Brazil’s economy has been booming. During the past decade, it grew from the ninth to the sixth-largest in the world. While this growth has brought many socioeconomic benefits, it’s come with a downside: significant environmental impacts. Brazil has the highest rate of deforestation worldwide, while pollution threatens the country’s drinking water supply. Despite a decrease in national greenhouse gas emissions of late, agriculture emissions and energy demand are still rising.
While manufacturing is a critical part of the U.S. economy, it’s struggled over the last several years—both financially and environmentally. Overall U.S. manufacturing employment has dropped by more than one-third since 2000. Meanwhile, U.S. industry—of which manufacturing is the largest component—still uses more energy than any other sector and serves as the largest source of U.S. and global greenhouse gas emissions.
The good news is that energy efficiency can help U.S. manufacturing increase profits, protect jobs, and lead the development of a low-carbon economy. The Midwest’s pulp and paper industry is a case in point: New WRI analysis finds that the pulp and paper sector—the third-largest energy user in U.S. manufacturing—could cost-effectively reduce its energy use in the Midwest by 25 percent through use of existing technologies. These improvements could save hundreds of thousands of jobs, lower costs, and help the United States achieve its goal of reducing emissions by 17 percent by 2020. As the White House moves to cut carbon dioxide pollution in America, energy efficiency improvements in Midwest pulp and paper mills are a tangible example of the win-win-win emissions-reduction opportunities in U.S. industry.
Labeled the “queen of the forest” for its size and beauty, the Brazil nut tree plays an important social and environmental role in the Amazon. During the annual harvest, from November to March, when both its seeds and nuts are collected, the tree also provides a critical supplementary source of income for communities across the region.
While other natural resource management activities risk increasing deforestation in the Amazon, nut harvesting is not harmful to nature, since it depends on the forest’s continued existence. Local company Ouro Verde was created with this in mind, selling Brazil nut products marketed as sustainable, including extra virgin nut oil, nut butter and granulate. Ouro Verde created 47 jobs, and many more new business opportunities in the Amazon region, placing an economic value on the rainforest for local communities. About 1.3 million hectares of rain forest are sustainably managed by Ouro Verde supplier partners.
Ouro Verde is a shining example of the type of company WRI’s New Ventures project was created to support. Founded in 1999, New Ventures identifies, mentors, and provides promising small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with access to investment. New Ventures supports companies in six rapidly growing emerging markets – Brazil, China, Colombia, India, Indonesia, and Mexico – where the environment and development decisions being made today will impact the entire world. To date, we have facilitated more than $225 million in investment and worked with 346 innovative enterprises.
In 2010, SMEs supported by New Ventures reduced CO2 by 135,021 tons, the equivalent of removing over 112,000 cars from the road for one year. In addition, 1,490,448 hectares of land – an area larger than Connecticut - was placed under sustainable management by New Ventures companies or was conserved by sustainable land use companies in the New Ventures portfolio.
Managing carbon is not just good for the environment. It’s also a way for business to save money, cut risks, and create new business opportunities. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol (GHGP), created by WRI and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), is the leading international standard for companies to measure their carbon emissions so they can manage, report on, and reduce them.
In 2011, the GHG Protocol launched two new standards in response to demand from both the market and stakeholders for greenhouse gas emissions information across a company or product’s value chain. The Corporate Value Chain Standard can help a company identify which parts of its value chain it should target to reduce emissions. The Product Life Cycle Standard may be used to develop new low-carbon product lines that can give companies a competitive edge or pinpoint climate-related risks in a product’s life cycle.
The new standards took three years to develop. Close to 2,500 partners worldwide participated and 60 companies from 17 countries road-tested the standards. Even before their release, two major initiatives – The Sustainability Consortium and the Consumer Goods Forum – committed to use the standards. Their endorsement is a breakthrough and a clear signal that the new standards will be widely adopted by companies globally. The Consumer Goods Forum, for example, represents over 400 companies and retailers with a combined three trillion dollars in sales.
By enabling corporations to reduce their use of carbon, the new GHGP standards can play a role in significant global GHG emission reductions.
Supply chains are a major contributor to the environmental footprint of multinational companies, particularly in their use of water. By working with suppliers to decrease water-related risk, large companies can help reduce pressure on the world’s over-stretched water resources.
In July 2012, global food service retailer McDonald’s added a question to the Environmental Scorecard it distributes to its top suppliers. The addition requested that suppliers determine the water stress associated with their facilities’ locations. WRI played a pivotal role in this landmark initiative, providing the Aqueduct water risk mapping tool, which McDonald’s asked its suppliers to use when calculating their water footprints.
Measuring Water Risks
McDonald’s distributes an annual Environmental Scorecard Questionnaire to its top suppliers. The suppliers asked to respond to the water risk question include providers of beef, poultry, pork, potatoes, bakery products, and toys. Incorporating this question into the Environmental Scorecard was an important step in advancing McDonald’s dialogue with its suppliers beyond efficiency to include water risk and overall water stewardship.
The 2012 Environmental Scorecard directed suppliers to, “Use the WRI Aqueduct Tool to determine the water stress of the facility’s location and provide the water stress [level] of the facility’s location.” McDonald’s also urged its top suppliers to use the data they acquire from using Aqueduct to update their environmental management processes to take water risk into account. By the end of September 2012, all 353 of the facilities asked to complete the Aqueduct water risk assessment had done so.
This McDonald’s initiative provides an important precedent for evaluating water-related risk among agricultural producers, who account for 70 percent of water use worldwide.
Making Change Happen: WRI’s Role
WRI’s Aqueduct tool, developed by our Markets & Enterprise Program, allows companies and other organizations to access information on water risks in a given region or area. Our global database uses 12 indicators of water quantity, water quality, and regulatory and reputational issues to calculate water risk around the world.
The practical, straightforward, user-friendly nature of our Aqueduct tool made it possible for McDonald’s to begin assessing water risk across its vast global supply chain. Suppliers survey the data available for their facility’s location, and then choose from a drop-down option that indicates whether overall water risk is low, medium, or high. The Coca-Cola Company, a supporter of the Aqueduct project, vouched for the usefulness and credibility of the maps to McDonald’s, one of its largest customers.
McDonald’s high profile endorsement of the Aqueduct tool and data will help WRI scale our work with companies to address water scarcity challenges worldwide.
A collection of forward-thinking companies interested in understanding sustainability issues that affect the corporate community. The Group serves as a vehicle for exchanging valuable thinking about responses to shared challenges.
Hundreds of companies and organizations around the world are using GHG Protocol standards and tools to manage their GHG emissions and become more efficient, resilient, and prosperous organizations.
This post was co-authored with Carita Chan, an intern with WRI's forests initiative.
As the crisis of tropical deforestation reaches a new level of urgency due to forest fires raging in Indonesia, an important question is how can the world satisfy the growing demand for forest products while still preserving forest ecosystems? This week, some of the world’s largest companies will join U.S. and Indonesian government officials in Jakarta at the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) meeting to discuss this issue.
The meeting comes three years after the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), a group of the world’s 400 largest consumer goods companies from 70 countries, announced their commitment to source only deforestation-free commodities in their supply chains and help achieve net-zero deforestation by 2020. The TFA 2020, a public-private partnership established in 2012 at the Rio+20 Summit, aims to provide concrete guidance on how to implement the forum’s pledge.
The world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters—the United States and China—have been forging a growing bond in combating climate change. Just last week, President Obama and President Xi made a landmark agreement to work towards reducing hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), a potent greenhouse gas. And both the United States and China are leading global investment and development of clean energy. The United States invested $30.4 billion and added 16.9 GW of wind and solar capacity in 2012. China invested $58.4 billion and added 19.2 GW in capacity.
U.S.-China cooperation on clean energy was the topic of discussion at an event last week at the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s China Environment Forum. Experts from the World Resources Institute and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) looked at this cooperation from a seldom-discussed viewpoint – China’s renewable energy investments in the United States.
China’s Growing Overseas Investments in Renewable Energy
As new WRI analysis shows, Chinese companies have made at least 124 investments in solar and wind industries in 33 countries over the past decade (2002 – 2011). The United States is the number one destination of these investments, hosting at least eight wind projects and 24 solar projects. The majority of the investments went into solar PV power plant and wind farm development, while a few investments went into manufacturing or sales support.