Over thousands of years, human activities such as farming and herding have transformed up to half of the Earth’s landscape1. In many cases, unsustainable farming practices have also degraded soil quality, ecosystems and biodiversity – a particular threat in the tropics, the home of cocoa, coffee, tea and palm oil; all key crops for Mars.
This can translate into reduced crop quality and yields and the need for more synthetic inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers, which can lead to further degradation. The growth in average annual global yields is already slowing for several staple food crops, including wheat, rice and maize.2 Many farmers in the tropics have only a little land and small or no profit margins, so they struggle to make a living and support their families. Declining yields put them under pressure to clear forests to plant more crops, degrading ecosystems and biodiversity. But the loss of ecosystems and the services they provide, such as pollination, water regulation and erosion control, can damage food production and farmers’ livelihoods in the longer term.
Our work to quantify our land use impacts is at an earlier stage than our thinking on greenhouse gases and water impacts. We are currently attempting to quantify the amount of land used in different elements of our value chain, as a first step toward our ultimate aim of measuring and reducing our overall land use impacts:
Factories - factory land use accounts for around 0.05% of total land use in our value chain, calculated by aggregating property areas.
Raw materials – land used to grow our raw materials accounts for an estimated 97.8% of land used in our value chain, based on our actual material usage and global average yields from the Statistics Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAOSTAT).
Packaging – the land use involved in producing our packaging accounts for 2.2% of land use in our value chain, based on data from the Packaging Impact Quick Evaluation Tool (PIQET) developed in partnership with the Sustainable Packaging Alliance (SPA).
We are considering the best methodology for quantifying the wider impacts of this land use. One approach is to use biodiversity hotspot maps to help us focus on areas where reducing land use impacts is a priority. A more sophisticated approach would be to develop a land use impact “factor” that combines measures including biodiversity impacts, soil fertility and soil erosion.
1 Vitousek, P.M.; Mooney, H.A.; Lubchenco, J.; Melillo, J.M. 1997. "Human Domination of Earth's Ecosystems.” Science 277:494-499
2 Source: Alston, Beddow and Pardey (2009)