Working Landscapes

IATP established the Working Landscapes Certificate (WLC) Program to promote more sustainable bioplastics and to provide the needed incentives for farmers to grow bioplastic feedstock crops in a more sustainable manner.

As a sector that is billed as environmentally-preferable, it is crucial that the biomaterials industry incorporates sustainability criteria into the entire life cycle of its products. Agricultural production, which makes up over 40 percent of the land use in the United States, has a clear and significant impact on our natural environment. Farming can be fossil fuel and resource intensive, degrade water and soil quality and endanger natural habitat and biodiversity. But agriculture can also improve water and soil health, provide refuge and food for wildlife and increase biodiversity and economic prosperity for farmers, their families and communities. By its nature, the commodity system makes tracing and separating crops difficult, allowing few mechanisms for companies and customers to distinguish and compensate for farming in ways that benefit the environment. Until the processing and transportation infrastructure to support this product differentiation can be built, there is a clear need for an approach that rewards farmers for both their agricultural production and the environmental services they provide.

Under the WLC program, participating farmers agree to raise crops according to sustainable production standards verified by a certification entity. The farmer then has two products to sell: the crop itself and the quantified ecological benefits associated with the more sustainable production practices - termed the Working Landscapes Certificate. The crop produced under the WLC criteria is not guaranteed to be used in the production of the finished product (i.e. a bioplastic) - it is only the attributes of production that are linked to this finished product. But, the purchase of WLC’s does promote more sustainable production practices overall, while also demonstrating to farmers that a growing market exists for commodity crops grown in this manner.

WLC's in Practice
WLCs are voluntary and created on a geographic (i.e. per acre) basis. This approach avoids the incentive a "per bushel" payment would create to produce more than may be appropriate based on other landscape considerations (water quality, wildlife habitat, etc.). Farmers selling WLCs take specific, measurable steps to improve the environmental impact of their commodity crop production. Some of the production criteria include:

  • Use of non-Genetically Modified (GM) crop varieties to protect biodiversity
  • No continuous annual crop production on same acreage
  • Soil testing on contracted acres and fertilization according to test results and state agronomic recommendations to assure that nutrients are used efficiently and are not likely to leach or run-off
  • No use of chemicals that are known human or animal carcinogens, including atrazine
  • Use of cover crops or assurance that at least 70 percent of crop residues remain on the entire field to minimize soil erosion
  • Creation of farm plan that includes information on biodiversity, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions to help identify and encourage improvements in sustainability areas not currently addressed by WLCs.

The WLC system allows companies-at a much-reduced cost from directly sourcing the materials-to support farmers making changes to their production systems.  With current infrastructure challenges associated with feedstock identity-preservation and chain-of-custody, this innovative program allows manufacturers, retailers and other consumers of commodity crops to offer a more sustainable product to their customers by encouraging sustainable crop production.  WLCs are a potentially valuable tool for addressing the "front end" issues, by providing a traceable system that can be used to promote and verify commodity crop production that meets specific sustainability criteria, and to compensate farmers willing to take these steps.

Providing additional income to farmers using these practices makes improving the overall ecological impact of agricultural production achievable. The production of WLCs can help "grow" the number of farmers producing commodity crops more sustainably and demonstrate the market demand for this type of production. And as the number of farmers producing crops more sustainably increases, companies interested in directly purchasing feedstocks produced this way will have an increased supply available from which to source.

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