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Businesses must do more to take action on soil, says Lancaster sustainability expert

Three seedlings growing out of the soil

16 March 2017

Companies are unaware of the huge risks they face from soil degradation.

Most businesses are unaware that their bottom lines depend on soil, or of the huge risks they face from its degradation, sustainability expert Dr Jessica Davies from Lancaster University writes in a comment piece in the latest edition of Nature (published Thursday 16 March 2017).

In the comment piece, Dr Davies, who is based at the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business, argues that the private sector must take action to improve soil quality – particularly if it is serious about sustainability and commitments to climate change.

In collaboration with researchers, businesses should advocate for international legislation, assess their soil risks and impacts and invest in maintaining and enhancing this resource.

Dr Davies’ article in Nature coincides with the UN’s first world symposium on soil organic carbon, which she is also attending. The symposium aims to review the role of soils in climate change and integrate its assessment into the regular IPCC Assessment Reports.

Dr Davies said: “While some businesses in agriculture, forestry the food sector have taken measures to reduce soil impacts, most other sectors have not and are also unaware of the important role soil plays in their day to day operations.

Soil is vital to all industries that use plant or animal products from fashion to pharmaceuticals and increasingly energy. The risks of soil degradation and crop failures perpetuates out into other sectors, for example the investors and insurers that support industries with soil in the supply chain.

“There is a need for global business action and policy on soils. Soil is a global resource and degradation has far-reaching consequences – for society and business alike. Yet there is no international legislation governing soils directly.”

The comment piece argues that climate risk and mitigation is another area where soil’s potential is underappreciated in business. It is estimated that land use change and soil management has resulted in a huge net loss of carbon from soils over the past century, the majority of which is likely to been emitted as CO2. However there is potential to reverse this trend and increase carbon storage in soils through sustainable land management.

Dr Davies’ recommends three paths:

  • Businesses should join the science community in lobbying for better soil policies and practices. International legislation should be a priority.
  • Companies need to assess the extents to which their operations and value chains depend on services provided by soils.
  • Soils need to be seen in business as an investment opportunity to mitigate climate, water, energy and supply chain disruption risks.

The full article can be accessed here.