for supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workplace policies and benefits. Many would find this a great victory. But there are others who do not feel companies should aspire to a leadership position in this area or are even opposed to company progress when it comes to issues of sexual orientation. 

 

CSRHUB addresses different perspectives in two ways. First, we try to remove factual differences by comparing the variations among our sources and normalizing our data. Secondly, users can create a personal profile, which enables them to create their own relative priority scale for CSR dimensions (Community, Employees, Environment, or Governance) and set their position on various special issues.

 

Monsanto gets an overall rating in our system of 46 from the average member of the CSRHUB community. If, for example, you gave Monsanto a “positive opinion” for its stance on diversity, its overall score would edge up.   

 

How does Monsanto’s 46 score compare to the industry?  The average Agriculture and Mining Industry score is also 46, which means that Monsanto’s overall score is exactly average compared to companies in its industry. 

 

 

5623147670_85d5c6a4db We see some interesting divergence when looking at companies competing with Monsanto in specific business segments. Syngenta (based in Switzerland) is also a leader in crop protection and sale of high-value commercial seeds and gets a score of 62. Agrium (based in Canada), an agricultural retailer and fertilizer producer, receives a 63. What do these ratings tell us and why do the two companies rate higher than Monsanto?  These two companies are not as well known as Monsanto.  Do they avoid scrutiny by being off the radar screen of raters?  Our data suggests otherwise.  We have 15 and 13 data sources respectively for Syngenta and Agrium—plenty to be the basis for meaningful comparison.

 

When using CSRHUB to contrast and compare companies, it is useful to consider the four broad category scores that underlie the ratings—or for even greater granularity—the twelve subcategory scores available on a deeper data dive. (Category scores are freely available—subcategory scores are only shared with CSRHUB subscribers.) For instance, while Syngenta gets a score of 73 in the Transparency & Reporting subcategory and Agrium gets a score of 68, Monsanto scores only 46. An examination of the inputs for Monsanto’s score reflects claims that it was involved in bribes and corruption, concerns about its policies on the use of its seeds, and reporting deficiencies relating to diversity, community, and the responsibility of its products.

 

To meaningfully benchmark requires data from a broad range of perspectives. On one level, the more data sources, the better—as long as they are in an understandable and usable format.  Both the perspectives and values of each person and the widely varying of perspectives of data sources are in play with benchmarking.

 

CSRHUB’s data sources, ratings and functionality are focused on being a tool to bring meaning in this context.  We hope that CSRHUB can play a role in this process and look forward to hearing any success stories and any suggestions you may offer, for more effective benchmarking.

 


Jana Petrikova is a Data Analyst at CSRHUB. She is also a Sustainability Consultant at Green Team Spirit, which helps organizations become sustainable, while saving money and creating a healthier working environment. Jana believes that employees who are respected and listened to can be a great resource for innovative solutions to business and environmental challenges. She is an active member of Net Impact, and has helped several nonprofit organizations improve their internal operations and financial planning through their network. In her spare time, Jana writes a blog about composting. She received her M.B.A. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a master’s degree in Financial Management and Accounting from the University of Economy in Bratislava, Slovakia. Jana is certified in Global Reporting Initiative’s G3 Sustainability Reporting Guidelines.

 

Inset images courtesy of thegreenpages and Le Monolecte, respectively (CC). 

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