The limits to growth
In 1972, the Club of Rome predicted that humanity would exhaust nature’s finite resources within a few decades. This global think tank focused on identifying threats to humanity. It also served as a catalyst for policy solutions and drew considerable attention with the publication of its book, The Limits to Growth.1 The book’s authors based their future scenarios on the latest in computing power at the time.
It’s now “a few decades later” and we’re still here. For one thing, it seems the models used by the authors were too crude and limited in scope to make accurate Environment Economy Society projections. For another, as the great Austrian philosopher Karl Popper argued, to predict the future would require predicting technological innovations, which are inherently unpredictable.2
In the 1970s, sustainability was far from becoming a buzzword. Yet at the time, we as a company had already made amino acids a part of our business. This focus on amino acids stemmed from a desire to reduce humanity’s dependency on finite resources through technological innovation to ensure healthy, abundant and safe food.
THE THREE DIMENSIONS OF SUSTAINABILITY
Three dimensions have emerged as the core of mainstream thinking around sustainability: society, the economy and the environment. For a long time, this concept was illustrated through three overlapping ellipses. A paradigm shift has occurred in recent years, resulting in a new illustration. It implies that economies and societies are embedded parts of the biosphere rather than separate, albeit interrelated, sectors. The idea is that the economy serves society so it can evolve within the safe operating space of the planet. This model is a powerful tool for defining the overall sustainability issue.3
A world in motion: towards more sustainable behavior
Today’s planetary threats loom large. As a company, we work hard to help meet the challenges of sustainability in the area of animal nutrition. In recent years, awareness has also grown exponentially in the international community regarding the absolute necessity of sustainable action. Politicians, economic leaders and citizens around the world have adopted the cause of sustainable development as a top priority. Progress has become evident in various ways.
Governments across the globe have begun to take action on a greater scale. At COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in late 2015, an overwhelming number of nations agreed on binding goals for mitigating global warming. China and the US ratified the agreement in September 2016. The European Parliament approved the ratification by the European Union in October 2016. This results in an unprecedented level of accountability among nations.4
Sustainability has also become a strategic priority in corporate boardrooms around the world. An increasing number of companies are seeking to align sustainability with their overall business goals, missions and values.5 No longer viewed as an impediment to smooth operations, reducing natural resource consumption and lowering emissions have instead become core to business growth. This strategic approach to sustainability is also brought to bear in the concept of Creating Shared Value (CSV), which assumes that the competitiveness of a company and the health of the communities around it are mutually dependent.6
The shift towards sustainable behavior is increasingly evident at the individual level, too, driving both career choices and consumer desires. In fact, “sustainability will continue to be a burgeoning industry with great career potential as resources and energy become more scarce and expensive.”7 According to a 2015 Nielsen survey, “consumers are trying to be responsible citizens of the world […]. So when it comes to purchasing, they are doing their homework.”8 This virtuous cycle is gaining momentum around the globe.
Setting our guardrails
This encouraging progress must serve as an incentive to
redouble our efforts—both as an international community and as a company. Yet we need clearly defined reference points if we are to stay on track.
It’s an undeniable fact that our planet cannot indefinitely sustain economic growth by simply feeding off natural resources. This insight led a group of scientists from the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Australian National University to propose the concept of planetary boundaries in 2009, and an updated version in 2015.9
Of the nine boundaries named above, we have identified five in which we are well-positioned to make a positive contribution by the nature of our animal nutrition business: biosphere integrity, land-system change, freshwater use, biogeochemical flows and climate change.
UN Sustainable Development Goals
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by world leaders in September 2015. It lays down 17 binding goals for creating a world in which “consumption and production patterns and use of all natural resources—from air to land, from rivers, lakes and aquifers to oceans and seas—are sustainable. One in which development and the application of technology are climate-sensitive, respect biodiversity and are resilient. One in which humanity lives in harmony with nature and in which wildlife and other living species are protected.”15 This is and will continue to be an ambitious endeavor.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) touch on all aspects of human activity, capturing the planetary boundaries concept in the process.16
The SDGs create a road map for sustainable action. Eight of these goals are directly related to our Animal Nutrition business activities and serve as a guiding framework for our sustainability efforts.
Human impact formula
Over the past 40 years, innovation has played a crucial role in enabling global growth and widespread affluence.
That this would come at a cost was obvious even then. The human impact formula (IPAT equation) describes
how the three areas contribute to our environmental impact.18 The formula is as pertinent today as when it was
initially proposed in the early 1970s, at a time when the concept of sustainable development was first taking root.
Harnessing the technology factor
As a company, we can only observe trends around population growth (P) and rising affluence (A), which may for instance result in higher per capita meat consumption. The technology variable (T), however, is one we can influence with our products and services for the animal feed industry. For example, the environmental impact (I) of the nitrogen load associated with producing animal protein can be reduced through optimized feed formulations containing our amino acids and advanced livestock production technologies (T).
Our expertise is driven by decades of experience in manufacturing amino acids for the animal feed industry. This enables us to contribute in a concrete way to the decoupling of economic growth and its corollary, affluence, from resource consumption and environmental deterioration.
This publication illustrates the ways in which our technology and services are contributing to sustainability—and to the provision of healthy, plentiful protein sources for future generations.
Biosphere integrity is crucial to maintaining the high agricultural productivity that is indispensable to human development. Yet since 1970, wildlife populations have decreased by nearly 50 percent and current rates of animal extinction and ecosystem damage are excessively high. A concerted effort must be made to protect biosphere integrity, enhance natural habitats and improve connectivity between ecosystems.
Forest-to-cropland conversion and exponentially growing cities aren’t just destroying natural habitats. Deforestation and urbanization are also dramatically increasing greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn are accelerating global warming. The industrial sector must step up its support for sustainable land-management practices and policies by reducing the land resources demanded by industry’s process chains.
Less than one percent of all freshwater resources are usable for ecosystems and humans. By 2025, 800 million people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity.14 Excessive water use can dry up rivers
and aquifers, harming the environment and altering the hydrological cycle and climate in the process. Every effort must be made to minimize water waste and reduce the release of pollutants into the environment.
While nitrogen and phosphorus are essential nutrients for all life, the Earth is unable to cope with excessive amounts of these chemical elements. Human activities are emitting nitrogen and phosphorus at an overwhelming rate—acidifying our waterways, polluting the air we breathe and damaging our climate in the process. If we are to save the Earth’s air and water, change must come to this area.
Rising global temperatures can in large part be linked to CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. The consequences of an atmosphere warming too fast, too soon can already be seen—weather extremes, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and ruined crops. Due to the inextricably intertwined nature of climate change, energy security and economic stability, the curbing of carbon emissions must be made an urgent priority.
1 Meadows, D. H. et. al. (1972). The Limits to Growth; a report for the Club of Rome’s project on the predicament of mankind.
New York: Universe Books.
2Popper, K. R. (1944). The poverty of historicism. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.
3Adams, W. M. (2006). The Future of Sustainability: Re-thinking Environment and Development in the Twenty-first Century. Report of the IUCN Renowned Thinkers Meeting, January 29–31, 2006.
4 Paris Agreement. (n.d.). Retrieved August 9, 2016, from http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/international/negotiations/paris/ index_en.htm
5 Sustainability’s strategic worth: McKinsey Global Survey results. (n.d.). Retrieved August 09, 2016, from http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/sustainability-and-resource-productivity/our-insights/sustainabilitys-strategic-worth-mckinsey-global-survey-results
6 Porter, M. E., Kramer, M. R. (2011). Creating Shared Value: How to reinvent capitalism—and unleash a wave of innovation and growth. Harvard Business Review, 89(1/2), 62–77.
7 Environmental Jobs: Green Jobs in Sustainable Development. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2016, from https://www.petersons.com/graduate-schools/green-jobs-sustainable-development.aspx
8 Insights. The Sustainability Imperative. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2016, from http://www.nielsen.com/ca/en/insights/reports/2015/the-sustainability-imperative.html
9The nine planetary boundaries. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2016, from http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetaryboundaries/planetary-boundaries/about-the-research/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html
10 Crutzen, P. J., Schwägerl, C. (2011). Living in the Anthropocene: Toward a New Global Ethos. Retrieved September 06, 2016, from http://e360.yale.edu/feature/living_in_the_anthropocene_toward_a_new_global_ethos/2363/ and Crutzen, P., Stoermer, E. (2000). The “Anthropocene”. Global Change Newsletter, 41, 17–18.
11 Carrington, D. (2016). The Anthropocene epoch: Scientists declare dawn of human-influenced age. Retrieved September 06, 2016, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/29/ declare-anthropocene-epoch-experts-urge-geological-congress-human-impact-earth
12 United Nations. (2012). Resilient people, resilient planet: A future worth choosing. New York: United Nations, 24.
13 United Nations General Assembly. (2010). Implementation of Agenda 21, the Programme for the Further Implementation of Agenda 21 and the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Report of the Secretary-General to the General Assembly of the United Nations, August 16, 2010; and European Commission Standing Committee on Agriculture Research (2011), Transition towards sustainable food consumption and production in a resource constrained world [“The Budapest Declaration”], Conference May 4–5, 2011 Budapest, Hungary.
14 UN Water—United Nations. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2016, from http://www.unwater.org/
15 Transforming our world: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2016, from https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld
16 SDGs: Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. (n.d.). Retrieved July 28, 2016, from https://sustainabledevelopment. un.org/sdgs
17 How food connects all the SDGs. (n.d.). Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/ research-news/2016-06-14-how-food-connects-all-the-sdgs.html
18 Ehrlich, P. R., Holdren, J. P. (1971). Impact of Population Growth. Science, 171(3977), 1212–1217.