Taking Sustainability to the Next Level

We talk about environmental sustainability in food production quite a bit, as we should. Using natural resources responsibly helps to ensure the reliability of our food supply and, therefore, our livelihoods.

But what about putting something back into the Earth to help support our food system? We are talking reforestation and composting, two environmental stewardship practices that help grow new life—trees, plants, food. They are also energy-savers. Read on to learn about these sustainability practices.

My Forest, Your Forest, Everybody’s Forest

You can think of reforestation, or planting trees to replace others that have been used to support the production of our food and other consumer goods, as “putting a toy back after you’ve played with it.” Planting new trees is done to proactively stabilize and support tree populations, our ecosystem, biodiversity and the food security of future generations.

Reforestation projects can vary in size. Many are large-scale projects that aim to plant billions of trees across wide regions, such as the international commitment of the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Initiative 20X20. The project is a country-led effort to restore 20 million hectares (49 million acres) of land by 2020 in Latin America and the Caribbean.

These efforts benefit local communities economically, as well as local food supplies. A WRI report, The Economic Case For Landscape Restoration In Latin America, uncovered that restoring this significant amount of degraded land in Latin America and the Caribbean by adding trees and improving farming practices would provide over $20 billion in net benefits over 50 years, “a value equivalent to about 10 percent of annual food exports from the region.”

Another notable large-scale project is occurring in the Brazilian Amazon, focusing on tropical reforestation. This effort, which began late last year and is led by Conservation International (CI), aims to restore 70,000 acres (more than 70 million trees) over the next six years. This rainforest restoration will notably help with the global removal of carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere. But just as important, CI explains, “The Amazon rainforest is home to the richest biodiversity of any ecosystem on the planet, yet it is rapidly vanishing with increasing global demand for resources.”

For smaller-scale efforts, the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies recently noted enhanced efforts to “incorporate trees in a multi-use mosaic of various land uses […] allowing for human livelihoods as well as ecological integrity and ecosystem services across a landscape.”

These large- and small-scale projects are needed all over the world. All of the efforts can support global poverty reduction and food security enhancement, and can offset climate change impacts. The Atlas of Forest Landscape Restoration Opportunities, a great map developed by WRI, shows current reforestation efforts and areas that could use a little “tree-planting love.” The atlas also shows current forest coverage, potential forest coverage, forest conditions and human pressure on forest landscapes.

Boasting About Composting

We felt like we could not talk about “putting something back into the Earth” to support sustainability and not talk about composting. Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow—i.e., fertilizer. It can include uneaten food scraps, inedible portions of foods (like banana peels, egg shells or apple cores) and yard trimmings, making it a great way to reduce food waste.

But hold your horses on just grabbing all of your half-eaten food and sprinkling it in your garden. To develop compost, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests following some basics. Just remember “brown, green and water.” A combination of these elements will help you make effective compost:

  • Browns — materials such as dead leaves, branches and twigs
  • Greens — materials such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps and coffee grounds
  • Water — to ensure consistent moisture of the compost

The EPA goes on to advise, “Your compost pile should have an equal amount of browns to greens. You should also alternate layers of organic materials of different-sized particles. The brown materials provide carbon for your compost, the green materials provide nitrogen, and the water provides moisture to help break down the organic matter.”

Not only does making compost reduce food waste, but it also averts the need for fertilizers, which translates into energy and resource conservation.

Plant a Tree, Save Your Scraps, Hug the Earth

Helping to conserve resources like water and energy is a great way to be an environmental steward. However, also adding something back to the Earth, like planting a new tree or treating a garden with unused organic matter (like food that may have grown from that same garden), is a great way to further support our population on a global scale.

Whether it’s large-scale, at the local level, or even just at home, environmental sustainability can take many forms. When it comes to food, there is an abundance of opportunities— and the rewards we reap will benefit our planet well into the future.