Combating GHG Emissions in the Forest, Land and Agriculture Sector

with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF)

Aug 22, 2020

The Issue

A year ago, I came to the University of Michigan Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise to pursue a joint MBA/MS degree through the Ross School of Business and the School for Environment and Sustainability as a way to transition from my years in management consulting and pivot into the nonprofit or governments space with a focus on environmental impacts in society. This summer I had the opportunity to do just that. Thanks to the funding provided through the Erb Institute, this summer I interned with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an international environmental nonprofit focused on wilderness preservation and reducing human impact on the environment. While at WWF, I worked on the Climate Team specifically focused on the Forest, Land and Agriculture (FLAG) project, a part of the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).

SBTi is a collaborative initiative between WWF, WRI, CDP, and the UN Global Compact, working with companies to set GHG emissions reductions targets in alignment with the Paris Agreement (keeping the increase in global temperature “well-below 2°C ” and striving for 1.5°C). To date, 950+ companies are engaged in the target setting process and 400+ have publicly set and committed to SBTs. SBTi has specific tools tailored for many sectors, but the “land” sector (~23-25% of global GHG emissions) does not have clear guidance for GHG accounting methodology or setting reduction targets – enter the FLAG project.

This sector is also known as agriculture, forest, and other land use (AFOLU) and agriculture + land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF). If it’s still unclear, this sector includes any company that requires the large scale use of land such as agriculture and wood/paper products and any upstream company using these commodities as inputs (major ag producers like Cargill, meat producers like Tyson, dairy product companies like Danone, food retailers like Walmart, food service like McDonalds, etc).

SBTi is addressing the gaps in this sector, calling it the Forest Land and Agriculture (FLAG) project. WRI is leading work to build out clear guidance for GHG accounting for these emissions through the GHG Protocol, and in parallel, WWF is leading the development of the target setting tool. This is where I come in! 

My Role

This summer, I joined the WWF Climate team working on the FLAG project where I built the first version of a GHG emissions reductions target setting tool for companies in the FLAG sector to align with the Paris Agreement, developed initial guidance to accompany it, and supported the development of a consultative group of companies to provide feedback. 

Throughout the summer, on a daily basis I had 3-4 meetings with varying WWF teams, prospective consultative group members, or expert interviews. In between meetings, I worked on my several projects – writing guidance, reviewing data and building a model, prepping for calls and interviews, and building a presentation for the SBTi steering committee. 

For the first month of my internship I focused almost solely on research and getting up to speed, reading academic papers and industry reports. My extensive literature review prepared me to have informed discussions and to understand the data I would later analyze. Once I had a strong foundation, I began to analyze existing GHG emissions reductions target setting tools to evaluate what would be feasible and to develop a strategy for building a tool for the FLAG sector. I then analyzed data from a 2019 Roe et al academic study that projects an emissions reductions pathway for the FLAG sector aligned with a 1.5°C pathway and used to create an initial excel tool for companies to use for GHG emission reduction target setting in this sector. In addition to my technical work, I built presentations for our partner update with WRI, CDP and the UN Global Compact, and a WWF internal webinar. 

Professional Development Outcomes

My internship with WWF was a great opportunity to apply the skills I built over four years in management consulting and through my graduate studies at the University of Michigan. I made a measured impact at a well-known and well-respected environmental nonprofit working to reduce the GHG impacts of industry, something that is key to keeping our world below the 1.5°C threshold. I learned a great deal about GHG emissions accounting, how environmental nonprofits engage and partner with industry, how companies are working to understand their role in climate change and minimizing its impacts, and a great deal about the FLAG / AFOLU sector. 

In a greater context, this internship with WWF provided the opportunity to explore a career with a major environmental nonprofit, something I have considered for post-graduation, and to build relationships with people that may be helpful mentors and connections later in my career. I will continue to work with the WWF Climate team on the FLAG project part-time this fall, and I look forward to pointing towards my accomplishments during my time with WWF in my upcoming job search for next summer.