Cisco Systems and Biodiversity Conservation (Part 1 of 2): Small-Scale, Local Solutions

“We see massive opportunities for our innovation, expertise, and culture to play a role in finding solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges.”
—Chuck Robbins, Chairman and CEO of Cisco

Cisco Systems (#64 on the Fortune 500 list) is a technology conglomerate that is known for its networking hardware, software, and telecommunication equipment. For those of you who work for large organizations, you may be all all too familiar with Cisco subsidiaries such as Webex and Jabber. And for those of you who don’t, you’ve probably heard of a thing called the internet … and it just so happens that 80 percent of the world’s web traffic currently travels securely across Cisco connections. In other words, Cisco Systems, and it’s 75,000 employees, plays a role in the day-to-day life for many of us and we may not even know it.

Another thing that we might not know about Cisco Systems is that the company consistently lands towards the top of the list in the various corporate sustainability rankings. Given the high marks that the company consistently receives from the sustainability community, I thought it would be worth checking out what Cisco is up to in the world of biodiversity conservation.

Like many sustainability leaders, Cisco is doing a lot of work to reduce greenhouse gases, leverage renewable energy sources, and adopt responsible sourcing and manufacturing practices. However, Cisco is also engaged in some interesting (at least to me!) small-scale efforts that have a positive impact on biodiversity and wildlife. In this week’s post, I’ll share two simple strategies that any company or homeowner can embrace. Next week, I’ll share a third biodiversity / wildlife conservation strategy that requires a bit more technology, something that Cisco has in spades.

Minimize impacts to local wildlife during breeding season

Many companies take steps to avoid certain types of operations or construction activities during the breeding season for birds and other animals in the area. This precaution helps prevent the destruction of active nests and reduces noise that can scare away or stress animals during the breeding season. In the case of Cisco Systems, several of the buildings at its San Jose, California headquarters are located near a protected area for American cliff swallows. To help protect American cliff swallow habitat during nesting season, Cisco closes its balconies on those buildings and doesn’t remove the mud nests until nesting season is over.

A pair of Cliff swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) building a nest on a wooden ledge, in the spring time, San Francisco bay area, California.

Easy right? Yes, this might be a small gesture, but it’s an indicator of the company’s desire to be a good corporate citizen. In the words of famed basketball player and coach John Wooden, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

Wildlife Corridors

Wildlife corridors are often viewed as a useful tool to help maintain and restore biodiversity and wildlife populations on private and public land. A “wildlife corridor” is defined as any space that facilitates the movement of animals between core habitat fragments. The goal of a corridor is to maintain or improve the number and health of species in an area. This assumes that improving the connectivity of separate patches of a suitable habitat will allow isolated populations of animals to interbreed. Corridors may also help alleviate climate-change impacts on animal populations by enabling animals to move to a more suitable habitat as conditions change. From a human perspective, well-designed corridors help us avoid collisions that kill or injure wildlife and cause property damage and injury to humans.

The importance of wildlife corridors is perhaps best illustrated with an example of large carnivores, such as bears or mountain lions, which require large home ranges for food, den sites, and other needs. To maintain a sustainable population of 50 to 70 mountain lions, we need a minimum of 3,120 square miles; to maintain a sustainable population of 200 black bears, we need at least 780 square miles.

These large habitat requirements are significantly larger than most protected areas in the United States, and that’s where corridors can help. Corridors can link large patches of habitat and enable these large carnivores to move from one patch of habitat to another and support a sustainable population of these animals. We could also consider the option of having a smaller population of mountain lions or bears in a certain area, but such small populations of either species are unlikely to be sustainable in the long term.

Corridors come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some corridors take the form of linear patches of land that directly connect two patches of habitat. Other corridors are irregular-shaped stepping stones of land that enable species to move from one patch of habitat to another, even when these stepping stones are not directly connected to the core patches of habitat. Corridors may be man-made, such as underpass tunnels or overpass bridges across a roadway, or they may take the form of natural corridors, such as rivers and mountain ranges.

Some corridors are designed with a regional scale in mind, such as a corridor that facilitates bird and butterfly migration from Canada to Mexico. Other corridors are designed at a local level, perhaps connecting local wetlands to help sustain populations of reptile or amphibian species. That’s where our second Cisco Systems example comes in. Cisco created three turtle tunnels under the highway at its Boxborough, Massachusetts location to provide safe passage for the migration of Blanding’s turtles and eastern box turtles, listed as International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Endangered Species and IUCN Vulnerable Species, respectively. Cisco also installed curbing around the site to prevent migrating turtles from entering the roadway and parking areas.

The endangered Blanding’s turtle (Emys blandingii or Emydoidea blandingii) is a semi-aquatic turtle named in honor of American naturalist Dr. William Blanding (1773–1857).

We can design corridors that are intended to be used for brief periods to support seasonal migrations or the dispersal of young animals, or we can design corridors that are intended to be used on a permanent basis. Some species of plants, reptiles, and insects may even spend their entire lives in the corridor habitat.

This brings us to an important point. We’ve all heard the saying, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, not to be confused with a similar truth that some of us might have “heard” in college: “Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder”. But I digress. This beauty perception concept also applies to corridors. A corridor that is attractive to one species may be a barrier to another (e.g., a corridor that is appealing to a coyote may not be appealing to a bear, amphibian, otter, or butterfly). It’s important to be clear on the target species that the corridor is intended to help before choosing a corridor design. Cisco focused on creating a corridor that was specific for Blanding’s turtles and eastern box turtles. Similarly, you might think of ways to support specific species in your area to help them move between core habitat fragments.

Next week, we’ll continue this discussion as we look at a third strategy that Cisco uses to protect wildlife and biodiversity. Hope to see you 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.”

Walmart and Biodiversity Conservation (Part 2 of 2): Zero Net Deforestation

“Our world is increasingly transparent and we’re out to earn trust. When people shine a light on Walmart and see our decisions – the jobs we create, the activities in our supply chain – we want them to like what they see.”
—Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart

To continue our discussion from last week’s post about Walmart’s approach to biodiversity conservation, today we’ll focus on Walmart’s goal of Zero Net Deforestation.

To determine how to tackle this goal, Walmart first reviewed studies and learned that certain agricultural commodities, such as palm oil, soy, cattle, and timber, were driving most deforestation in the world, so that’s where the company decided to focus its attention. Walmart then sought to address the major drivers of deforestation in its operation and supply chain for each of these commodities, which we’ll highlight below.

Palm oil. In 2010, Walmart set a goal to sustainably source any palm oil that is used in its global private-brand products. The company also encourages its national-brand suppliers to source palm oil from sustainable sources. By the end of 2015, 100% of Walmart’s private-brand palm oil was sourced sustainably in accordance with the certification standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which included the use of the following supply chain models: Mass Balance, Segregated, Identity Preserved, and Credits. In 2017, Walmart decided to adopt a more rigorous approach of only using the RSPO criteria of Mass Balance or Segregated supply chain systems, or equivalent standards, by the end of 2020.

What the heck does all of that mean? Here are the RSPO definitions that should help make things a bit clearer:

  • Identity Preserved Supply Chain Model: Sustainable palm oil from a single identifiable certified source is kept separately from ordinary palm oil throughout supply chain.
  • Segregated Supply Chain Model: Sustainable palm oil from different certified sources is kept separate from ordinary palm oil throughout supply chain.
  • Mass Balance Supply Chain Model: Sustainable palm oil from certified sources is mixed with ordinary palm oil throughout supply chain.
  • RSPO Credits / Book & Claim Supply Chain Model: The supply chain is not monitored for the presence of sustainable palm oil. Manufacturers and retailers can buy Credits from RSPO-certified growers, crushers and independent smallholders. RSPO’s traceability system for certified palm products is called PalmTrace.

As reported in its 2019 Environmental, Social & Governance Report, the breakdown of Walmart’s Palm Oil supply chain models is as follows:

  • RSPO Identity Preserved: 0.02%
  • RSPO segregated or equivalent: 12.87%
  • RSPO Mass Balance: 47.38%
  • Palmtrace Credits: 39.72%

In other words, Walmart has some work to do in order to transition away from the use of Palmtrace Credits (~40% of its supply chain methodology in calendar year 2018) in order to accomplish its revised 2017 goal. As result, Walmart is now looking for ways to move towards sources of certified, sustainable palm oil that have been physically verified. The company is also determining how it can best support an industry-wide movement as the industry transitions to 100% traceability for sources of palm oil.

Beef. In 2016, Walmart achieved its goal to only source “sustainable beef” that is not associated with deforestation of the Amazon rainforest by getting 100% of its Brazilian beef suppliers to participate in Walmart’s Beef Risk Monitoring System. To monitor its supply of beef, Walmart created a geospatial monitoring system that tracks suppliers, volumes, and over 75,000 registered farm locations, and the data are combined with maps that show where deforestation is taking place. The tool then analyzes Walmart orders to ensure that no beef comes from deforested areas. Beef suppliers are trained to manage geographical information at their slaughterhouses and input the coordinates of their suppliers’ farms into the system. The company is now working to expand the program to include cow-calf operations to address the risk that cattle might be traded from high-risk ranches to approved ranches, and the risk that ranchers who contribute to deforestation may re-register their operations under different names. As the program expands, other sensitive biomes outside of the Amazon will be included, such as the Cerrado tropical savanna ecoregion of Brazil.

Soy. Walmart is working with its supply chain and the Consumer Goods Forum to acquire soy through deforestation-free channels. Walmart supports an indefinite extension for the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon region of Brazil, which has helped reduce the amount of Brazilian soy that comes from deforested areas from 30% to 1%. The company also supports the expansion of the Soy Moratorium to other parts of Brazil where a similar approach is needed.

Pulp and paper products. To address deforestation through logging for timber, Walmart is working to reduce packaging materials and ensure that pulp and paper products are purchased from sustainable sources. The company set a goal of zero-net deforestation associated with its private brand products and is encouraging its national-brand suppliers to set similar goals. Walmart uses a Sustainability Index to measure and track supplier performance based on the percentage of virgin fiber. For the calendar year 2018, the percentage of private-brand pulp and paper volume certified by the Forest
Stewardship Council, Programme for the Endorsement of Forest
Certification, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, or is using recycled content, was reported to be 91%.

To help promote transparency and traceability across its supply chains, in 2017, Walmart joined the World Resources Institute and 20 other companies to launch Global Forest Watch Pro. Global Forest Watch Pro is an online platform that provides companies, banks and other stakeholders with data and tools for monitoring global forest loss due to the production of key commodities such as palm oil, soy and Brazilian beef. The online platform’s algorithms leverage the use of cutting-edge satellite technology and cloud computing to provide real-time information about where and how forests are changing around the world.

I hope you enjoyed this two-part overview of Walmart’s approach to biodiversity conservation. I’ll be back next week with a new topic or case study that highlights the role of corporations in protecting our planet’s biodiversity.

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.”


Walmart and Biodiversity Conservation (Part 1): Acres for America

“The doubters got on board quickly when they saw that our P & L could benefit while we were doing good work for the environment. A constant theme for us in engaging our associates and stakeholders has been shared value: the need to integrate sustainability into business, not treat it as a separate effort, and to ensure we deliver business value as well as value for the environment and society.”
—Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart

With 275 million weekly customers, it’s a safe bet that most of us have been to Walmart at one time or another. Walmart is the largest company in the world, with over US$ 514 billion in total revenue, and a staggering 2.2 million associates spread across 11,300 stores in 27 countries. The Walmart brand includes Walmart Supercenters, Walmart Neighborhood Markets, Sam’s Club (United States, Mexico, Brazil, and China), ASDA (England), and Seiyu (Japan). This behemoth’s supply chain includes over 100,000 suppliers from around the world … no small task to manage. Walmart clearly posts some jaw dropping figures in terms of it’s scale, but how does Walmart stack up in the world of biodiversity conservation?

Pretty darn good! While Walmart neglects to mention the word “biodiversity” in its 2019 Environmental, Social & Governance Report, the Company is doing a lot a great work the directly and indirectly benefits biodiversity. In fact, Walmart has become a leader in many aspects of corporate sustainability. So much so, that I ended up dedicating a whole chapter to Walmart’s conservation efforts in my book Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies that Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity.

In the Companies that I’ll be profiling in these Corporations for Biodiversity blog posts, I’ll be focusing on just one or two strategies that have the most direct, tangible benefit to biodiversity / wildlife conservation, or strategies that are relatively unique.

In the case of Walmart, it has a variety of robust environmental goals associated with climate change and waste, such as the following:

  • By 2030, work with suppliers to reduce or avoid carbon dioxide equivalent emissions from by 1 gigaton from global value chains.
  • Be powered by 50% renewable sources by 2025.
  • Achieve zero waste to landfill from its own operations in key markets, including the U.S., U.K., Japan and Canada by 2025 in accordance with the Zero Waste International Alliance guidelines.
  • Achieve 100% recyclable, reusable or industrially compostable packaging in all Walmart private-brand products by 2025.

… and the list goes on.

The two goals that I’ll focus on in this post and next week’s post directly aim to address the biodiversity threat of habitat destruction / fragmentation:

  • Conserve 1 acre of land for every acre developed by Walmart stores in the U.S.
  • Achieve zero net deforestation by 2020.

This week’s post will address Walmart’s goal to conserve one acre of land for every acre developed by Walmart stores in the United States. To meet this goal, Walmart has adopted a voluntary compensatory strategy through its Acres for America Program. Here is some background on that Program.

In 2005, Walmart partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to establish the Acres for America program “to conserve lands of national significance, protect critical fish and wildlife habitat, and benefit people and local economies.”

Acres for America supports biodiversity and natural-resource conservation through four program priorities:

  1. Conserve critical habitats for birds, fish, plants, and wildlife.
  2. Connect existing protected lands to unify wild places and protect migration routes.
  3. Provide access for people to enjoy the outdoors.
  4. Support local economies that depend on forestry, ranching, and wildlife.

The results have been impressive. Walmart started with a goal to conserve one acre of wildlife habitat for every acre of land developed by Walmart stores but has achieved closer to a 10:1 ratio of conservation to development.

To provide an example of how Walmart and the NFWF leverage those funds each year, let’s look at how those funds were allocated in 2019. In November of 2019, the Acres for America program awarded $3.6 million in grants, and leveraged an additional $70.2 million in matching contributions, to conserve 70,300 acres in Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Washington, Iowa, and Kansas. The funds were allocated to support the following seven projects:

  • The Trust for Public Land and The Nature Conservancy will permanently conserve a 19,200-acre mountain property (Fisher’s Peak Ranch) located south of Trinidad, Colorado, which will become Colorado’s newest State Park. The property links intact habitat between the Eastern Plains of Colorado and the Western Slopes of Colorado and the Rocky Mountains. Grant amount $650,000.
  • The Iowa Department of Natural Resources will protect an 834-acre tract of untilled prairie and oak woodland in the Loess Hills of western Iowa just outside Sioux City. This area will become a State Wildlife Area within a 10,000 acre conservation area, ensuring that the grassland and savanna woodland species are properly managed. Grant amount $270,000.
  • Ranchland Trust of Kansas will partner with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, state and local partners to create a perpetual conservation easement on 9,250 acres of grasslands on the Ballet Ranch in the Red Hills of Kansas. The conservation easement will provide suitable habitat for species of concern, such as cave-dwelling bats, lesser prairie-chicken, plains minnow, longnose snake, and numerous grassland-obligate and migratory birds, while sustaining local economic viability as a working cattle ranch. Grant amount $650,000.
  • In eastern New Mexico, the Trust for Public Land will work with the Bureau of Land Management to acquire an 8,914-acre Cañon Ciruela property as an addition to the Sabinoso Wilderness, while will result in over 30,000 acres of protected wilderness. Grant amount $450,000.
  • In New York, the Nature Conservancy will establish a freshwater preserve at Follensby Pond in Adirondack Park, protecting 14,700 acres that are adjacent to the 275,000 acre High Peaks Wilderness Area. Grant amount $650,000.
  • In Oregon, the Trust for Public Land will work with federal, state and local partners to acquire the 7,500-acre Spence Mountain property on the shore of Upper Klamath Lake, providing critical fish and wildlife habitat. Grant amount $435,000.
  • In Washington, the Columbia Land Trust, in partnership with the Yakama Nation and federal and state agencies, will acquire 9,900 acre Mount Adams-Klickitat Canyon Forest in an effort to protect and restore the Wild & Scenic Klickitat River and its watershed. The canyon will connect federal and tribal protected habitat with thousands of acres of state and private conservation lands, providing critical habitat for 36 federally and state-listed wildlife species. Grant amount $500,000.

Walmart’s Acres for America program should not be confused with a traditional biodiversity offset program. Walmart’s voluntary compensatory action approach differs from a formal biodiversity offset in one important way: there’s no link between the actual biodiversity impacts of the company’s development activities and the biodiversity gains from purchasing land for conservation.

In other words, biodiversity offsets take the Walmart “acres-for-acres” conservation approach a step further by formally requiring no net loss of the biodiversity value of the land. Ideally, the goal is to obtain a positive net gain of biodiversity value from the transaction. The downside of biodiversity offsets is that they are more complex and expensive to implement. The costs and resources required to do a biodiversity offset can make traditional philanthropy and “acres-for-acres” conservation approaches more appealing and a better fit with stakeholder expectations, depending on the company, industry, and location.

In the case of Walmart, it’s very likely that the conservation value of the land purchased through the Acres for America program is greater than the conservation value of the land that Walmart is developing for its stores. As a result, the company chooses not to assess the type, scale, or amount of biodiversity lost and gained from each development project and land-conservation purchase. Instead, Walmart simply looks at the overall footprint of land developed for new stores and ensures that the company protects at least that many acres of high value habitat for conservation.

The results tell a compelling story. As of 2019, the Acres for America program has protected nearly 1.5 million acres, bringing it closer to its goal of conserving 2 million acres by 2025, and it has become the leading public-private land conservation partnership in the United States. It’s an effective approach that many other companies could benefit from imitating.

Well that’s all for today. Next week, we’ll look at another effective strategy that Walmart is putting into place that addresses the biodiversity threat of habitat loss: zero net deforestation.

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.”


Welcome to Corporations for Biodiversity!

Biologists are alerting us to the fact that we’re experiencing major losses of wildlife habitat and biodiversity throughout the world.

Corporations, on the other hand, are expanding operations and hoping to grow. It’s just a matter of time before the actions of corporations and biologists collide. Corporations will soon face increasing stakeholder scrutiny and pressure to do their part to protect our planet’s biodiversity and wildlife.

Fortunately, conservation versus profit is not a zero-sum game where the winner takes all. There are many win-win scenarios that are good for business (e.g., reduced costs, reduced risk, and increased profits) and good for biodiversity (e.g. healthy species, populations,
and ecosystems).

This website will showcase the many ways that corporations play an active role in protecting our planet’s biodiversity. I will also share best practices that corporations may want to incorporate in their strategic planning and operations.

So who the heck is writing this? That would be me, Mark Aspelin. I spent over two decades managing a wide variety of corporate sustainability and environmental management projects for Fortune 500 corporations, non-profit organizations, and government agencies, which included several years working as a Conservation Biologist for The Nature Conservancy and the International Crane Foundation. I’m also the author of the book “Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies That Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity.” I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel the globe, visiting 100 countries and all 50 U.S. States, and I’m happy to call New Mexico my home.

Corporations for Biodiversity is my small contribution towards the goal of protecting wildlife and the habitats they depend upon for survival. I hope you enjoy the site!

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.”