This article looks into soil from the perspective of sustainability. Soil is perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when people think of sustainability. But, there is a chance that this vital but often overlooked and under loved matter could be influential in combating climate change.


What brought my attention to soil and its role in combatting climate change, was a section that I read in Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins.

There are times when words simply jump out of the page and grab you. My reading of this section was one of those times.

“The world’s cultivated soils contain about twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, whose carbon content is rising by half a percent per year. The earth’s 5 billion acres of degraded soils are particularly low in carbon and in need of carbon absorbing vegetative cover. Increasing degraded soil’s carbon content at plausible rates could absorb about as much carbon as all human activity emits. This would also improve soil, water and air quality.”

I found the entire quotation to be striking. But the penultimate sentence stood out to me for why soil could be a game changer when it comes to climate change.

I was also unaware that 2015 was the International Year of Soils. I was made aware of this by the very useful UNFAO video which I have posted below.

Soils: Our ally against climate change

The key element to focus on is soil health as this is what predicts whether the soil will act like a sink or a source of carbon emissions.

Part of me is still completely amazed by the fact that there is more organic carbon in the soil than in ground vegetation and the atmosphere combined.

What is needed is soil with high levels of organic content as these are the soils that can sequester the most carbon.

What is not needed is excessive levels of deforestation which exposes bare soil to the air, compaction through heavy industrialised agriculture and of course developments which completely cover areas of soil with concrete and structures. These activities have a negative effect on soil’s ability to act as a sink of carbon and cause soils to become a source for greenhouse gasses.

I also thought it would be instructive to look back at Drawdown, which was a book edited by Paul Hawken that looked into the 100 most effective ways to reverse global warming. This was one of the most impressive books that I came across in 2017 and you can find a link to my review below.

Drawdown edited by Paul Hawken

With regards to soil the extract on pages 70-71 which was an extract from The Hidden Half of Nature by Montgomery and Bikle was very interesting. The following quotation stood out in particular.

“By the mid to late twentieth century, chemical-based agricultural practices were causing steady losses of soil carbon, topsoil, and humus, and creating water pollution, crops that were more susceptible to pests, greenhouse gases (nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide), and oceanic dead zones.”

They paint a bleak picture which emphasises the need for change.

The section on page 200-201 on microbial farming was also very relevant to soil and sustainability. I was amazed to find out that “in one gram of soil there can be up to 10 billion denizens, and between 50,000 and 83,000 different species of bacteria and fungi.

On the more technical side I also found the following quotation interesting.

“A healthy soil biome is rich in carbon because soil microbes feed on sugar-rich exudates from the roots of plants; in turn, the bacteria dissolve the rock and minerals and make those nutrients available to plants.”

I am constantly amazed by the processes of the natural world and how it functions.

The section in Drawdown which was most relevant to soil and sustainability was the section on regenerative agriculture. Incredibly, this came in as their 11th most powerful solution for combatting climate change. This section contained the following powerful insight.

“The world cannot be fed unless the soil is fed. Feeding the soil reduces carbon in the atmosphere. Soil erosion and water depletion cost $37 billion in the United States annually and $400 billion globally. Ninety-six percent of that comes from food production.”

What you need to know

This article looked into soil from the perspective of sustainability.

We looked into a quote from Natural Capitalism which showed that soils are a massive store of carbon. It also showed that if managed properly, the soils could become an even larger store of atmospheric carbon and a significant bulwark against climate change.

We also looked into a very instructive video by the UNFAO. This showed both how and why the soil can act as a source or a sink for carbon emissions.

Lastly, we looked at Drawdown for information on the role of soil in reversing climate change. This confirmed that soil has a vital role to play.

Overall, we have to hope that soil is not overlooked in favour of other higher tech and more glamorous solutions to climate change. We also have to hope that many of the impacts that accelerate soil’s transition from a sink to a source of carbon emissions are controlled.

What is clear, is that soil has a fundamental role to play in sustainability.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below, or reach out to me on social media. What do you think of soil’s role in sustainability?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby


This article looks into whether we need to create a bigger vision for sustainability. Is the current vision for sustainability big enough, is it sustainable?


The statement below is from David Holmgren’s book Permaculture: principles and pathways beyond sustainability. It caught my eye in the last 7 days and made me think about the vision or rather lack of a vision for what a sustainable future would look like.


So what I thought I would do is unpack the statement from David Holmgren to see what we can learn from it.

Beginning with the first sentence, I am really attracted to the idea of self-reliance and autonomy that play such a big part in permaculture. I think these are somewhat lacking within sustainability, which has a preference for system level changes. The problem with this is, is that it leads to a very low level of ownership of problems. The power of permaculture is that it teaches people to take ownership of problems and to take care of themselves and their community in a sustainable manner. Issues are only as macro as you make them out to be. We can all play a role in building a better world if we take steps to change the way we think, act and behave in society.

The second sentence is particularly interesting as it refers to three things of great importance. The first part is the reference to balance, this is key to permaculture and it is important to make sure that people understand that a balanced approach is what is called for to solve these problems. The second part is the notion human imperatives. There are some hardliners who denounce human activity as a plague on the planet. This is an interesting perspective but it is well wide of the mark. Both permaculture and sustainability need to position themselves front and centre as solutions for how we survive and thrive in the 21st century. The third part is the notion which is central to permaculture of a declining energy base. Before too long, the huge prize of oil and natural gas will have largely been squandered. Permaculture offers a range of solutions for what life after this is gone could look like.

The third sentence is interesting as it shows how permaculture offers a holistic set of solutions for the garden, the home and for people’s lifestyles. It is about creating a permanent and sustainable culture. Sustainability could learn a lot from this. But the really important part comes later in the sentence, which is about self-regulation and feedback. They are key elements in natural systems, they are critical to permaculture, but thus far I would not say these ideas are preeminent within sustainability. We must begin to learn from processes that work and build on from there.

I thought that the last sentence was particularly inspirational. I like the way that permaculture is positivistic and it encourages its followers to take action to build a better world. This is enormously empowering. I also particularly like the last part of the sentence which is about continuing to support life and humanity. We should never forget the importance of the work that goes on within permaculture and sustainability. This is necessary work and it is important work.

What you need to know

This article looked into whether we need to create a bigger vision for sustainability. We looked into a paragraph from a David Holmgren book about permaculture to see what we could learn.

I think what is clear, is that permaculture’s vison is more substantial than the vision offered by sustainability.

I think that more needs to be done to push responsibility for sustainability down to the level of the individual.

I also think there needs to be more of a focus within sustainability for changing the culture. This is a big task but is the only way to embed solutions.

To answer the title question, yes I believe we need a bigger vision for sustainability and I believe sustainability could learn a lot from permaculture.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. If you liked this format, comment at the bottom or you can also find me on social media.

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby


This article looks into permaculture and sustainability. It examines what permaculture is and asks, how permaculture can inform the current sustainability debate.


Permaculture was developed and codified in the mid-1970s by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. The publication of Permaculture One in 1978 is a major point of departure for the modern incarnation of permaculture.

A commonly held definition of what permaculture is would be the following statement

Consciously designed landscapes which mimic the patterns and relationships found in nature, while yielding an abundance of food, fibre and energy for provision of local needs.

For more information, please visit the link to the video below, which packs lots of information about permaculture into 51 seconds.

What is permaculture?

It is about creating a permanent and sustainable culture.

It is positivistic; it is about what we want to do and can do, rather than being an opposition movement.

Permaculture has a number of traits which I find interesting.

  • It gives priority to using existing wealth to rebuild natural capital
  • It emphasises bottom-up redesign processes
  • It is predicated on the likelihood of some degree of collapse
  • It looks for clues in pre-industrial societies

I am also attracted to permaculture because it makes use of design principles and systems thinking, two areas where much leverage can be gained for sustainability.

Permaculture is also a giant network of likeminded individuals working to build a better world. In the UK it is represented by the Permaculture Association and you can find out more about them by visiting the link below.

The Permaculture Association

How can permaculture inform the current sustainability debate

Permaculture is extremely integrative. I believe this to be its greatest strength and the biggest contribution it can make to modern sustainability challenges.

It integrates ecology, landscape geography animal husbandry, forestry, agriculture, biology and architecture.

Too often modern sustainability problems go unsolved because of excessive silo thinking and a “not my problem” mentality. Permaculture provides a radical critique of these negative aspects of modern societies.

Permaculture also shines a light on the need to build a sustainable future on the solid foundations of a sustainable culture. Changing lightbulbs and electric cars are wonderful things, but if people are not engaged and if the culture still celebrates or tolerates excessive use of non-renewable resources and excessive consumption then nothing will really have changed.

It also offers a radical critique of a weak sustainability approach. Sustainability is meant to be about meeting people’s needs now and in the future. But too often we seem hesitant to ask how much of what is consumed in the present is really necessary and how much is mindless self-indulgence. Permaculture would suggest we could meet our needs far more prudently than we currently do.

Permaculture also offers a more radical critique of weak sustainability, in that it is built on an ecological framework, more akin to ecological economics as opposed to environmental economics, which is based on economic frameworks. This allows permaculture and I would argue ecological economists to see value where environmental economists cannot. You can find out more about environmental economics and ecological economics by visiting the link below.


They way permaculture focuses on non-material well-being is also enlightening. This is similar to cultural ecosystem services and is a radical step change in thinking from anything that weak sustainability can provide. Things such as exercise and the beauty of nature provide enormous value and well-being but are so often unaccounted for.

What you need to know

This article looked into permaculture and sustainability. It examined what permaculture is and asked, how permaculture can inform the current sustainability debate.

We looked into the origins of permaculture in the 1970s and looked at a common definition of what it is.

We looked into the traits that permaculture exhibits and its ability to work as a network.

We also looked into several examples of how permaculture can offer a radical critique of the modern sustainability debate.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What are your thoughts or experiences of permaculture?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby



This article looks at minimisation as a sustainability strategy and how businesses can find minimisation opportunities.


Corporate sustainability is about making a business viable for the long term. Sustainability strategies are what need to be implemented in order to make this happen.

In most circumstances, there will be things that your business does that are unsustainable. These unsustainable operations need to be significantly reduced or eliminated whilst taking business interests into account. The good news is that with a shift to a mind-set that sees sustainability as an area of unlimited opportunities business interests and environmental and social interests can coalesce.

This article looks at minimisation as a sustainability strategy, with a focus on three key areas.

1.     Waste minimisation

Waste minimisation is a great place to begin a sustainability strategy. Everybody agrees waste is bad and so this is an excellent way to engage staff in the sustainability process.

Looking for processes and procedures that generate waste is easy, but if it is to be done correctly it is a thorough process that requires rigour and inquisitiveness. This is not the glamorous side of sustainability, but it is very important.

Your sustainability team or persons concerned with sustainability need to be familiar with all the raw materials, energy, water and other resources that the business is utilising. Then calculations need to be made as to what percentages of these are being wasted. Look for material of value that is being discarded, spoiled or going unused.

To get this process started, you should monitor and track the resource inputs and outputs for at least three months. This should give you a good idea of what is going on inside your business. Measurement is the key to sustainability.

A great way to crowdsource ideas quickly is to ask your employees to come forward with ideas for waste minimisation. Employees could be rewarded for coming forward with ideas that lead to waste minimisation and cash savings. A great scheme that I really like is the GE Ecomagination project. This used many of these ideas and has been fantastically successful.

There is a good chance that an operation that generates waste material can be turned into a savings opportunity for your company. Resources are precious and should be treated as such. Another company that is doing a great job and improving the sustainability image of the coffee chain industry is bio-bean.

If coffee grounds can be recycled into advanced biofuels and biochemicals, there is a good chance that waste materials in your business can be recycled into something valuable.

2.     Stakeholder concerns

The correct application of the stakeholder theory is imperative if businesses are to become sustainable. Stakeholder theory addresses morals and values in managing an organization. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. Sustainability is at its best when it is on the territory of values, and if it can get onto the territory of morals then that is a winning combination.

Stakeholder concerns could be addressed by a head of corporate social responsibility or someone in charge of customer service. This is another great way to crowdsource ideas for minimisation opportunities.

By engaging with your internal and external stakeholders, they may come forward with valuable ideas and complaints regarding sustainability. It could very well be the case that they are at a more advanced stage in terms of sustainability and you should welcome and encourage their input.

By identifying and reducing any areas of friction between your organisation and its stakeholders you will be saving your business time, money and building up goodwill for the future.

This sort of stakeholder engagement and remediation is often highly cost effective, particularly when the benefits of an enhanced reputation are factored into brand valuations. Responsible businesses engage with and work to minimise any areas of concern that their stakeholders have.

3.   Benchmarking

Benchmarking your company against others is a great way to improve the sustainability of your operations.

There are three possible outcomes. You are behind your competitors and therefore need to catch up. You are close to your competitors and therefore need to create clear water. Or you are way ahead of your competitors and should therefore look to enlarge this gap. All three outcomes of the benchmarking process lead to sustainability increasing in importance.

The chances are that you can learn valuable lessons from how your competitors are reducing their energy, water and waste. What are their strategies, how successful have they been, have they plateaued or are they winning awards? These are all the things that you need to know and then feed the information back into your own organisation and its processes.

This process has been made easier because of the proliferation of sustainability reporting. Many companies will be very candid about what they have reduced and how they reduced it. You can then use this intelligence in your own minimisation strategy.

If planned and executed correctly benchmarking your company against others is a highly valuable exercise.

What you need to know

This article looked at minimisation as a sustainability strategy and how businesses can find minimisation opportunities.

It focussed upon three areas in particular. They were:

1.     Waste minimisation

2.    Stakeholder concerns

3.    Benchmarking

All three of these areas are quite different, but if acted upon achieve similar goals. Businesses produce negative externalities, these need to be found and reduced or eliminated completely. It is not an easy process to carry this out, but it is highly rewarding.

It is also not a one-time quick fix procedure. There are many quick wins that can be had on sustainability, but minimisation is not in this category. It is an iterative process, which demands revisiting and reworking at a later date. The key is to have accurate measurements to work with, a great imagination and a positive mental attitude. With that, there are few problems within sustainability that you cannot solve.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. It’s great to hear about other people’s experiences in taking sustainability forward.