Preserving our Planet

World Wildlife Fund

World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) iconic black and white panda bear logo is unmistakable. Instantly recognisable around the globe, the endearing symbol is synonymous with conservation. And no wonder – WWF has grown to become the world’s leading conservation organisation.
Established in 1961, the international non-profit was launched to bring together nature conservationists and business leaders who were concerned about biodiversity loss and determined “to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature,” says Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia. “And it is a mission that suits us just as well today as it did in 1961.”

In Australia, sustainable agriculture plays an important role in this ongoing mission. “Sometimes people ask why WWF works on agriculture,” Mr O’Gorman remarks. The reason is simple; the stakes are too high not to. “In order to feed today’s seven billion-plus people, we are currently consuming around 1.5 planet’s worth of the world’s natural renewable resources,” he explains. “That means that, if we were farmers, we would be eating the seeds that we are storing away to sow next season.”

Future projections are even more dire. “Agriculture is already one of the single largest drivers of change in a global environment,” Mr O’Gorman points out. “And, in 2050, when we have about 9 billion people, the demand for food is probably going to double. Pastures and cropland occupy about 50 per cent of the earth’s habitable lands. So in order to ensure a secure future for our planet and to sustain the expanding needs of our population, we [must improve] how the world grows, transports, and consumes its food.”

WWF’s innovative Market Transformation Initiative is working toward this goal by promoting the sustainable production and sourcing of 15 commonly used commodities, including sugar, beef, seafood, forest products, and palm oil.

In Queensland, WWF-Australia is working with sugarcane growers to protect the Great Barrier Reef. One of the greatest threats to the reef “is from pesticides and fertilisers and sediments” which run off into waterways and eventually find their way into the ocean. “We know that over the last 27 years there has been a 50 per cent decline in reef coral cover across the whole reef as an average,” Mr O’Gorman explains. “So clearly there is a need to do something urgently in that space.”

The Great Barrier Reef is a major tourist destination, so its decline is not just an environmental issue; it can strongly impact the economy as well. “Tourism is a $6 billion industry that employs about 70,000 people full time in Queensland,” Mr O’Gorman points out.

WWF recognises the whole picture and is careful to consider the needs of the growers and the overriding economic realities in addition to the needs of the reef. As a result, WWF’s goal is to “improve not only the environment and the impact of farming, but also to increase farm profitability,” Mr O’Gorman explains. In addition to delivering positive environmental outcomes, adopting sustainable framing practices “is making the farmer more money, which is important for regional economies and social stability as well.”

Five years ago, WWF-Australia partnered with 19 Queensland Sugarcane farmers to reduce fertiliser and pesticide use. Now, that number has risen to nearly 100 farmers – and these farmers have managed to lower fertilizer use by 16 per cent and pesticide use by 28 per cent in that short amount of time. “That is principally through innovative farming practices,” Mr O’Gorman shares. For example, utilising precision agriculture techniques, farmers apply a small amount of pesticide directly where it’s needed, rather than spraying liberally over a large area.

Enthusiasm from participating farmers has been strong. “They are very proud of the innovative things that they are doing on their farms, of adopting new technologies. And they are very proud to be doing their bit to try and protect the Great Barrier Reef.” Multinational corporations are also getting on board. “We have companies like Bacardi and Coca-Cola who are making commitments to buy sustainably farmed sugar. These global companies are becoming local partners in supporting farmers.”

The initiative is off to a strong start, but there is still much more to accomplish. “It has been a very successful project and has won a lot of awards,” says Mr O’Gorman. However, “one hundred farmers out of thousands more [in the area] is clearly not enough to tackle what’s required to save the reef.”

The beef industry is also putting the Great Barrier Reef at risk. Fortunately, “good modern farming practices can reduce the impact that those farms are having on the reef,” Mr O’Gorman asserts. “Many Australian beef producers are already implementing leading environmental practices, but in order to protect the sensitive environments, they need to be adopted at a much larger scale across the whole industry.” As with the sugar industry, WWF understands that to be viable long term, these practices must also be profitable. “We see that beef can’t be produced sustainably unless it is produced in a profitable way. At WWF we want profitable and sustainable rural communities to be thriving.” WWF has not been working with the beef industry as long as the sugar industry, but initial progress has been promising – and already profitable.

Encouraging sustainable practices within the seafood industry is also an important focus for WWF; in fact, the organisation has been active in that space for nearly 20 years. WWF was a key driver behind the creation of the standards-setting Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) for farmed seafood, as well as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for wild-caught seafood. “These two stewardships provide a global benchmark which has recognition all over the world,” Mr O’Gorman says. “With our partners we’ve assessed more than 500 seafood product lines for sustainability and we’ve seen a number of Australian fisheries come under MSC in the last few years. This has been an important milestone; it is recognition that the fishing industry in Australia has a strong commitment to sustainability.”

WWF’s focus on sustainable supply chains can be traced back to the organisation’s efforts to ensure that timber and paper are sustainably sourced. This work began in the 1990s, when WWF helped set up the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which sets standards for responsible forest management. “We’ve seen a number of companies around the world commit to only sourcing FSC pulp, paper or timber for their products,” including major industry players such as Kimberly Clark, says Mr O’Gorman.

Encouraging sustainable palm oil production is one of WWF’s most pressing current concerns. At present, the “vast majority” of the world’s palm oil comes out of Indonesia and Malaysia, with the islands of Borneo and Sumatra at the epicentre of the industry. “We’ve seen millions of hectares converted on the island of Borneo for palm oil. The island’s lowland forests are home to orangutan, [inspiring] many global campaigns over the loss of orangutan habitats.” WWF helped set up the global Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to promote sustainable palm oil production in these vulnerable ecosystems.

“Palm oil is found in more than half of all supermarket products,” Mr O’Gorman points out, “so WWF says, rather than no palm oil, we need to move to sustainably managed palm oil.” The plan appears to be working; “the amount of sustainably managed palm oil has grown significantly in the last seven or eight years. We’ve seen everyone from Coles and Woolworths to Unilever and Nestlé commit to sustainably sourced palm oil.”

And these companies are just a few names in a long list of corporations willing to support sustainability. “We are increasingly seeing companies recognise that sustainability is a big external issue that needs to be part of their overall corporate strategy,” Mr O’Gorman explains. “The boards and senior staff understand this and sign off on it as a direction [that the company needs to take].”

Great strides have been made, but this is only the beginning. “I think that the issue of sustainability will continue to increase and become one of the defining issues of the century,” Mr Gorman insists. “It will move from being a small issue in the company’s overall strategy to being a central component of how we manage a planet of nine billion people. We are scheduled to consume more than two times the world’s natural renewable resources each year. And I come back to my analogy that, if we were farmers, we would be eating the seeds that we should be sowing for next year.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

January 18, 2019, 3:33 AM AEDT