Disney and Biodiversity Conservation (Part 2 of 2): Nature-Based Climate Solutions

“Landscapes of great wonder and beauty lie under our feet and all around us. They are discovered in tunnels in the ground, the heart of flowers, the hollows of trees, fresh-water ponds, seaweed jungles between tides, and even drops of water. Life in these hidden worlds is more startling in reality than anything we can imagine. How could this earth of ours, which is only a speck in the heavens, have so much variety of life, so many curious and exciting creatures?”

—Walt Disney (1901-1966)

To continue our look at Disney’s wildlife and biodiversity conservation efforts, today we’ll focus on the company’s “Natural Climate Solutions” strategy. Natural climate solutions refers to the protection of natural areas, such as forests, that provide food, shelter, and income for local communities, provide habitat for wildlife, and reduce the impact of climate change.

These natural climate solutions are part of a three-pronged strategy that the company is using to achieve its greenhouse gas emission reduction goals. This year (2020), Disney’s emission reduction goal is to reduce its net emissions by 50% compared to a 2012 baseline. The first two strategies that Disney pursues include efforts to reduce the use of fuels and to look for lower carbon alternatives. Disney then uses carbon offsets to go the rest of the way to accomplish its goals. These carbon offsets come in the form of forest offsets, with the reasoning that if we can slow the rate of deforestation then we reduce the amount of carbon emissions into the air.

To execute this strategy, Disney invests in scalable, science-based projects that use peer-reviewed protocols and result in verified reductions of emissions. Over the past decade, Disney has invested in 25 projects around the world that meet these criteria. Let’s take a look a one of these projects to better illustrate Disney’s natural climate solutions approach.

Alto Mayo Protected Forest

Disney has provided funding to Conservation International to implement a REDD+ project in nothern Peru. REDD+ is an acronym that stands for a mouthful of words that I can never seem to remember: Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation ‘plus’ conservation, the sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks. The project in the San Martin region of northern Peru is called the Alto Mayo Protected Forest (AMPF) project, which has been up and running for nearly a decade.

Alto Mayo Protected Forest is located in the San Martin region of northern Peru

The Alto Mayo Protected Forest project includes 450,000 acres of the Peruvian Amazon, and was designed up front with the goal of supporting both wildlife conservation and the local community.

There are significant deforestation pressures in the AMPF from illegal logging and unsustainable agricultural practices. As a result, the funds from Disney are used to support conservation agreements where the local residents agree not to destroy the forest in exchange for benefits such as technical assistance to improve crop yields, access to medicine, and support to improve school attendance. This approach reduces the community’s reliance on the forest as an economic resource while building local capacity for improved management of the AMPF.

Deforestation in the Alto Mayo Protected Forest

Since 2008, the Alto Mayo Protected Forest project has resulted in conservation agreements and benefits for 235 families, while reducing carbon emissions by over 6.2 million tons, which is equivalent to taking more than 150,000 cars off the road each year. Other benefits from the project include habitat conservation for wildlife as well as improved management of freshwater resources. The forest regulates freshwater sources in the region by acting as a natural filter for more than 240,000 people and the runoff from the forest replenishes local streams and provides irrigation to crops and water to the community.

Farmers have received training on sustainable farming methods and, as a result, have tripled their production yield. They have also seen an improvement in the quality of their products and have started earning more money from their premium, fair-trade, organic coffee, which Disney serves in some of its restaurants.

Deforestation in the areas has declined by 75% since 2008, which is good news for many of the region’s unique species, such as the critically endangered yellow-tailed woolly monkey.

Yellow-tailed woolly monkey (image from Wiley Online Library)

By funding natural climate solutions projects, Disney has contributed to planting over 9 million trees and protecting over 1 million acres of forest, while enabling the company to make good progress towards its greenhouse gas emissions goal. These natural climate solutions projects are good examples of how corporations can make strategic investments that support local communities through economic development and employment, while also protecting wildlife and conserving biodiversity and helping the organization meet its own goals.

Thanks for reading!

Mark

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Mark Aspelin is the Founder of Corporations for Biodiversity and author of the highly rated book “Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies That Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity.”

Disney and Biodiversity Conservation (Part 1 of 2): Disney Conservation Fund

“Landscapes of great wonder and beauty lie under our feet and all around us. They are discovered in tunnels in the ground, the heart of flowers, the hollows of trees, fresh-water ponds, seaweed jungles between tides, and even drops of water. Life in these hidden worlds is more startling in reality than anything we can imagine. How could this earth of ours, which is only a speck in the heavens, have so much variety of life, so many curious and exciting creatures?”

—Walt Disney (1901-1966)

I recently attended a webinar about the International Crane Foundation’s efforts to protect Siberian Cranes, where I learned that Disney has been a significant partner in their efforts.  Full disclosure: I used to work for the International Crane Foundation (ICF) as an Aviculture Intern at ICF’s captive breeding facility in Baraboo, Wisconsin, I was an ICF Associate for a crane and wetland conservation project in Kenya, and I’m a confirmed “craniac”.   

This partnership with Disney piqued my interest so I decided to take a closer look at what Disney is up to in the world of biodiversity and wildlife conservation.

In reviewing Disney’s website, sustainability reports, and other sources, it’s clear that the company is focusing a lot of its efforts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, minimizing waste, and conserving water resources. Disney is also pursuing renewable energy sources to support its operations, such as the “Hidden Mickey” solar array (pictured above) that generates enough power to operate two of its four theme parks in Orlando, Florida. However, given my specific interest in biodiversity and wildlife conservation, I’ll be focusing on two other Disney initiatives: The Disney Conservation Fund (today’s post) and “Natural Climate Solutions” (next week’s post).

The Disney Conservation Fund was setup in 1995 to support nonprofit organizations in an effort reverse the decline of wildlife through a combination of research and community engagement. Twenty-five years later, the Disney Conservation Fund has now contributed $100 million to support a wide variety of nonprofit organizations and conservation efforts.

Many companies choose to donate money to worthwhile causes, but Disney has been particularly effective in how they package and promote their philanthropic efforts in the form of the Disney Conservation Fund.

In some cases, the company’s donations are linked to Disney films. For example, while launching Disney’s “The Lion King” movie, the company also launched a “Protect the Pride” global conservation campaign to help protect and restore the lion population across Africa. Disney contributed $3 million to the Wildlife Conservation Network’s Lion Recovery Fund and helped raise awareness about lion conservation issues.

In other cases, Disney’s philanthropic efforts get featured in a weekly blog post series called “Wildlife Wednesday” that is written by Scott Terrell, a veterinarian who serves as Walt Disney Parks & Resorts Director of Animal and Science Operations. For example, here is a link to the “Wildlife Wednesday” post that highlights Disney’s support of Siberian Cranes: “Wildlife Wednesday: Disney Helps Reverse the Decline of Siberian Cranes

Siberian Crane, Grus leucogeranus

Each year, in addition to awarding grants to organizations, Disney also recognizes individual “Conservation Heroes” for their commitment to conservation. Over the years, the list of Conservation Heroes has included famous conservationists such as Dr. Jane Goodall and celebrities such as John Cleese and Isabella Rossellini. However, in more recent years, the heroes tend to be names that you won’t recognize – they are people around the world who are playing an important role to advance conservation in their communities. For example, here is the list of the 2019 Conservation Heroes. Since its inception, Disney has recognized more than 180 Heroes from nearly 50 countries.

In addition to showcasing Conservation Heroes, each year The Disney Conservation Fund awards several million dollars to support a wide variety of non-profit organizations and causes. For example, in October of 2019, The Disney Conservation Fund awarded $6 million in grants to 80 nonprofit organizations around the world. The list of 2019 projects that were supported by the Fund includes an effort by the International Crane Foundation to conserve another one of my pals – the Sarus Crane.

Sarus Crane, Grus antigone

The International Crane Foundation is working to protect two of the last remaining refuges in Cambodia’s Lower Mekong Delta by researching optimal habitat maintenance conditions, enhancing understanding of the value of wetland habitats, and developing sustainable livelihoods that contribute to biodiversity conservation.

The Disney Conservation Fund is an excellent example of how corporate philanthropic efforts can be structured and packaged in a way that is good for biodiversity and wildlife as well as good for business.

Next week, we’ll take a look at Disney’s efforts to support natural climate solutions. I hope you’ll join me then.

Thanks for reading!

Mark

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Mark Aspelin is the Founder of Corporations for Biodiversity and author of the highly rated book “Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies That Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity.”