THE BLOG

Time for Business to Act on Climate Change - And Agroforestry Is Part of the Solution

01/12/2015 12:49 GMT | Updated 27/11/2016 10:12 GMT

It is an important year for the future of our planet.

In December, the world's policymakers will descend on Paris for the latest round of UN climate talks, an event described by Earth League as "the last chance" for negotiators to devise a plan that will avert dangerous climate change by limiting the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions nations can emit. And businesses will have a key role to play in bringing about the step-changes required to move towards a low-carbon future.

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Emerging trends offer hope that a positive deal will be reached in the French capital. The falling cost of deploying renewables, coupled with an increasing appetite for divestment out of fossil fuels (led by the likes of the Rockefeller Foundation) could prove decisive. The politics of climate abatement are showing signs of alignment too, with more than 100 countries now possessing a target for reaching zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

But while the world waits for our political leaders to reach a positive agreement, it is companies that have been leading the way.

Driven by commodity-price volatility, raw material scarcity risk and brand reputation, among many other things, the business community has worked hard to develop new processes, techniques, products and services that anticipate a more sustainable future. Just look at the clean energy revolution being led by the likes of Apple, IKEA and Google, or the efforts of modular-carpet business Interface in disrupting traditional manufacturing models.

Whilst the challenges remain huge - and each company can only ever really make a small contribution to solving them - we have been working hard to drive GHG emissions reduction. Since 2009, Nespresso has been reducing its carbon footprint per cup of coffee by 20% across the business. And we aim to reduce our operational carbon footprint by another 10% by 2020.

But we have a big responsibility to go further.

As a producer of the world's finest portioned coffee and knowing the challenges of our coffee regions, we are also very aware of the changes that are already occurring and impacting coffee farmers. Adapting our supply chain and making it more resilient are becoming a priority - especially when just 1-2% of all the coffee in the world is of the exceptional quality and taste needed to make our products.

That is why, for the last 13 years, we have used our innovative AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program, created together with the Rainforest Alliance, to develop a more sustainable, deforestation free supply chain of high quality coffees by protecting the livelihoods of farmers, and improving farm ecosystems by promoting water conservation, preserving and planting shade trees and protecting wildlife. In fact, there are 36 biodiversity criteria our farmers must meet as part of the AAA Program.

We provide regular training and technical assistance to more than 63,000 farmers across 11 coffee-producing countries to support them to implement more sustainable farming practices. A recent independent study performed in Colombia found that farms taking part in our AAA Program had 22.6% better social conditions 41% better economic conditions and 52% better environmental conditions than non-AAA farms.

But we're keen on taking things further; to consider the wider landscape in which our supplier farms operate.

As part of our 2020 sustainability strategy, The Positive Cup, we are promoting agroforestry practices in and around farms in the regions we source from.

And there is a good reason for this. We want to increase the coffee farms' resilience to climate change, by protecting, regenerating and improving coffee ecosystems. This will in turn secure the future of coffee farms and the long-term sustainability of our business. Trees are the best investment one can make to generate multiple benefits for the long-term.

Coffee originates from forest ecosystems. So, trees and crops interact well, working in harmony to regenerate soils and create more healthy and productive coffee-growing land. By helping to restore natural ecosystems, we will ultimately improve coffee quality and productivity and provide better returns for farmers. In fact, evidence suggests that production of high quality coffee can increase by 30 to 200% in some regions.

In addition, trees play an important role in preventing soil erosion, as their roots can hold the ground. In Colombia, landslides have had a dramatic impact in recent years. Heavy rains in 2010 wiped out more than 1 million hectares of crops, including coffee, across the country, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. And earlier in 2015, mudslides swept away the coffee farming community of Salgar, in the Antioquia region. Planting trees more widely could provide much needed help to prevent such disasters in the future.

Trees also play a crucial role in the water cycle and are instrumental to mitigate drought vulnerability, which is another threat farmers are experiencing with climate changes.

Rainforest Alliance interim president Ana Paula Tavares said, "Agroforestry allows us to recreate a more natural coffee environment where trees are conserved and planted, water and wildlife are protected. Farmers benefit through higher yields, more resilient farms, and an improved environment. Coffee lovers benefit through a delicious, high quality coffee that provide value to coffee growers and the planet."

In short, we believe in agroforestry practices at farm level for five main reasons:

- trees help preventing soil erosion and landslides;

- trees contribute to securing coffee quality and productivity;

- trees provide diversification of farmers' income and a retirement capital to farmers through the sale of wood;

- trees regulate fresh water availability;

- trees sequester carbon, reducing the impact of GHG emissions.

It is still early days for the program. Since 2014, we have planted 460,000 trees in Guatemala, Colombia and Ethiopia, benefiting over 800 coffee farmers.

We're not alone in thinking that agroforestry makes sense, with the likes of The Body Shop and Accor Hotels among others. But we are proud to be pioneering a new way of thinking about our climate impacts in a way that truly complements the unique characteristics of our supply chain.

Agroforestry is totally aligned and integrated with our business strategy, to help us better manage our dependencies on natural capital and maximize our positive impact on our farmer communities via the AAA Program.

All eyes will be on Paris this end of the year and rightly so. The UN COP21 meeting is hugely important in building that political consensus the world needs.

But as Nespresso and other leading companies are proving, there's plenty that can be done to tackle GHG impacts, both in-house and along the supply chain tentacles. With global temperatures rising and erratic weather patterns becoming the norm in all corners of the globe, urgent action is needed - and it is up to the business community to step up to the plate with practical solutions.