Natural Bridge: exploring business-led action from nexus thinking – workshop
Our second thematic workshop, ‘Natural Bridge: exploring business-led action from nexus thinking’ workshop, was held on Wednesday 15 & Thursday 16 April 2015. The workshop was led by the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and brought a particular focus on the role of business in dealing with nexus challenges.
The workshop, which took place in Cambridge over two days, explored the business risks related to land use, food, water, energy and the environment through a mix of interactive sessions to inspire business led action underpinned by research.
The event accommodated a broad mix of 40 people, with half representing the private sector and half from academia. We witnessed a real combination of minds that crossed the business-academia divide and broke down multi-sector and disciplinary boundaries. Fruitful discussions often yielded more questions than answers but these can stimulate future research ideas and encourage funding into areas that are impactful for business. Read more in the blog about the Natural Bridge event.
The morning of the full day workshop provided participants with both an industry and academic perspective of the nexus with presentations from Ian Ellison, Jaguar Land Rover and Grant Kopec, University of Cambridge. This set the scene for Nexus2020, where participants explored their most important questions for business around food, water, energy and the environment. Following this, three business members presented their take on the nexus with a specific commodity focus, grounding participants in real situations where action is needed by the private sector, these were:
- Business challenge on cotton Laura Babbs, Asda
- Business challenge on dairy Andy Richardson, Volac
- Business challenge on timber Peter Gardiner, Mondi
Download a pdf of the talks from the event Natural Bridge slide deck15and16April2015
Commodity case studies
The afternoon of the workshop saw participants grappling with the nexus issues, using a case study in groups for each of three commodities. This resulted in each group making recommendations to prioritise action based upon a nexus analysis.
How does the cotton map out on the nexus? Perhaps one of the reasons cotton traders are very reluctant to map cotton systems out is the extent to which it is convoluted and far reaching. Having said that, the group came up with the following interactions:
- Food: Cotton can become in competition with food for land and for water. Cotton can also contribute to food crop rotations. Local fishing industries may be negatively impacted by cotton production polluting water sources thereby threatening local food security and local incomes.
- Energy: Producing fertilisers is very energy intensive and if climate change impacts destabilise rainfall patterns, cotton production may have to rely on irrigation or desalinisation, which are also energy intensive.
- Water: Cotton is a very thirsty crop but can also pollute waterways through pesticide runoff.
- Environment: If managed properly, cotton production can actually benefit biodiversity but it can also degrade soil and land resources significantly, thereby affecting other systems including food production. Emissions from cotton production may contribute to climate change which in turn may impact water sources necessary for cotton production.
How does dairy map out on the nexus? The dairy industry has impacts and dependencies related to all aspects of the nexus. The main connections include:
- Food: It creates milk and other food ingredients whilst also requiring food for animal nutrition and welfare.
- Energy: This is requiring for milking, processing, cooling and transporting dairy products whilst the industry can generate energy through anaerobic digestion.
- Water: Needed for animal nutrition and welfare but too much water will impact the production of silage and other animal feeds. Excess water and nutrients can also be extracted from milk processing and recycled to the farm.
- Environment: Dairy production creates methane which damages the environment through climate change but dairy farmers also add to the social and cultural heritage of the rural landscape.
How does timber map out on the nexus? The group considered nexus thinking as an important way of c considering the system and in particular found it helped consider dependencies at a landscape level and raised questions of different land use. The issues that using the nexus approach highlighted were:
- Water: Although predominantly rain fed, forests impact and are dependent on healthy ground water and aquafers, provides flood control/water purification.
- Food: Competing demands for land between agriculture and forestry, providing habitats for wildlife and forest foods. Forest encroachment from rising food demands.
- Energy: Competing demands for biomass, providing a valuable carbon sink e.g. offsets for others. The nexus approach forces companies to look at their dependencies as much as their impacts and requires long term and system thinking. In this case it requires a cultural shift from those within the company being ‘tree planter’ to a new role of ‘landscape mangers’. It should encourage synergies with other stakeholder strategies, not trade-offs alone e.g. in the completion for land between forests and food, the latter will always win. The solutions lie in using nexus thinking in a flexible non-confrontational way to identify, with a group of stakeholders, the value streams through a landscape.
- Environment: Dependency on appropriate land, adequate and heathy soil and water resources necessary for healthy timber of timber plantations. Need a stable climate and monocultures vulnerable to outbreaks of disease
Take a look at the summary of discussions and the recommendations for action around the Nexus in cotton, dairy and timber Interactive sessions – summary-15&16Aprl2015
The information on this page is taken from the summary report, compiled by CISL who ran the event. You can download more details in the 4 sided report, with the delegate list Natural Bridge Nexus Network event – summary