How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth A Reality: Mitigating Pollution and Climate Change


Part 4 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at

———————————————————–October 4, 2018


by Mark AspelinPart 4 of a 5-part series

This week, we’ll focus on the role that companies play to address pollution, the third biggest threat to biodiversity. This post will also cover the special form of pollution known as climate change.

“Pollution” refers to the introduction of contaminants, such as chemicals, light, noise, or heat, into the natural environment where they may cause negative changes. For example, herbicides and pesticides cause harm to nontarget species, such as insect pollinators, and pose a risk to human health. The discharge of detergents, fertilizers, and sewage into aquatic systems can cause an excess of nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which disrupt ecosystems by causing the overgrowth and decay of plants, algae, and phytoplankton. The result is a severe decline in water quality and the creation of an aquatic environment that promotes the survival of simple algae and plankton over more complicated plants.

Then we have the example of acid rain. The burning of fossil fuels generates air pollutants that can either remain in the air as particle pollutants or fall to the ground in the form of acid rain. The sulfuric- and nitric-acid components of acid rain can lead to the acidification of lakes, streams, and forest soils. Species of fish, amphibians, clams, snails, insects, and plants can have a difficult time surviving in acidic conditions. Fish eggs can’t hatch if the pH of water is too low, and fish species, such as salmon, may abandon their spawning areas. When fewer fish spawn and fewer eggs hatch, it creates fewer food options for predators. Acid rain also harms plants and trees by slowing their growth, damaging their leaves, and making the soil more toxic to plants. The key point is that pollution, in all its forms, can cause serious, widespread harm to wildlife and the ecosystems upon which they depend.

Then we have the special form of pollution known as climate change, caused by the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the environment. The biggest human-caused sources of these “greenhouse gases”—particularly carbon dioxide—are a result of burning fossil fuels and cutting down carbon-absorbing forests.

Increases in temperature can have a massive impact on wildlife. Some habitats may disappear due to rising sea levels, which are caused by the melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice sheets. Temperature changes have an impact on flowering and fruiting times for plants. They also have a significant impact on the habitat ranges that are occupied by animals. Biologists on the ground are witnessing significant shifts in habitat ranges and species composition in different parts of the world. Some species are showing up in areas where they haven’t been seen previously while other species are starting to disappear from areas where they were once abundant. I recently went to a presentation that showed slide after slide of striking shifts in locations where New Mexico birds have been spotted in the state over the past few decades. For species that can survive in a wide variety of habitat patches, climate change may not pose a major threat. However, species that are isolated in just a few habitat patches or are restricted to mountaintops may not be able to rapidly shift their distribution to survive.

What Can Corporations Do?

Fortunately, pollution is one biodiversity threat that corporations of all shapes and sizes are willing to address, at least to some degree. This is largely due to the thousands of pages of environmental regulations with which corporations must comply to ensure that processes and controls are in place for air emissions, wastewater and stormwater discharge, and hazardous-material transport and storage. However, regulatory pressure isn’t the only reason why corporations pay close attention to pollution. Many of the actions that corporations take to prevent pollution also produce significant cost savings. In addition, the approach that corporations need to take to address pollution include processes and ways of thinking that are familiar to them. When you talk about “minimizing waste” and “improving process efficiency,” you’re speaking the language of business. Waste minimization and process efficiency are topics that already get a lot of attention in corporations through a variety of initiatives, such as Lean, Six Sigma, and quality-management systems.

Companies typically adopt one or more of the following five strategies to address the threats of pollution and climate change: pollution prevention, carbon offsets, environmental design, green building, and green infrastructure. Let’s look at each of these strategies in more detail.

Strategy #1: Pollution Prevention. Most corporations have a pollution-prevention program or project in place, often using the well-known “reduce, reuse, and recycle” concept. Many of these pollution-prevention efforts are driven by regulations, following specific guidance from various regulatory agencies. Other pollution-prevention initiatives aim to go beyond compliance, driven by a company’s desire to identify cost-saving opportunities that also reduce pollution. Pollution-prevention activities that yield the greatest value for business and the environment will vary, depending on the company, industry, and location, but they typically include a combination of training programs, energy audits, “green IT” practices, transportation and fleet efficiency efforts, and initiatives to reduce food and beverage waste and unnecessary packaging. For example, Walmart created a tool for apparel buyers and sourcing teams to help them optimize the size of corrugated cardboard shipping cartons. As a result, Walmart was able to reduce the number of boxes shipped by 8.1 million in one year, saving 6.3 million pounds of corrugate, 7,800 metric tons of greenhouse gases, and US$ 15.3 million in operational costs.

Strategy #2: Carbon Offsets. Carbon offsets (also known as “greenhouse-gas offsets”) are a popular tool that corporations use to address climate change, where the company reduces emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases in one area to compensate for emissions that are made elsewhere. This benefits companies by enabling them to meet regulatory requirements at a significantly lower cost compared with the effort and resources required to directly reduce emissions from operations. As for the benefits of carbon offsets to wildlife and biodiversity, the jury is still out.

Strategy #3: Environmental Design. A third powerful corporate strategy for addressing pollution and climate change is to design products, processes, or services in a way that reduces impacts to human health and the environment. This approach is often called Design for the Environment (DfE), and the concept has been around since the early 1990s. Companies like IBM, Hewlett-Packard (HP), and Philips use DfE to identify chemical alternatives that are better for the environment without sacrificing product quality or performance. These companies also look for ways to make it safer and easier to reuse or dispose of products at the end of a product’s useful life. For example, HP’s DfE program identified an opportunity to use recycled plastic instead of virgin plastic for most of its ink cartridges. This enabled HP to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 43 million pounds from 2013 to 2015, which is equivalent to taking 4,125 cars off the road for one year.

Strategy #4: Green Building. Green building is a well-known, cost-effective, environmental-management strategy that businesses have adopted with enormous success. Its popularity continues to grow thanks to numerous examples of green buildings that have yielded significant reductions in environmental impacts while providing a substantial return on investment. For example, in 2006, Adobe estimated a net-present-value rate of return of nearly 20:1 for the initial investment in its headquarters towers. The U.S. Green Building Council estimates that commercial building owners and managers will invest US$ 960 billion globally between 2015 and 2023 on greening their existing buildings. The primary areas of focus are expected to include the installation of more energy-efficient windows, lighting, plumbing fixtures, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Strategy #5: Green Infrastructure. Green infrastructure is similar to green building, but it can take some different forms than a building or roof. The term “green infrastructure” is defined differently by various organizations, but it generally refers to natural systems that are managed to address urban challenges, such as stormwater management, climate adaptation, clean water, and healthy soils. For example, Union Carbide Corporation, a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company, constructed a 110-acre wetland in Texas to serve the function of a wastewater-treatment facility. The wetland was 100% compliant from day zero with all discharge requirements. In addition, the constructed wetland has low energy, maintenance, and resource requirements with no need for pumps, additives, an oxygen system, or added water, and there are no biosolids to handle or dispose. Compared with a wastewater treatment plant, the wetland supports greater biodiversity of plants, animals, and micro-organisms. From a cost perspective, the US$ 1.4 million initial investment and operational capital pales in comparison to the US$ 40 million price tag for a gray infrastructure alternative. It’s a good example of a win-win, profitable-conservation project.

I hope this post gives you a better understanding of how companies can mitigate pollution and climate changes in ways that also benefit biodiversity and wildlife, and can help us get to Half-Earth. In next week’s post, we’ll turn our attention to the final biodiversity threat that we’ll be covering in this series: overharvesting.

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth A Reality: Reducing The Threat of Overharvesting


Part 5 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at

———————————————————–October 11, 2018


by Mark AspelinPart 5 of a 5-part series

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth a Reality: Reducing the Threat of Overharvesting

October 11, 2018, by Mark Aspelin

Part 5 of a 5-part series

So far in this blog series, we’ve been looked at the role of corporations in addressing three major threats to biodiversity: habitat destruction, invasive species, and pollution. In this fifth and final post, we’ll explore another big biodiversity threat: overharvesting.

“Overharvesting” is a broad term that refers to the harvesting of a renewable resource at a rate that is unsustainable. The term can apply to plants, fish stocks, forests, grazing pastures, and game animals. The motivation behind hunting, fishing, and plant collection may be for food, economic reasons, cultural reasons, or sport. Regardless of the reason, overharvesting implies that changes need to be made to current harvesting practices or else animal and plant populations may not recover. The result can be species extinction at the population or species level, and major ecosystem disturbances due to imbalances in predator–prey relationships.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen many examples of overharvesting over the years—everything from passenger pigeons, tigers, rhinos, and certain species of fish. Let’s look at passenger pigeons as an example.

When famous naturalist and artist John James Audubon was on a trip to St. Louis, Missouri, he noticed a sky that was darkened by a large flock of passenger pigeons flying overhead. He described the flock as having no beginning and no end, and the flock continued as a steady stream for three days. As the story goes, Audubon started to count the number of pigeons that he could see in the sky, but he soon gave up. There were too many to count. Today, it’s quite easy to count how many passenger pigeons are in the sky: zero. They are extinct.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, passenger pigeons were one of the most abundant bird species in the world, with an estimated population of three to five billion birds. That’s twice the number of people on Earth at the time. In only 100 years, passenger pigeons were wiped out of existence, primarily through hunting.

The last verified record of a wild passenger pigeon was in March 1900, when a boy in Pike County, Ohio, shot the bird because it was eating corn at his farm. That left just a few remaining passenger pigeons in a single captive flock at the Cincinnati Zoo. Breeding attempts failed, and the flock dwindled until there was only one left: Martha. A US$ 1,000 reward was offered to anyone who could find a mate for Martha, but none was found. On September 1, 1914, Martha—the last known passenger pigeon—died at the Cincinnati Zoo at the age of 29. Martha’s body is periodically on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and a memorial statue of Martha can be found at the Cincinnati Zoo aviary.

Even if you consider pigeons to be flying rats, the story of the passenger pigeon’s demise still represents a failure of epic proportions when it comes to fulfilling our responsibility to be good stewards of the environment.

In the 1800s, the idea that a species could be hunted to extinction was a foreign concept to most people. Now that we’re in the 2000s, I would like to be able to say that we’ve learned our lesson; unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet. Overharvesting is alive and well. For example, unsustainable fishing practices, such as bottom trawling and blast fishing, are still practiced today, and we’ve seen significant declines in several commercial fish populations, such as Atlantic halibut, to the point where their survival is threatened. Tigers and rhinos have been overhunted, primarily for traditional medicines derived from various parts of these magnificent animals. While it’s illegal to hunt and kill tigers and rhinos, the economic incentive from Asian medicinal markets is so great that the hunting of these endangered animals continues.

Thankfully, we may be rounding the corner for some charismatic animal species, such as the tiger. For the first time in more than a century, the world population of tigers is on the rise. The number of tigers has increased from 3,200 to 3,890 from 2010 to 2016. However, there’s still much work to be done to keep this trend heading in the right direction.

Let’s not forget about plants. Roughly 75% of the top 150 prescription drugs in the United States are based on natural sources, and over 25% of prescribed medicines in developed countries are derived from wild plants. We’ve also seen a multibillion-dollar boom in the herbal market, fueled largely by a desire to find “natural approaches” to medicine. In addition, up to 80% of people in developing countries are totally dependent on herbal drugs for their primary healthcare. When you add all of this up, it’s no surprise that medicinal plants are facing significant overharvesting pressures. Roughly 15,000 species of the 50,000 to 80,000 flowering plant species used for medicinal purposes worldwide are threatened with extinction from overharvesting and habitat destruction.

What Can Corporations Do?

The best way that most companies large and small can help prevent overharvesting is to “green” their supply chain. “Greening the supply chain” adds an environmental lens to traditional supply-chain management practices. Greening the supply chain is also an effective strategy for combating other biodiversity threats, such as habitat destruction and pollution.

Activities to green the supply chain may include a variety of environment-focused actions that guide a company’s interactions with its various suppliers, including:

  • Setting environmental standards that all suppliers must meet.
  • Creating performance goals, metrics, and supplier scorecards that are used to monitor and evaluate supplier performance over time.
  • Establishing a supplier-audit program to verify that suppliers have successfully implemented processes that are effective in reducing environmental impacts.
  • Improving business processes to reduce environmental impacts.
  • Identifying alternative materials that have a smaller environmental footprint.
  • Partnering with government agencies, industry groups, and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) to look for new ways to improve environmental performance.

Greening the supply chain is definitely a profitable-conservation strategy—just ask Dell Computer. Dell holds supplier-innovation summits to generate new ideas for improvements across all areas of the supply chain. For example, one supplier-innovation summit generated the idea that it can remove toxic paints from some of its computers and replace it with a much safer film covering.

Another Dell supplier came up with the idea to mix in straw grass with wood-based pulp for some of Dell’s corrugate boxes. Straw grass is a more quickly renewable resource compared to trees. In addition, straw grass is burned as a farming waste product in parts of China. Rather than burn the straw grass, it could be utilized in the corrugate boxes. Because of this suggestion, Dell now uses a mix of 30% straw grass pulp in some of its boxes. Dell’s innovation program has reduced supply-chain costs by roughly US$ 100 million annually for the past two years.

Dell is not alone. In 2013, Walmart announced that it saved US$ 150 million from supply-chain sustainability efforts in that year alone. General Motors established a reusable-container program with its suppliers and was able to reduce disposal costs by US$ 12 million while reducing environmental impacts. Texas Instruments saves about US$ 8 million per year through supply-chain management practices, such as reducing source materials and reducing and reusing packaging.

As you can see from the examples above, greening your supply chain can add real value to your business by cutting costs, driving innovation for new products and processes, improving customer and consumer perception of your company, and helping you meet or exceed environmental regulations and performance targets.

Greening the supply chain isn’t the only strategy that corporations pursue when it comes to preventing overharvesting. Some companies are leveraging their technology to help prevent hunting of endangered wildlife. Let’s look at Cisco Systems as an example.

Cisco Systems has partnered with Dimension Data on a Connected Conservation initiative to track rhino poachers at a game reserve in South Africa. Cisco and Dimension Data are using seismic sensors, drone cameras, thermal imaging, biometric scanning, and networking technology to track the movements of all humans who enter the reserve grounds. Park rangers use these new tools in combination with traditional sniffer dogs and trained soldiers on the ground to catch and deter poachers while minimizing disturbances to the endangered rhinos. The results have been impressive so far. The Connected Conservation initiative has been successful in reducing rhino poaching at the South African reserve by 96%.

In the future, this approach may be leveraged to protect other endangered species throughout the world. The main obstacle that prevents the spread of this technological approach is the US$ 1.5 million-per-year cost of the system. More and more companies are leveraging their products and technologies to develop solutions that directly help in the fight against overharvesting.

Parting Words

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog series highlighting four of the major threats to biodiversity, and the role that businesses play in helping us get to Half-Earth.

Before I sign off, I want to provide you with one last reminder of the upcoming Half-Earth Day event that will be held on October 22, 2018 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. This year’s event includes a “Learning from Local Stewards” panel discussion highlighting key learnings from in-country indigenous and local community leaders, as well as a panel called “Half-Earth: How to Save the Natural World” that will be moderated by The New York Timescolumnist Thomas L. Friedman and feature E.O. Wilson and legendary recording artist Paul Simon. To learn more about Half-Earth Day, visit It’s going to be a great event.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog series, and I look forward to meeting you at Half-Earth Day!

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth A Reality: Combating Invasive Species


Part 3 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at

———————————————————–September 27, 2018


by Mark AspelinPart 3 of a 5-part series

You may be surprised to learn that invasive species rank second only to habitat destruction when it comes to the biggest threats to biodiversity.  In the United States alone, there are an estimated 1,000 invasive species. Some of these species, such as kudzu (pictured above), were brought in the U.S. deliberately, while other species, like the zebra mussel, arrived by accident. Regardless of how they arrive, invasive species can do a lot of ecological and economic damage. The overall economic cost of invasive species in the U.S. is estimated to be around US$ 120 billion per year.

One of the more infamous examples is the zebra mussel, which frequently appears on lists of the worst invasive species. Back in 1988, the zebra mussel hitched a ride in the ballast water of a transatlantic freighter, arriving in Lake St. Clair—a freshwater lake located between Ontario and Michigan. The mussel quickly spread to other watersheds, such as the Great Lakes and the Hudson River, by riding the currents and hitching a ride on anchors, the bottom of boats, and other human-mediated modes of transport. Zebra mussels like to attach to stable objects. Stable objects can take the form of clams and other mussel species, which they can kill by reducing their ability to move, feed, and breed. This is how the zebra mussel wiped out certain species of clams in Lake St. Clair as well as other freshwater mussel species in Ireland. It’s estimated that at least 30 species of freshwater mussel are threatened with extinction because of the zebra mussel. Other stable objects to which zebra mussels like to attach include water-treatment-facility pipes and electricity-generation infrastructure. The mussels grow in thick densities, which can block pipes and clog water intakes. As a result, corporations in these industries spend a great deal of time and money monitoring and removing mussels from their infrastructure, and companies in the shipping industry must manage their ballast water to ensure that invasive species aren’t along for the ride.

When it comes to invasive species, there are three basic strategies that corporations can adopt to manage the issue: prevention processes, early detection and rapid response, and restoration of native habitat.

The best—and most cost-effective—way to manage invasive species is to prevent them from entering in the first place. Of course, that’s easier said than done. To accomplish this, a company will need to implement a systematic process that monitors for high-risk invaders at critical control points such as wooden packing material, horticultural plants, and ship ballast water, as we saw in the zebra mussel example above.

While prevention is our first line of defense, no matter how many regulations or how much money we throw at preventing invasive species, some will continue to arrive. When they do arrive, we’ll want to have a second strategy in place to address this threat: early detection and rapid response (EDRR). The earlier we detect an invasive species, the better chance we have at eradicating before it before it multiplies and spreads, which translates into substantial costs and resources. Companies can participate in an EDRR system using their own staff, or by partnering with local universities, Native Plant Society organizations, and other trained experts to help with a baseline inventory and ongoing monitoring.

For the “rapid response” piece of EDRR, our goal is to eradicate—or at least slow down—the invasive species after we spot it. In some cases, scientists will recommend that a newly introduced species be tolerated and monitored, as the cost of eradication may be too great, and some invasions will recede on their own. In other cases, it’s time to act by using a variety of mechanical, chemical, or biological control techniques. Each of these control techniques has a variety of pros and cons that go beyond the scope of this short post.

The third strategy that corporations can take to combat the issue of invasive species is to restore habitat by removing invasive species and replacing them with native species. This may take the form of landscaping with native plants, planting meadows and gardens that are attractive to pollinators, and building wetlands or artificial ponds that provide water sources for local wildlife.  For example, in Pacheco, Argentina, Volkswagen created an artificial lake near its facility to collect rainwater and provide a habitat for indigenous flora and fauna. This effort provides a natural landscape for the industrial center, and 62 species of birds have been counted at the lake.

For many companies, the value proposition for these three strategies to combat invasive species will come in the form of ecosystem services and more intangible benefits in the forms of employee satisfaction and fostering goodwill with customers, regulators, and the local community. For other companies, the proactive implementation of programs to prevent, detect, and respond to invasive species can yield more tangible cost savings. Let’s take another look at the zebra mussel’s impact on water-treatment and electricity-generating facilities.

In the United Kingdom, Thames Water spends £1 million a year on clearing zebra mussels from its raw water pipes and water-treatment facilities and applying heavy doses of chlorine to deter the mussels, while Anglian Water spends £500,000 a year tackling the problem. In the United States, zebra mussels are estimated to have cost municipalities and power companies over US$ 1.5 billion over the past 25 years. Another study came up with a cost estimate of US$ 267 million for all water-treatment and electricity-generating facilities from 1989 through 2004. These are big numbers. Any prevention, early detection, and rapid-response actions that corporations in those industries successfully implement can yield a significant return on investment.

Coming attractions: In next week’s post, we’ll turn our attention to the biodiversity threats of pollution and climate change. In the meantime, don’t forget to make plans to attend the October 22, 2018 Half-Earth Day event in New York City – it’s going to be a great event!  To learn more about Half-Earth Day, visit

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth a Reality: Alleviating Habitat Destruction


Part 2 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at

———————————————————–September 12, 2018


by Mark AspelinPart 2 of a 5-part series

Habitat destruction is the #1 issue that impacts wildlife and biodiversity today.  The term “habitat destruction” can refer to the complete destruction of a habitat or, more commonly, habitat fragmentation, where a large, continuous area of a habitat is divided into two or more fragments. The primary culprit behind habitat destruction is a change in land use. The most common forms include clearing land for agricultural use, extractive industries like logging or mining, and expanding urban or residential development.

There are five common strategies that corporations use to combat habitat destruction, four of which we will cover here: avoidance; minimization; rehabilitation and restoration; and biodiversity offsets and voluntary compensatory actions. The fifth major strategy—supply chain management—we’ll cover later in this 5-part series.

The first—and best—strategy that companies can adopt to address habitat destruction and biodiversity loss is a simple one: avoid any development or operations in areas identified as important habitat for species that are classified as endangered, threatened or vulnerable to extinction; or areas that have been identified as critical for the conservation of biodiversity because of existing species richness.

On land that is not categorized as an avoidance zone, corporations shift their attention towards minimization strategies that reduce the duration, intensity and extent of their impacts for biodiversity and wildlife. Minimization strategies can take a wide variety of forms, including site selection strategies, operational policies and procedures, wildlife corridors and green roofs. For example, to transport material and facilities needed for a project located near the fragile Tibetan plateau of the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve, workers from the State Grid Corporation of China used an “Electricity Caravan” of horses rather than build roads or bridges in this ecologically sensitive area. In another example, companies such as Facebook, Macy’s, and Ford have installed green roofs, which not only save money, but also provide habitat for a variety of insects and birds.

In situa­tions where avoidance and minimization are not practical or feasible, companies may turn to a third strategy: rehabilitation and restoration. With this strategy, a company attempts to rehabilitate degraded ecosystems or restore cleared ecosys­tems in areas that have previously been cleared, developed or neglected. In another example from China, The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) pursued an ecological restoration effort as part of its Western Pipeline project. As soon as the new pipes were laid down and buried, CNPC planted vegetation to restore the original landscape and followed up with annual monitoring and remediation measures.

If avoidance, minimization and restoration strategies aren’t viable options, then companies may pursue a fourth strategy: biodiversity offsets and voluntary compensatory actions. A well-known example of a voluntary compensatory action is Walmart’s Acres for America Program, which has a goal to conserve one acre of wildlife habitat for every acre of land developed by Walmart stores.

So where does the Half-Earth Project fit in? The Half-Earth Project is creating a global map of fine resolution species distribution that will provide companies, such as Walmart, a unique tool for decision-making in support of biodiversity. The Half-Earth Map can be used to see where various species groups have rich or rare populations, so that companies can avoid development in these special places. The Half-Earth Map can also be used to identify the places that offer the best opportunity to offset biodiversity impacts through conservation management of land that is particularly rich in biodiversity. This tool can guide and ensure that conservation investments are happening in the optimal places for biodiversity while also showcasing the biodiversity value that these kinds of investments can bring to these places.

That wraps up our whirlwind tour of how corporations can address the biodiversity threat of habitat destruction, and how the Half-Earth Project can help corporations make sound decisions that are good for business and good for biodiversity.

In next week’s post, we’ll turn our attention to the #2 threat to biodiversity: invasive species. See you then!

How Businesses Can Help Make Half-Earth a Reality: Introduction

In this five-part blog series, we’ll explore how corporations can address four of the five major threats to biodiversity, often referred to as HIPPO: habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, and overharvesting.


Part 1 of a 5-part series that is published on the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Half-Earth Project website at

———————————————————–September 12, 2018


by Mark Aspelin, Part 1 of a 5-part series

When it comes to protecting half of the Earth to conserve biodiversity, we all have a role to play, and corporations are no exception.  In fact, businesses of all shapes and sizes will play a critical role in making Half-Earth a reality.

In this five-part blog series, we’ll explore how corporations can address four of the five major threats to biodiversity, often referred to as HIPPO: habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, and overharvesting. Climate change is part of “H” as it plays a major role in altering and destroying habitats.   I’ll be providing you with some real-world examples of how companies are tackling these issues today.  We’ll also look at how businesses can work with the Half-Earth Project to manage these threats to biodiversity. While the goal of Half-Earth is to protect half the land and sea in order to safeguard the bulk of biodiversity, this does not mean that large tracts of land will be fenced off and protected from human trespass.  As anyone with on-the-ground conservation experience can attest to, conservation measures can’t be separated from human activities and interests.  To be successful, strategies to protect biodiversity must be integrated with strategies that consider economic and social concerns.

The Half-Earth Project is busy working on a variety of initiatives to drive research, provide leadership, and engage people to participate broadly in the goal to conserve half of our planet.  One important initiative that launched in March 2018 and was featured in a NY Times Op-Ed by E.O Wilson, “Mapping Earth’s Species to Identify Conservation Priorities” (, is the creation of a cutting-edge biodiversity map that will support data-driven conservation.  As the map takes shape in the coming years, we’ll no doubt discover that a significant chunk of the land that we would like to protect is either privately held or greatly influenced by the operations and purchasing decisions of corporations.  The achievement of Half-Earth will, therefore, include broad stakeholder participation.

My hope is that this blog series will provide you with a glimpse of how we can bridge the gap between the efforts of corporations and biologists to protect our planet’s wildlife, biodiversity, and natural resources.  Fortunately, conservation versus profit is not a zero-sum game where the winner takes all. There are many win-win scenarios, which are good for business (e.g., reduced costs, reduced risk, and increased profits) and good for biodiversity (e.g., healthy species, populations, and ecosystems).

Next week, I’ll be focusing on the biggest threat to biodiversity, habitat destruction, and I’ll share some strategies and examples of how companies can address this issue.

In the meantime, I hope you’ll make plans to attend the October 22, 2018 Half-Earth Day event that will be held at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  This year’s event includes a “Learning from Local Stewards” panel discussion highlighting key learnings from in-country indigenous and local community leaders, as well as a panel called “Half-Earth: How to Save the Natural World” that will be moderated by NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman and feature E.O. Wilson and legendary recording artist Paul Simon.  To learn more about Half-Earth Day, visit  I hope to see you there!

Crossing Into Togo: The Difference a Line in the Sand Can Make

Crossing the border from Ghana to Togo and back.

I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying to cross the border into Togo.  My friend Paul (after just finishing a Peace Corps gig in Liberia) was a good sport and agreed to join met.  Togo is one of those faraway places that many people in the United States have never even heard of.  I knew where Togo was on a world map, I knew that the capital was Lomé, and I had heard of the 2010 attack on the Togo national soccer team bus as it drove through Angola, resulting in three dead and nine wounded.  Being a soccer fanatic, I was also familiar with the Togolese player Emmanuel Adebayor.  But that about covers the extent of my prior knowledge of Togo.

Togo is a narrow country that is wedged between Ghana and Benin.  It has a population of about 7 million people, with 1.5 million people living in and around the capital and largest city, Lomé.  Lomé is located on the Gulf of Guinea.

Paul and I met our driver at 7:30am at our hotel in Accra.  It took about 3.5 hours to drive from Accra to Aflao – the busy border town where we needed to leave our driver and proceed on foot into Togo.  Of course, we first had to deal with customs, and that had the potential to be a difficult proposition given our situation.  Why?  Because we did not have multiple entry visas for Ghana.  We were able to secure a visa from the Togolese embassy in Accra, but we did not have time to secure a multiple entry visa for Ghana.  In other words, we could get into Togo, but we had no visa to get us back into Ghana. 

We decided to roll the dice and give it a try.  Both of us had spent time in different parts of Africa and found that almost anything is negotiable in Africa … for the right price.  We walked into the customs office at the Ghana-Togo border, explained what we wanted to do, and then we waited.  A long time.  Finally, we were invited into the office of the customs officer to discuss the possibility of securing a visa for us to get back into Ghana if we cross the border into Togo.  The officer explained the difficulty of getting a visa on such short notice, and finally said that he could arrange for us to receive an “emergency visa” for the price of US$150 each.  Cash of course.  That was a deal breaker for us and we explained that it was too much money.  After further consideration, the customs officer revised his approach and said that he would give us a tourist visa for US$50 each, instead of an emergency visa.  We agreed.  The only catch was that we would need to find this officer again once we were ready to cross back into Ghana.  Feeling lucky?  Well, we must have felt lucky because we said ok. 

Two minutes later, we were walking across the line the separates Ghana from Togo. 

There were two major changes from Ghana that we noticed immediately.  First, English was now useless.  In Togo, you speak French.   Thankfully, I studied French for quite a few years and had lived in a French-speaking part of Switzerland for a short time.  More importantly, I actually still remembered enough French to get by.  It is not pretty, but its enough to get around. 

The second major change that we noticed … motorcycles.  A lot of them.  In Ghana, motorcycles are banned, but in Togo, pas de problème!

Here are a few photos of Lomé.

Beach soccer anyone?  Apparently not today.

Lunch at Le Galion – a very French restaurant that appeared to be popular with expats from France.

I opted for entrecôte and pommes frites (peppersteak and fries) … still feeling lucky.

We spent the day exploring Lomé, with a good chunk of it dealing with a “diabetic” guy who needed money for an insulin shot.  This was a new one to add to the long list of scams that I have encountered in different parts of the world.  However, I have to say it was a very convincing performance.  We both bought into it at first.  We walked with the man while he went to a police station to ask where there was a Pharmacy that was open today.  Next we walked into the Pharmacy where he bought a “temporary insulin” shot that would keep him going for a few hours until he was able to get enough money to buy better insulin shots that would keep him going for the next few days.  He grabbed the temporary insulin syringe from the pharmacist, stuck it in his side, and injected the insulin.  Like I said, this was not your average scam.  So then we started reaching for our wallets to buy him the shots that he would need to keep him going for awhile…thinking that $10 should cover anything that he would need.  The pharmacist said a number in French, but I assumed that I wasn’t understanding properly because it sounded like a big number.  He punched the keys on a calculator and showed it to us.  The total cost would be 124,131 West African CFA Franc.  We borrowed the calculator to convert the number from West African CFA Francs to US Dollars, and then our jaws dropped.  US$250. 

Now, we both knew that US$250 was a LOT of money in most of Africa.  That is more money than many families earn in a year.  And of course, it would need to be paid in cash.  Credit card were not accepted at the pharmacy.  Now we didn’t have that kind of cash with us, even if we wanted to pay that much money.  Of course, our friend didn’t hesitate.  Let’s go to an ATM to get some cash.  At this point, Paul and I were very reluctant to continue.  As we walked along the streets, our friend was starting to “feel sick” … must … get … more … insulin … kind of routine.  We were now 99% sure that this was a scam…but that 1% chance of not helping a person in need can sometimes be enough to cave in and give money.  We did go with him to an ATM but thankfully, very few ATMs in Ghana and Togo accept MasterCard (the only credit card that I had with me) so we were not able to withdraw any money even if we wanted to.  We gave our friend a small amount of cash (US$10), wished him well, and hailed a taxi to get out of there.

As for getting back into Ghana, we were lucky…very lucky.  The customs officer who was bribing us … I mean … arranging for our tourist visa back into Ghana, was not in the office when we returned.  He had been called into the street to deal with a fist fight at the border.  We waited for over an hour until finally, an Assistant was able to make contact by cell phone with the customs officer to get the scoop on what to do with us.  The Assistant was directed via cell phone to provide us with a tourist visa.  The Assistant hung up the phone and told us that the total would be 35 Cedi for the two of us.  Cedi is the currency of Ghana.  At the time, 35 Cedi was equivalent to about US$17.  We quickly paid, and eagerly walked back into Ghana before being spotted by the Customs Officer. 

We found our driver, hopped in his car, and made our way back to Accra.

Our Togo adventure was a success … at least in terms of having a memorable experience!   Plus Togo was my 84th country that I have visited…not that I am keeping track.  Ahem.  Ok, I confess.  I am trying to visit over 100 countries, and that is why I end up having some of these crazy travel stories.  It really was a fun trip, though – a lot laughs … particularly after it was over.

Here is a photo that I took on the drive back from Togo to Accra.

Ghana Part 3 – The Streets and Markets of Ghana

Typical scenes while driving from Accra to the Gold Coast (Videos)

Typical scenes while driving from Accra to the Gold Coast (Videos)

While there are plenty of bustling markets and busy roads in Ghana,  thankfully I did not experience as many “white-knuckle” taxi rides or chaotic markets with relentless touts compared to other parts of Africa and India.  Don’t get me wrong, there were still plenty of close calls on the roads of Ghana.  People tend to drive very fast, but they are forced to slow down due to the many speed bumps on the roads.  To make it interesting at night, some vehicles had lights that were very dim and some vehicles didn’t appear to have any lights at all.  There weren’t many animals on the roads … and there were no motorcycles on the road since they are banned.  Just lots of honking cars and trucks, diesel fumes, dust, and smoke from the fires in the villages.  By the time I got back to my room, I was pretty ripe from sweat, smoke, diesel, and dust.

Rest assured, the streets and markets are a feast for your senses if you are visiting from the United States.  These short videos of typical street and market scenes will give you a taste.  

Ghana Part 2 – Slave Castles, Canopy Walkways, and a President’s Funeral

Red and Black 

President John Evans Atta Mills died just before I arrived in Accra.  The people of Ghana were in mourning, and everyone was wearing red and black to signify the occasion for the entire week that I was in Accra.  The funeral was held just down the street from where I was staying.

Ghana is an easy country to visit for many reasons.  For starters, I only had a take two planes from Albuquerque to get there!  It was amazing to hop on a plane in Albuquerque, change planes in Atlanta, and then wake up to find myself in Accra, Ghana.  I found that Accra was a relatively easy and safe city to navigate, and the people we met were terrific.  And to top it all off, English is the official language of Ghana, so it doesn’t get much easier than that!   

Here is a map of Ghana to help you get oriented – not a map that many of us are familiar with in Albuquerque.

I used Accra as a base to explore the Cape Coast and Kakum National Park to the West, and then cross overland into Togo to the East.

Cape Coast Castle

Cape Coast Castle is a World Heritage Site that used to be one of the largest slave-holding sites in the world during the colonial era, just a few hundred years ago.  Slaves were crammed into hot, dark, and oppressive dungeons before crossing the “Gate of No Return” and being stuffed into merchant ships and deported to a life of slave labor.  It is estimated that tens of thousands of slaves were incarcerated in this place over the years. 

We joined one of the group tours.  Our guide took us down to the dungeons and turned off the flashlight.  It was very dark – very difficult to see anything.  The only light and fresh air came from a small porthole high up on the wall.  It was hot and sweaty in the dungeon, and of course this was nothing compared to what the slaves experienced.  They were locked up with about 200 other people in each of the cells.  Since everyone was shackled together, it was not easy to move in the cramped quarters.  People had to defecate, vomit, and sleep where they were.  Food would be thrown to them from above…and it would land in the feces, blood, and vomit. 

Needless to say, it is an intense, depressing, yet very worthwhile stop in Ghana.  Plan on ~2 hours to tour the site, and be sure to go on one of the guided tours.  The experience of descending into those dark dungeons, and then hearing about the deplorable conditions that these poor souls had to endure, is something that will stick with me forever.

Kakum National Park and the Canopy Walkway

Kakum National Park protects one of the most extensive rainforests in Ghana.  It is a good spot for birding (with over 265 species of birds) and it also contains ~100 species of mammals, including forest elephant, giant forest hog, flying squirrels, leopard, spot-nosed monkey, bushbuck, bongo, and duiker.  The main attraction for visitors is the canopy walk – a 1,155 foot-long wood walkway that is suspended by rope and weaves through the forest canopy at a height of 92 – 132 feet above the ground.  If you are scared of heights, then you might want to stick to the trails and skip the canopy walk.  Given that we did not arrive until late morning (well past peak wildlife activity), and it was raining (hey, it’s a rainforest, what do you expect!), we did not see much in the way of wildlife.  But it was still fun to walk along the canopy of the rainforest, and see the excitement in the faces of Ghanaian children walking on the suspended trail – apparently it is a popular field trip for local schools. 

Logistics: It took about 3.5 hours to drive to Kakum National Park from Accra.  Cost: US$30 to do the canopy walk. 

Rest in Peace, President John Evans Atta Mills

Djembe Drumming in Ghana

Djembe Drumming in Ghana, August 2012

In August 2012, I took a trip to Ghana for fun.  Why?  Four reasons. 

1) I had never been to West Africa

2) I had heard good things about Ghana as a place to visit, and there was a chance I could cross the border into Togo or Ivory Coast, depending on the stability of the neighboring countries at the time, and the associated cost and hassle of securing a visa while in Ghana.

3) I have a Djembe drum that was made in Ghana and I thought it would be great to experience djembe drumming from the source.

4) A friend of mind (Paul) just finished a Peace Corps stint in Liberia and was ready for a break in Ghana before returning to the US.

I am glad that I went.  The people were friendly, I felt safe walking the streets of Accra, I was able to cross the border (overland) into Togo without too much trouble, and I came home with a new Djembe drum that was custom carved for my son!

Here is a video of Paul and I test driving some djembe drums…

And then the pros show us how it is really done…

Paul (a banjo player) was eyeing an “African banjo”…you don’t see those everyday.  Moses was happy to give us a demo – here is a video.

Here is the market in Accra where djembe drums are made.

The workshop for custom carving of the drums – Paul ended up buying a drum too.

When the drums were ready to be picked up, the carvers and shop owner gave us an impromptu performance using our new drums … probably to give us a lasting impression of what it is supposed to sound like if we ever get good at playing djembe!  Click on the video below.

And the final product…one for my son Erik and one for Paul.