Word of CEO

Word of CEO

We will not easily forget 2020, as the pandemic is still around us when writing this. On the one hand, we face an impending economic crisis, more political instability, polarisation guided by misinformation. On the other hand, we find a fast-growing movement that pays attention to the great work of our time: restoring ecosystems. The pandemic taught us about the connectedness between public health and healthy landscapes. It reminded me of Aldo Leopold, an American author, philosopher and forester, who captured our mission in one timely sentence: Land health is the capacity for self-renewal in the soils, waters, plants, and animals that collectively comprise the land.”


While we were working on new partnerships to implement our 2040 strategy, the first lockdown began just after opening our new office in March. Soon we realised that we could see online working as an opportunity and used all efforts to further professionalise the organisation for the massive task ahead of us. We strengthened our teams, structured our operations and intensified our partner relationships to better focus on the core of our work: landscape development and support, learning & innovation, finance and policy. Supporting existing landscapes to overcome lockdowns and the pandemic and getting the ‘nursery for new landscapes’ up and running has been our main priority in 2020. Meanwhile, a new Development & Communication team made our work more visible. After years of building a proof of concept, our communication will focus on establishing a dialogue with relevant partners and stakeholders. We increased our ambitions on positioning, toolkit development, and financial modelling and developed a new landscape carbon strategy.


Internationally the 4 Returns Framework continues to receive more attention in social media and through our networks, while the 4returns.earth platform gained more traction. We agreed to collaborate and learn together with organisations including Wetlands International, WWF Landscape Finance Lab and others, became a partner of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, and joined the World Economic Forum (One Trillion Trees Initiative) as an advisor. Also, the 1000 Landscapes Initiative entered a new phase thanks to all core-partners and the Presencing Institute’s support.


Most importantly, our work on the land continued with major steps in building the proof of concept in Australia, The Netherlands, South Africa and Spain. In Australia, the Dirty Clean Food brand expanded, resulting in a steep growth curve of the listed 4 Returns company Wide Open Agriculture. In the Netherlands, the launch of Aardpeer, a ‘land tenure fund’ was a major step toward giving regenerative farmers access to land. In South Africa, the natural ‘thicket’ zone restoration continued, although the aromatic oil business challenges due to long term droughts. While work in India continued, it was tough not being able to meet our colleagues on the ground. Meanwhile, we started partnering in landscapes in Germany, Poland, and the Philippines, and increased our carbon-cookstove work in Zambia. Highlights were the launch of the first 4 Returns Valuation report together with KPMG, and working on the EU Green Deal and developing the 4 Returns Labs in the Netherlands and Australia.


I am thankful to our landscape partners, our team and funders, who, despite lockdowns and curfews, are full of energy. I am inspired by the work and the way they interact with each other. Last but not least, we welcomed Stephanie Lohmann as a new board member and said goodbye to our colleague Michiel de Man, who brought enormous commitment and knowledge to Commonland’s early years but deci- ded that it was time for a next step. We wish him lots of success!


Willem Ferwerda, CEO Commonland