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Cane’s Contribution to a Sustainable Planet

by Joel Velasco on Apr 22, 2010

Forty years ago, our planet began celebrating Earth Day. This day has come to symbolize the struggle we face to protect our natural resources while ensuring a sustainable path for the planet’s continued development. The modern environmental movement may have been born on college campuses, but its benefits now permeate the globe, including in the Brazilian sugarcane industry.

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Forty years ago, our planet began celebrating Earth Day. This day has come to symbolize the struggle we face to protect our natural resources while ensuring a sustainable path for the planet’s continued development. The modern environmental movement may have been born on college campuses, but its benefits now permeate the globe, including in the Brazilian sugarcane industry.

For the Brazilian sugarcane industry, the last forty years have been a period of tremendous change – for the better. In Brazil, the industry has grown considerably.  We’ve moved from modest sugar production of 5 million metric tons to become the world’s largest sugar producer with over 30 million. From ethanol production on a small scale of 168,000 gallons, to the world’s second largest ethanol producer with nearly 7 billion gallons this year. And all of this was achieved without demanding any electricity from the grid but, instead, by providing close to 5 percent of Brazil’s current electricity demand.

It’s no surprise that when scientists – as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board – analyzed sugarcane’s environmental performance the answer was quite positive. A recent peer-reviewed study showed that the Brazilian ethanol program alone has offset 600 million tons of CO2 since 1975.  And the study suggests that in the next 30 years, Brazilian sugarcane production may well offset 12 billion tons of CO2 due to current, more sustainable and efficient industry practices.

But sustainability is not just measured in terms of decreased greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond environmental performance, sustainability is measured in social and economic terms. That’s why our industry has been committed to improving working conditions and ensuring a level playing field on biofuels trade. Yesterday at a conference on Biofuels Sustainability & Land Use, I heard an environmental activist say “if it’s not profitable, it’s not sustainable in the long run.” And that applies to companies, workers and consumers too.

But don’t just take my word for it. This week, Winrock, a non-profit committed to “empower the disadvantaged, increase economic opportunity, and sustain natural resources,” released a report on the sustainability of biofuels in Brazil. According to the report, sugarcane production has a positive socio-economic impact and its expansion can meet the sustainability criteria laid down by various emerging standards. The independent report highlights some of the efforts our industry has championed, such as the Agro-Ecological Zoning. Check it out if you have a chance – it’s well worth the read.

The Brazilian sugarcane industry is committed not just to replacing fossil fuels with biofuels, but to making biofuels the best they can be – from the plant to the pump, for farmers and consumers, for our planet.

copyright 2010 Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association