Knowledge Hub

ALUS Canada – 2019 SDG Leadership Awards

ALUS Canada

Website: alus.ca

Industry: Environmental Services

Primary SDG Focus

Secondary SDG Focus

Please summarize your company’s SDG focus, how was that SDG was implemented and how you achieved and measured the impact.

ALUS Canada – A Weston Family Initiative is a national, registered charity that invests in farmers and ranchers to produce ecosystem services. The ALUS (Alternative Land Use Services) program supports a community-based, farmer-delivered, third party verified approach to conservation and environmental restoration projects.

ALUS’ innovative approach is changing the dynamic between private landowners and conservation by supporting farmers and ranchers to restore and enhance areas on their land. Projects are targeted to deliver cleaner air, cleaner water, habitat and climate mitigation and resilience, thereby supporting SDG 15.

To scale up these efforts, ALUS Canada recently launched the New AcreTM Project – a mechanism that harnesses the knowledge, energy and skills of farmers and ranchers and connects them with corporations that have an interest in SDG15 and ecosystem services production.

Through New AcreTM Project, corporations with sustainability objectives related to SDG 15, or more specific related to cleaner air, cleaner water, enhanced biodiversity, enhanced pollination, climate mitigation or climate resilience can invest in the production, enhancement, and ongoing management of natural capital.

New AcreTM Project offers a simple and transparent return on investment and annual reporting on the SDG 15 metrics that matter most to the investor. The program also supports employee engagement to expand the culture of care throughout the marketplace.

How was your primary SDG focus identified and prioritized in the company’s value chain?

ALUS Canada evolved out of what was originally called the “Farmers Conservation Plan,” designed and delivered by farmers through farm organizations and institutions who had an interest in improving the environmental benefits of working landscapes. Since its inception, conservation and restoration of terrestrial ecosystems has been central to the mission.  It has evolved from a grassroots idea with a few dozen pilot projects to a national program that is active in six provinces and 25 communities, with over 140 funding partners from a variety of sources, at both national and community levels, and over $6.5 million invested in New Acre production.

In 2018, “reduction of lost natural habitats and biodiversity” have been achieved through the production or enhancement of over 22,095 acres of land, including:

  • 8,749 acres of wetland ecosystems,
  • 16,613 acres of pollinator habitat,
  • 4,106 acres reforested with native trees and shrubs.

Under ALUS, producers contribute the use of a portion of their land, labour, equipment, fuel, and sometimes funding to produce environmental benefits, while encouraging investments from the rest of society. All projects are produced, monitored and managed by farmers and ranchers who have a vested interest in the ecosystem services that they support. Decisions about new projects are made at the community level, fostering a culture of care in the global mission. Growth has occurred organically on a voluntary basis.

New AcreTM Project is the next generation of conservation because it engages the single largest landowner group—farmer and ranchers—a market leaders and solution providers.

How was your primary SDG integrated and anchored throughout your business?

The ALUS program and its delivery of New AcreTM Project is guided by eight principles: 1) farmer-driven, 2) community-based, 3) integrated, 4) targeted, 5) accountable, 6) science-based, 7) voluntary, 8) market-driven.

ALUS is implemented at the local level by Partnership Advisory Committees (PACs) made up of local farmers, municipal leaders, and key stakeholders. While ALUS administers funding and program guidance, project decisions are governed by communities through the PACs. By supporting local governance, ALUS is able to ensure that New AcreTM growth and expansion is based on local priorities of communities and while also addressing provincial, regional and federal objectives (e.g., watershed management objectives, Species at Risk, etc.). Although decisions are framed using local language, the program provides measured progress towards many of the SDG targets such as 15.1, 15.2, 15.3, 15.5, 15.8, or 15.9. In many cases, ALUS PAC members become vital advocates of the program and civic leaders within their respective communities.

At the farm-level, participants learn the value of conserving and restoring terrestrial ecosystems through experiential and peer-to-peer learning. Knowledge is not transferred in a top-down fashion, rather through iterative learning, participation in scientific studies, and community-based interactions.

At the corporate level, employee engagement is offered via farm tours, local events, or by imbedding research, finance, technology and management experts within ALUS working groups to improve our approach to valuating and quantifying ecosystem.

By promoting the sustainable use of terrestrial systems to a wider community, ALUS is breaking down barriers between rural and urban communities.

Did you employ any innovative approaches in your efforts to implement the goal?

ALUS engages communities, offers opportunities to target specific local environmental concerns and builds a sense of local ownership over conservation and restoration of terrestrial ecosystems. Through this innovative, community-based payment-for-ecosystem services model, the program achieves measurable, verified outcomes including cleaner water, cleaner air, flood and drought mitigation, and biodiverse habitats for pollinators and wildlife. In the realm of conservation and restoration, we believe that this model is innovative.

Projects are also fertile laboratories for primary scientific research, to ensure that our approaches are informed by the latest knowledge. ALUS has partnered with a large number of academic institutions to advance knowledge of such things as ecosystem services, economics of pollinator health, climate change adaptation, etc.

To demonstrate the financial benefits of projects, ALUS has partnered with Dr. Wanhong Yang, University of Guelph, to develop a cell-based, fully distributed hydrologic model, named IMWEBs (Integrated Modelling for Watershed Evaluation of BMPs) to conduct site-specific assessment. The IMWEBs is complementary to semi-distributed model such as Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT), developed by the U.S. government, and has the capacity to assess water quantity and quality effects of agricultural BMPs at site, field, farm, and watershed scales. ALUS is using the tool to run cost-benefit analysis of ALUS projects and demonstrate the economic value of the ecosystem services generated

ALUS always uses research to optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of program activities, and recognizes the importance of the social, economic and environmental sciences in guiding our implementation of the program.

Were any partnerships leveraged or created?

In 2018, there were 35 national partnerships and over 200 community-level partnerships involved in the program delivery.

Key features of the ALUS model are community development, engagement and integration.  With this as the backbone, the work of New Acre Project is grounded through engaging and collaborating closely with many stakeholders. Partners exist at local, provincial, and national scales and are crucial to the way the program is operated. Partnerships range from farmers and ranchers, provincial and municipal staff, researchers, educator and representatives of other key groups.

Partnerships are leveraged for program delivery, community outreach and education, citizen science, policy initiatives, research, funding and capacity multipliers. Farmers and ranchers are encouraged to become “demonstration projects”, allowing others to view their projects, which further fosters the ‘culture of care’ with the broader community. An example of this culture: many farmers post ALUS road signs on their mailboxes and some communities with post ALUS road signs directly beside their “welcome to our community” signs.

In ALUS policy advocacy work, partnerships are created proactively and by invitation at local, provincial, national, and international levels. ALUS has been invited to participate formally in many on-going policy discussions related to green infrastructure, green infrastructure finance, payment for ecosystem services, Species at Risk, conservation, biodiversity banking, Great Lakes water quality, agricultural best management practices, food security, and Canada’s contributions to the SDGs. Increasingly, the connections between these areas and the SDGs are made clear in ALUS Canada’s contributions to these discussions.

What communications strategy did you employ to share the initiative with your stakeholders?

The ALUS Canada national communications strategy has three general goals:

  • Goal 1: Grow brand awareness for ALUS Canada, a Weston Family Initiative, through media coverage, advertising, e-newsletters and social media;
  • Goal 2: Support our corporate sponsorship program by managing a digital (web/social) marketing/advertising campaign for the NAP’s target market;
  • Goal 3: Steward our brand effectively to ensure that our image and messaging are clearly and consistently represented across Canada.

Each local PAC facilitates their own local-level communications through regular meetings, events, and many have adopted social media channels.

  • In 2019, New AcreTM communications and engagement will highlight the connection with the SDGs:
  • Social media campaign,“SDGs from the field” , and photo series (showing local ALUS partners standing and projects, holding SDG signs) to educate and expand interest in the solution.
  • Highlighting SDG 15 at community events (bringing this language into presentations)
  • Communicating about the SDGs through ALUS newsletters to community partners and corporate partners.

For New Acre corporate investors that have made SDGs/SDG15 commitments or wish to, we structure our reporting on the SDG as part of the terms of their contract. This will allow us to use the SDG lens for reporting on the ROI of sponsorship back to the sponsor (thus facilitating their own SDG reporting) and in for external communications.

How did your company measure impact and how would you describe success?

ALUS Canada’s outcomes are largely focused on growing the number of farmers and ranchers participating and the number of New Acres produced. We have national targets established for the organization for 2018-2021:

Increase the number of managed acres from 18,518 to 32,418

Add 13,900 new acres across the country

Increase the number of communities with an ALUS program from 21 to 33

• Add 12 communities across the country

Support community, government, corporate and stakeholder

outreach and partnership development

Offer solutions related to endangered species, pollinators, climate change, extreme weather events, and pollution issues

Increase the number of local, regional and national supporters

Become bilingual as an organization, reflecting Canada’s official languages.

Success in 2018:

• We have added 4 new participating communities

• We have added 213 new participant farmers/ranchers

• We have added 5,390 acres of projects

We have developed a market to produce natural  infrastructure through municipalities

• We have become bilingual.

How were reporting and monitoring conceptualized and undertaken?

ALUS Canada maintains a proprietary database where details on each community, farmer, and project are captured. We use the data to report back to various funders and to demonstrate outcomes to communities and partners.

After each New AcreTM Project is established, ALUS Program staff, or designated technicians conduct annual project site visits to verify that the project is intact and being managed for increased ecosystem services. Each project is ground-truthed and project acreage is measured (using GPS). ALUS Canada also manages an annual third-party verification process on a randomized selection of New Acre project sites. This information is recorded in ALUS Canada’s proprietary database and mapped using GIS software.

Each local ALUS community reports these acres, along with other project information to ALUS Canada twice each year. GIS maps and information stored in the database is also used to monitor and verify project maintenance at an annual site visit. Data collected during monitoring is also recorded, per project, in the database.

To make this process for seamless and transparent, ALUS Canada is developing a cloud-based dashboard that will allow New AcreTM investors to interact with our national database, see where their investments are having an impact and how that relates with the bigger picture. The longer-term vision is that this dashboard would be linked to the IMWEBS model, so that the value of ecosystem services gained would also be visible to users.

What were some key lessons learned?

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ALUS Canada remains focused on increasing our capacity to measure and evaluate ecosystem services though the development of the Integrated Modelling for Watershed Evaluation (IMWEBs) tool so that New AcreTM projects can be compared using cost-benefit evaluation to grey infrastructure, using simulations. This tool will help to overcome the challenge of communicating the value of green infrastructure/natural capital investments to municipalities and governments that are not accustomed to considering green options in their capital planning.

Lessons learned regarding what New AcreTM offers with respect to SDG15 (and the other SDGs) is on-going. Our national team are still learning how we can support corporations in their reporting against the Goals, and how our reporting, tools, database, and eventual cloud-based dashboard will improve the communication and understanding of those connections. Joining Global Compact Network Canada and participating in webinars and events are steps we are taking to improve our approach.

What were the key impacts and results?

Increased the number of managed acres of ecosystem services from 18,518 to 32,418 in 2018

Added 13,900 new acres across the country

Increase the number of communities with an ALUS program from 21 to 33 in 2018

Added 12 communities across the country

Outreach efforts and our response to requests indicate that there are dozens of additional communities that wish to begin producing acres, should our fundraising/corporate partnership efforts allow for it.

On February 5, 2019, ALUS Canada attended the first annual partner meeting for the Modeste Natural Infrastructure Project, an important Alberta-based initiative we announced in May of 2018. The Modeste Natural Infrastructure Project will evaluate the financial benefits of conserving and enhancing natural infrastructure on agricultural lands in the Modeste Creek watershed, upstream of Edmonton, in Alberta. This is a major step in the evolution of ALUS being able to demonstrate the financial benefits associated with projects.

The Post (e-newsletter), November 2018:  Looking Back on a Season of Growth: https://mailchi.mp/alus/the-post-alus-canada-enewsletter-1510449