Originally posted by GreenBiz.
By Anastasia Behr, Associate Carbon Director at Corporate Sustainability Group at Dow, Taylor Marshall, Director of Sustainable Programs at Restore the Earth, and Zen Saunders, Regulatory Services Leader at Dow.
The past decade was the hottest on record. The culprit? Us. Humans. And our contributions to carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. The solution? Now that’s not as simple and the approaches are not one-size-fits-all: a circular economy; waste reduction; afforestation and reforestation; lower carbon technologies.
But where we start matters. The key to addressing climate change resides in organizations that take a holistic approach to sustainability, purposefully engaging in wide-ranging initiatives to produce benefits both now and in the future.
This was the impetus behind Dow’s carbon partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), using the platform of sport and the power of science to encourage collaboration among organizations, to quantify and reduce environmental impact and to play a transformative role in their market. Collaborative projects are limitless — from adopting next-gen technology in the industrial sector to implementing nature-based carbon capture initiatives.
The latter is the bread and butter of Restore the Earth Foundation. Restore the Earth is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization whose mission is to advance landscape-scale reforestation with a focus in the Mississippi River Basin, “North America’s Amazon.” Its 1-million-acre reforestation initiative, planting over 100,000,000 native trees, is centered around one of the country’s most socio-ecologically vulnerable populations.
Dow understands that collaboration as the path to a more sustainable society is not new news. But through the course of its private-public alliance with Restore the Earth as a part of Dow’s carbon partnership with the IOC, our organization has come to recognize the importance of sharing a like-minded approach focused on four factors that our team hopes will help you and your partners think about how you can align for maximum impact: platform; values; measurement framework; and sense of urgency.
1. The importance of finding the right platform
The transformative power of a collaborative platform is substantiated within Dow’s carbon partnership with the IOC. Leveraging a single platform across the various projects since 2017, the carbon partnership has generated upwards of 900,000 metric tonnes of CO2e reductions. How have we been able to go beyond business as usual to accomplish this? Believe it or not, through the platform of sport.
Sport is recognized by the United Nations as a critical enabler of sustainable development. The global reach and appeal of sports represents an invaluable tool for promoting global conversations, driving towards achievement of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and enabling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions across industries and regions.
Restore the Earth was invigorated by the possibilities of sport. The average Joe or Jane doesn’t spend much of their waking hours contemplating how resin technology contributes to recyclability, nor would they likely consider what type of tree is best for maximum carbon capture. But Joe and Jane probably follow sport, making it the perfect unifier to inform, invite and challenge audiences to act against climate change — and consider the power of trees.
2. Shared success relies on shared values
The same way a house divided cannot stand, a collaboration without shared values likely will crumble. One of seven Dow 2025 Sustainability Goals launched in 2015, its “Valuing Nature”goal, is the first commitment by a corporation to systematically consider nature in its business decisions on such a major scale.
This goal led Dow to Restore the Earth — another organization with big vision. With its guidance, Dow ventured on a journey of discovery into the critical nature of vulnerable coastal forested wetlands, and the subsequent industries, social communities and wildlife it serves and protects. Dow set a tangible goal to replant 400 acres of native bald cypress trees in the Pointe-aux-Chenes region of Louisiana, tapping into nature-based solutions for climate resiliency and socio-economic impact, and as a valuable asset in business decision-making to reduce carbon in a time-efficient and cost-effective way.
For those of us in the sustainability space, trees have earned deserved recognition recently for their part as a critical solution to climate change, from the landmark 2019 Science Magazine report highlighting the potential of forests to store up to 25 percent of the excess carbon pool currently in the atmosphere, to the recent launch of the World Economic Forum and America’s Forests Trillion Tree Initiative. It is clear that while innovative solutions are needed to address climate change, turning to nature’s wisdom and leveraging the restorative benefits that the regeneration of healthy ecosystems can provide offers a significant tool for reducing carbon in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, not all such projects are created equal.
3. A measured approach
It is one thing to plant trees in the ground; it is another thing to do it in a scalable, permanent and impactful way that has measurable, lasting outcomes. The perpetuity of this and all projects by Restore the Earth is a significant value add, prioritizing thoughtful coordination with state and local stakeholders.
When Dow was researching potential reforestation partners, it was important that a rigorous scientific approach to planting was prioritized. Restore the Earth has conducted over 13 years of extensive research into the seed selection, tree propagation, planting location and long-term monitoring of growth conditions, survival rate and reporting metrics. This led to two proprietary solutions: EKOgrown trees and EcoMetrics monitoring.
EKOgrown trees enable Restore the Earth and its partners to push past the status quo in reforestation, achieving new levels of effectiveness. These native trees grow two to three times faster, see better planting success and sequester between 200 and 400 percent more carbon annually, when compared to incumbent bare root seedlings.
Using EcoMetrics cloud-based technology, Restore the Earth accounts for, in monetized terms, the full environmental, social and economic value created by a reforestation project. EcoMetrics’ monitors, measures and reports to partners, funders and community stakeholders on everything from carbon sequestration to job creation, water quality improvements, increase in recreational activities and the residual economies created as a result. For the Pointe-aux-Chenes region, the tool demonstrates that for every $1 of private funding committed to the reforestation project, $14 of environmental, social and economic value is created.
We’ve found that this shared commitment to measurement is critical to the success of carbon collaborations.
4. No day but today
A shared sense of urgency also produces the ideal soil for innovation and pushing past the status quo. In Louisiana, increasing rates of sea level rise are projected to affect the region over the next 50 years. Without strong protective coastal ecosystems, this will result in more frequent and dramatic flooding events and higher storm surge for human and animal communities.
Despite the growing awareness around the impact of greenhouse gases on the behavior of nature, there remains an unease and distrust in the industry for using solutions from nature to help defend nature.
One such point of tension is reliable verification of these offsets, as well as the inability to credit the offsets in a timely manner. Through Dow’s investment in the Pointe-aux-Chenes project, some of these prominent issues are addressed: an estimated 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions reductions will be produced over a 40-year period and those reductions will be accounted for upfront as the first reforestation project registered under the Climate Action Reserve (CAR)’s Climate Forward Program.
The Climate Forward program provides a mechanism to accelerate investment through reducing current lag between that investment and carbon credit realization. Through this partnership, there’s also the realization of a stacked benefit within nature-based solutions that many organizations don’t currently recognize or measure, namely the improved water quality, enhanced wildlife habitat and increased social and economic value that can result from reforestation projects within a particular region.
All of this shows us that, if appropriately vetted and invested, nature-based reforestation solutions provide visible and credible best practices for a portfolio approach to climate action that goes far beyond ticking a box on your check list to becoming “sustainable.”
This is what innovation looks like: multiple elements and partners coming together to drive meaningful climate action and partnering with not-for-profits such as Restore the Earth Foundation to ensure that net-zero carbon one day will be a reality.
Through this collaboration, Dow hopes to build momentum and inspire others to adopt these elements of successful partnership and consider reforestation not as an arduous way to purchase carbon credits, but as a game-changing, multi-dimensional weapon in the fight against climate change.