- Jul 22, 2021 3:34 pm GMT
The buzz these days is about a new certification program for electric power companies that implement conservation practices for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. In 2017, Bee Better from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation launched a third-party verified farm & food certification. Expanding it to land managed by power companies is the next step.
And the cost of the certification won’t sting, either.
Some 20,000 to 30,000 acres of farmland throughout the U.S. already have received Bee Better Certification, a first-of-its-kind program that creates criteria for habitat restoration on farms, as well as protection from pesticides and herbicides. Farms as diverse as vineyards, tree nut orchards, and grain and vegetable producers have joined the program. I Ingredients sourced from these farms now appear in products displaying the Bee Better Certified seal in major retailers such as Costco, Walmart, Trader Joe’s and Kroger. This rapid growth and public exposure are positioning Bee Better Certified as one of the highest-profile, public-facing eco-labels.
Eric Lee-Mӓder, a director of Xerces Society’s pollinator conservation team, is working with EPRI to help create a certification that is relevant for land used for electricity production and delivery. Right now, EPRI is coordinating with industry leaders, entomologists, ecologists, and natural resource agencies to ensure our goals are robust, meaningful and achievable. Next, Xerces will develop criteria that are responsive to the input. Xerces anticipates releasing the new certification opportunity in late 2022, along with training for qualified, third-party verifiers.
This isn’t the first time EPRI has focused research on pollinators. For instance, ongoing field studies identify Integrated Vegetation Management (IVM) as a framework that promotes pollinators in utility rights-of-way, monarch conservation practices that apply to utilities have been summarized, and EPRI recently released a report, “Pollinator Metrics for Corporate Sustainability Reporting and Benchmarking.” A new study is investigating the feasibility of co-locating pollinator habitat at solar farms.
In summer 2020, as part of our Power-in-Pollinators initiative, EPRI hosted a virtual party spanning National Pollinator Week to celebrate the importance of pollinators, reaching 1.2 million people, largest pollinator party in the world. The event featured the premier of “Power for Pollinators,” a documentary about the role of electric power companies in pollinator conservation. This June, EPRI and the Pollinator Partnership co-hosted the second annual Pollinator Power Party, reaching more than 2 million people.
The need for pollinators
It is no secret that we depend on pollinators for food production and the integrity of the ecosystem. Bloomberg reports that “about 25% fewer bee species were found between 2006 and 2015, compared to records prior to the 1990s.” Protection under the Endangered Species Act has been sought for the American bumblebee, which has declined by as much as 89% in the past two decades—the Biden administration has been urged to grant the bee legal protection.
“We’re starting from a good place. We’re working off of existing green space with the energy sector, so a lot of the foundation is already here. In other words, this is more of a refinement mindset rather than a wholesale restructuring of existing land management,” said Lee-Mӓder,
Many electric companies that manage land associated with solar, power plants, substations, and transmission lines already have biodiversity conservation efforts. Land managers at power companies are trained in vegetation management, wildlife biology, and some utilities even have trained entomologists on staff. There are already many notable conservation actions taking place. These utilities may have opportunities to refine their existing practices to boost those ecological benefits, Lee-Mӓder explains.
“With just some fine tuning, we can get people to pay more attention to native plants versus non-native plants, and the flowering timeline when the plants might be blooming. Management practices should be appropriately targeted so you aren’t doing the majority of your mowing when those landscapes might be in peak flower, so you can support the most pollinators at a particular point in time.”
As more companies look toward sustainability across their supply chains, certification can provide a credible approach to demonstrating action and being responsive to stakeholder queries. Some solar developers include requirements for pollinators in their procurement bids. From a regulatory side, state-level policies are being developed related to co-location of solar panels and pollinator habitat.
However, rigorous third-party certifications are lacking, even if the companies want to use them. This creates risk for companies if the certifications they use lack scientific basis. While there are various organization-led awards, certifications, and state-specific scorecards related to pollinators, there is need for a program that uses a consistent, clear, and transparent process that fully considers input from ecology and industry. Similar engineering, architectural, and construction certification systems, such as LEED, offer significant benefits including expedited permitting, positive consumer relations, and tax incentives. It is important for both power companies and stakeholders that a pollinator certification be similarly rigorous, accountable, transparent, verifiable, and functional. That is what the Bee Better Certification is poised to provide.
One aspect of this effort is anticipated to include development of certification criteria for ground-mounted solar fields that support pollinator habitat, which may inform the current state-by-state “pollinator friendly” solar scorecards.
EPRI’s role as an independent non-profit research institute is to ensure that the process for development of the Bee Better Certification for power companies is transparent and allows for multi-stakeholder input. The certification itself will be owned and managed by Xerces. After the certification is published, any qualified, third-party verifier can use the certification with their clients.
A summary of this project is available here.
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