How do we work and thrive together?
Ecosystems form the basis of our existence. They provide us with food, water, clean air, a stable climate, and a pleasant living environment. Without a balance between nature and people, we cannot exist.
Unfortunately, 2 billion hectares of land worldwide are affected by climate change, deforestation, or overexploitation – an area twice the size of China. The consequences are enormous. Extreme drought, loss of biodiversity, and fertile soil erosion currently affect entire ecosystems and the lives, work, and futures of 1.5 billion people.
Commonland is a not-for-profit system change developer of large-scale ecosystem landscape restoration projects. By working on solutions at the landscape level, Commonland addresses biodiversity, climate change, regenerative agriculture and revitalising communities. By restoring degraded landscapes at scale with others, Commonland aims to create a new norm for holistic landscape management and restoration.
Instead of focusing on short-term financial returns per hectare, which leads to long-term ecological degradation, we work towards transforming 100 million ha of degraded landscapes by 2040. In places where ecological balance is restored, people, the economy, and nature can thrive together once again. By implementing a practical system change framework on the ground, we strike a new balance between economy and ecology. This is how we contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the Climate and Biodiversity agreement, and, ultimately, living within planetary boundaries.
4 Returns Framework
To restore and manage landscapes sustainably, we bring local farmers, landowners, governments, scientists, organisations, businesses, and investors together. After jointly formulating a vision for nature-based solutions and sound business cases, Commonland aims to generate social, natural, inspirational, and financial returns to people and the landscapes in which they live. This method is called the ‘4 Returns Framework’ – a practical and holistic approach to transform degraded ecosystems into vibrant landscapes and communities. To achieve these four key returns, we start with long term planning of at least 20 years. In short, the 4 Returns Framework has a 20+ years time frame, uses 5 process elements in 3 landscape zones to deliver 4 Returns.
Our approach: the 4 Returns Framework for landscape restoration
Commonland supports setting up large-scale holistic landscape partnerships that use 5 process elements in 3 landscape zones to deliver 4 Returns within a 20+ years time frame. We are, in short, an enabler that works with long-term committed local partners.
We strongly believe that this landscape and partnership-based approach, which includes our funding, investment and business partners, gives us the greatest chance of reaching landscape restoration at a scale of 100 million hectares by 2040.
Theory U: creating a shared vision and action plan
The first of the 5 process elements is establishing a landscape partnership and inviting stakeholders to co-create a common vision for the landscape. Theory U, developed by the Presencing Institute, is a stakeholder mobilisation approach to foster bottom-up change and leadership.
This vision quest provides relevant touchpoints by opening up the minds, hearts, and efforts of a landscape’s local farmers, landowners, NGOs, governments, and entrepreneurs. Throughout the years, these will identify and prioritise activities and realise long-lasting landscape restoration partnerships. A similar process is set up with actors such as investors, corporates, government agencies, development finance institutions (DFIs), and philanthropists outside the landscape.
To take on the ambitious challenge of restoring 100 million hectares, we focus on acquiring experience and proof of concept in the most relevant types of ecosystems. Partnerships are essential in realising these objectives. We are now establishing and facilitating a global network based on the 4 Returns Framework with our partners. Together, we aggregate the learnings and data across the three scales and feed these to the wider network.
Together we thrive
In 2020, Commonland focused on raising awareness on landscape restoration and the necessity and potential of the 4 Returns. To strengthen our strategy and gather more insights about our positioning and added value, we involved 50 of our main stakeholders through interviews. We spoke with funders, landscape practitioners, corporate employees, politicians, and journalists, including Charly Kleissner, Daniel Wahl, Jane Madgwick, Angela Andrade, Wim Pijbes, Ryan Gellert, Sara Scherr, Dianne Hagerty, Pavan Sukhdev, Petra Hans, Jan Ernst de Groot and Tim Christophersen.
The outcomes of this stakeholder analysis underscored our added value as a bridge-builder, connector of stakeholders, creator of a common language for both systems and solution thinkers, and conveyer of the 4 Returns Framework. These conversations will also help us make our strategy and positioning future-proof.
We realised how important nature is to us and how a healthy balance between ecology and economy is a prerequisite for a healthy society. Despite this year’s challenges, the pandemic only increased global awareness of the importance of biodiversity as our life support system. We identified several external developments that were instrumental in further operationalising our 2040 strategy:
- Along with climate change, biodiversity is now on top of the international policy agendas. To contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, it is time to broadly communicate our practical system change narrative and build influence by addressing key initiatives, such as the EU Green Deal and UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.
- Large, heavy government and business-driven processes are often top-down and increasingly result in resistance. In contrast, bottom-up participatory processes become more popular to solve issues sustainably. The five-elements process steps address these concerns. Increased awareness of upscaling landscape restoration is often translated into various tree planting initiatives, which is commendable. Such efforts, however, are only a small part of the necessary ecosystem-based holistic landscape management and restoration approaches. In the last eight years, we built a proven concept in four 4 Returns landscape restoration projects with business cases and Labs (Theory U). These demonstrated the importance of connecting with stakeholders to work towards our common vision of thriving communities and landscapes (see 4.1).
- The growth of funding for carbon projects can lead to massive, unsustainable landscape activities, such as plantations and monocultures. In 2020, we developed a new carbon strategy built around bundling 4 Returns co-benefits with carbon sequestration and monetisation. Commonland is now building a Carbon team to execute the plan with our landscape partners in 2021.
Read more about our key activities here.