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Environmental Business Group Aims To Link Up Natural And Corporate World

Madagascar is rich in endemic species and endangered animals like the lemur, but has lost upwards of 70 percent of original natural vegetation.
by Erika Pontarelli Compart
Washington (AFP) Apr 04, 2006
China's pandas and Madagascar's lemurs have found unexpected new allies in a handful of mining companies and oil firms. Though natural-resource-consuming big businesses may seem unlikely champions of environmental conservation, a few are actually in the vanguard of a program protecting forests and endangered species in Asia, Africa and around the world.

"It's actually good business for them to be part of conservation; it's not just philanthropy," said Glenn Prickett, executive director of the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB).

In the five years since its creation by Conservation International (CI) and Ford Motor Company, CELB has signed up 45 corporate partners and won support from various donors, governments and nongovernmental groups. It works with businesses to develop solutions to environmental problems industry can cause, such as deforestation and pollution.

Prickett said that companies that show environmentally irresponsible behavior often clash with protesters and local communities.

"So doing the right thing for the environment is a way of ensuring that your project gets built on time, on budget and you actually start delivering a return on that investment," Prickett added.

And CELB's efforts appear to be making some strides on the greener side.

In China and Madagascar, it has designed programs to sequester carbon, a method of offsetting carbon dioxide emissions by capturing CO2 and storing or absorbing it in trees or soil.

With a three-million-dollar grant from manufacturing conglomerate 3M, CELB hopes to sequester a million tonnes of carbon and restore three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of degraded forest in China's Hunan and Sichuan provinces.

Those are ambitious goals, but David Skelly, an ecology professor at Yale University's School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, said they are right on target.

"These plans that seem improbable are happening," Skelly told AFP, adding that planning small would not pay off environmentally.

Working with oil companies BP, Shell, Chevron and Norway's Statoil, CELB also developed guidelines for incorporating biodiversity protection into oil exploration and drilling activities. The guidelines were eventually adopted by industry associations as the new industry-wide standard.

CELB and coffee powerhouse Starbucks also teamed up to brew CAFE, or Coffee and Farmer Equity, a program that gives coffee growers an incentive to employ environmentally sound practices and pay farmworkers better.

The center also has partnered with the US forestry industry to create a voluntary standard for protecting biodiversity in 34 areas designated as "biodiversity hotspots" by CI.

As a result, firms adopted the standard, vowing not to harvest or buy timber harvested in any of these hotspots -- areas such as southwestern China and Madagascar, which are rich in endemic species and endangered animals, such as the giant panda, the red panda and the lemur, but which have lost upwards of 70 percent of their original natural vegetation.

"The most effective way to conserve biodiversity in any place, but particularly in places where you have endemic species that have limited ranges, is to find ways of allowing the activities that people want to go on there to co-exist with species," Skelly said.

In China and Madagascar, some native species have ranges so limited that "you could wipe entire species out much more easily than you can in temperate parts of the world like Europe and North America," he added.

That is bad news for China's snub-nosed monkeys and silver orioles and Madagascar's pink pigeons and ring-tailed mongooses.

But the rising tide of corporate concern is promising, Skelly said. "One of the things I've been encouraged by is that a lot of the people who are business leaders now grew up with this kind of environmental awareness, and they're not willing to let this go."

And protecting forests is important not just for wildlife's sake.

Prickett said it is also key to stemming climate change, since more than 20 percent of the world's annual CO2 emissions come from the burning and clearing of forests.

The area of southwestern China that CELB is focusing on was damaged by heavy flooding and the clearing of forest land for agricultural use. Earlier replanting efforts saw significant die-off, Prickett said, because eucalyptus and pine trees were planted too close together, and they did not provide good habitat for local wildlife.

So CELB is working with local governments to regenerate the forests naturally and bring back native species, which should better protect the watershed, provide better habitat and sequester more carbon.

"Everything that we have seen indicates that the project is really exceeding our expectations," said Kathy Reed, staff vice president for environmental health and safety operations for 3M, the maker of Post-it Notes and Scotch tape.

Reed said the company saw it as "a triple hit for sustainability," as the program has good social and environmental consequences, in addition to protecting biodiversity and helping to stem climate change.

"It's so exciting to be able to think about making a difference," she said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

Related Links
Center for Environmental Leadership in Business

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Irvine CA (SPX) Apr 03, 2006
Ecologists have long asked, Why is the world green? In other words, why aren't herbivores, such as insects and grazing animals, more successful at eating the world's green leaves, also known as plant biomass?

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