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October 24, 2012      
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A Hard Look at the Sustainability of Soft Commodities

A new report by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) outlines both alarming challenges and promising opportunities for investors in the so-called soft commodities: agricultural, forest and seafood commodities. According to WWF's analysis, consumption of natural resources has risen to the point where it would take 1.5 years for the Earth to fully regenerate the renewable resources that humans use in one year. "Humanity must now produce more food in the next four decades than we have in the last 8,000 years of agriculture combined," the report tells us. On the positive side, the report finds plenty of room to adopt improved practices that are not only more sustainable but also yield economic benefits to producers and investors including improving efficiency and productivity and generating new income streams and energy from waste products.

The report covers 10 major global commodity sectors with significant impacts on global biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, and water use: aquaculture; beef; cotton; dairy; palm oil; soy; sugar; timber, pulp, and paper; wild-caught seafood; and bioenergy. For each commodity, the report provides figures on the geographic distribution of production and consumption; the environmental and social risks associated with production of the commodity; the key performance criteria that determine the responsibility and sustainability of production; relevant third-party sustainability certifications; and trends and opportunities.

The 2050 Criteria Guide to Responsible Investment

For instance, in the case of beef, environmental risks include land conversion of forests or other native habitat that may contribute to climate change, loss of ecosystem services and biodiversity. Relevant key performance criteria include protection of land areas containing primary forests or with high conservation value...

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