February 23, 2022

The Voice of Agriculture in the Sustainability Conversation

Anastasia Volkova, PhD
Chief Executive Officer

At Circularity 22, hosted by GreenBiz, the atmosphere was electric and collaborative, and attendees were hungry for action.

The conversation revolved around Scope 3 Emissions reductions and carbon as one of the key avenues for action. We heard from the main stage Paul Polman (Former Unilever CEO) speak about the importance of “not competing on the future of our planet.” Amy Luers, Global Lead of Sustainability Science at Microsoft, highlighted the importance of reliability and interoperability of the data underpinning carbon reporting. We also heard from Allbird’s Head of Sustainability, Hana Kajimura, about the advantages of integrating a sustainability function within a product or operations based on   on the type of company and the maturity of its sustainability “muscle”. Although these companies have some relationship with agriculture, I was surprised to see a lack of representation from major food and agriculture companies in the conversation on the main stage.

Why was I surprised? As you know, agriculture contributes 11% of global GHG emissions (24% when including associated land-use change). It is arguably an industry where investment will result in the most immediate ability to reduce carbon footprint. 

I believe these are the exact reasons why sustainability professionals (and frankly, everyone working in food and agriculture) are excited about the opportunity for agriculture to be recognized for and encouraged to provide ecosystem services, not just food and fiber.

For the next #GreenBiz23, I hope to see leading food and agriculture brands sharing their perspectives and experiences with the audience on how to engage with one of the oldest industries on Earth to ensure the planet’s longevity. 

First, however, agriculture needs to build momentum in its own supply chain. We must show that we can transform millions of acres through the adoption of regenerative practices. How can we achieve scale in this industry?

  1. We cannot let “perfect” be the enemy of “good”: There are a few ways of saying this, including WBCSD’s way of putting it: “Imperfect action today is worth more than perfect action in 2030”, but the bottom line is the same. We are all aware that the methodologies and standards are evolving in this space, but they’re not evolving as drastically as to prevent our progress now. We must start learning, implementing, partnering, and structuring markets and opportunities for agriculture to take its rightful seat at the table.

  1. Start together, partner for success: Agriculture is unique in that Scope 3 Emissions and GHG accounting standards are tailor-made for collaboration, and in no other industry is it as obvious as in agriculture. Every food and agriculture company works closely with its suppliers and buyers on enabling the movement of the physical products through the supply chain. We must turn to those relationships to move the environmental “attribute” of the commodity or produce that has environmental benefits through the supply chain.We are already seeing momentum here, with the new USDA initiative supporting regenerative agriculture. Working together in partnership can help build momentum for action in every individual partner organization, help amplify the message, and set examples for others to follow.
  2. (Measurement, Reporting, and Verification):  Whether you are starting from a framework by Gold Standard/SustainCert, WWF [explore a sample blueprint here], SBTi, or any other framework to tackle your sustainability goals, know that they are science-driven, and the tools that you will choose to measure your baselines and model your impact will need to be too. Depending on your business and the sources of your scope 3 emissions, there are a variety of partners who can provide science-based technology solutions and advice on their implementation, including Quantis, Regrow Ag, HowGood, and others. See a list of companies in the space in the ClimateTech VC substack newsletter. [see what a scalable MRV is here].
  3. Share the story: Many companies are already doing great work in implementing regenerative agriculture on farms and ranches. It is important that we build momentum inside the industry and help position it with consumers and other industries by spreading the word about projects that already take place. As one expert said “We can’t afford an a lá carte approach to ESG.”

We know we will have to do it all (carbon, water stewardship, biodiversity, social equity, D&I), but we can start one step at a time, share the word, build momentum and make progress easier for everyone around us.

To summarize, we know what needs to be done, and many of us have declared our goals and shared where we want to go.

It’s time to make our commitments real, on the ground. 

It’s also time for agriculture to take a seat at the table with the broader sustainability community.

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