Outside the recent COP 26, Greta Thunberg bemoaned the lack of action and spoke of commitments being simply “Blah, Blah, Blah” and demanded that everyone took action to reduce global emissions and prevent climate change spiralling out of control. In this article, we reflect on whether these comments apply to agrochemical companies as we take a look at a selection of the sustainability reports which companies now regularly publish.
As a greater number of companies started to report on their sustainability credentials, they were often criticised for lacking consistency and for not using a standard format. When we looked at the reports from the last couple of years, it became clear that this has been addressed and many of the sustainability reports are issued according to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)1 and the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB)2. The latter has some specific industry guidance for classifications created by SASB and the majority of companies in agrochemicals are in “Resource Transformation”.
Of course, these standards cover all elements of sustainability which are relevant to the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)3 such as water, education and poverty. The UN SDG 13 does cover “Climate Action” and although this often forms a major section in sustainability reports, a more specific initiative relating to carbon emissions can be found by looking at companies’ reports under the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)4.
The CDP was founded over 20 years ago and companies wishing to be assessed are sent a questionnaire and their response is then graded from A (the best) to D-. Many of the larger companies have made submissions for a number of years and early reports focussed on reducing emissions from operations through energy efficiency measures and use of renewable energy. Whilst this still continues (Corteva are targeting a 65% intensity reduction in scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030 for example) many of the most recently efforts from the larger companies have moved towards downstream use of their products to help farmers with practices to reduce their emissions. For example, BASF have publicised their nitrification inhibitor Vibelsol®, which slows down the metabolism of ammonium in fertilisers and hence reduces emissions of the GHG nitrous oxide as well as reducing nitrate leaching to water. Syngenta have introduced the seed treatment Vayantis® which they claim enables no-tillage cropping.
On a similar vein, Bayer have highlighted the Confidor Stress Shield® seed treatment which is claimed to help improve resilience of crops to drought and Corteva claim that use of their Enlist™ weed control system leads to lower greenhouse gas emissions by allowing conservation tillage systems to maintain soil quality.
This focus on improving soil quality is gaining increasing traction and is also the subject of carbon trading schemes whereby growers are being encouraged to generate carbon credits by methods which can sink carbon in the soil with the resultant credits being purchased by companies to reduce their own reportable emissions. Whilst this article cannot cover this initiative in any detail, the reader can find out how such schemes work by looking at the programmes being launched by Indigo5, Nori6 and Agoro7 amongst others.
Whilst accredited sustainability reporting is increasing amongst larger companies, we found that the uptake from smaller companies is less obvious. Due to the nature of any standard, the reporting is very structured and, in some ways, too rigid, bureaucratic and costly for smaller companies. We believe that a move towards “Lite” sustainability standards could increase the uptake amongst smaller companies, particularly those in the bioprotection sector.
So, in conclusion, do we think that the agrochemical companies are taking action on carbon reduction and that they are not just “Blah, Blah, Blah”? Well, we believe that the evidence from the larger companies is clear and that the issue is being taken seriously and true action is being undertaken. In some ways this has been driven by economic factors such as regulators imposing costs on emissions, financial institutions subjecting large publicly listed companies to greater scrutiny and by consumers choosing products which they believe are better for the environment (and potentially reducing revenues for some companies). Whatever the reasons, the movement to reduce emissions is now unstoppable and with more good quality public reporting it will become clearer which companies are meeting their targets.
For a more in-depth view on the subject, please contact Dr. David Calvert(firstname.lastname@example.org) and Dr. Jim Bullock(email@example.com) and take a look at Sustainability in Agrochemicals 2021 written by themselves8.
1The Global Reporting Initiative https://www.globalreporting.org/
2The SASB Standards (now a part of the Value Reporting Foundation) https://www.sasb.org/about/
3The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals https://sdgs.un.org/goals
4The Carbon Disclosure Project https://www.cdp.net/en
5Carbon by Indigo Scheme https://www.indigoag.com/carbon
6Nori Carbon Removal Marketplace https://nori.com/
7Agoro Carbon Alliance https://www.yara.com/agoro/
8Sustainability in Agrochemicals https://ihsmarkit.com/research-analysis/reporting-sustainability-in-agrichemicals.html
This article was initially published in AgroPages' 'Annual Review 2021' magazine.
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