The Working Landscapes Certificate (WLC) program is offered by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), and Green Harvest Technology (GHT) to promote more sustainable agricultural practices in growing biomass used in biobased materials. This innovative program enables manufacturers, retailers, and other consumers of commodity crops to offer a more sustainable product to their customers. It encourages sustainable crop production, provides additional income to farmers using these practices, and lessens the ecological impacts of agricultural production.

Under the WLC program, participating farmers agree to raise crops according to production standards that are verified by a certification entity. The farmer then has two products to sell: the crop itself and the quantified ecological benefits associated with the more sustainable production practices. The criteria for these benefits are described in the Working Landscapes Certificate.

This is an “offset program.” This means that only the production practices are linked to the WLC. The crop produced under the WLC criteria is not necessarily used in the production of the specific biobased product that is sold by the WLC purchaser. However, the purchase of WLCs does promote more sustainable production practices somewhere in the commodity system, while also demonstrating to farmers that a growing market exists for commodity crops grown in this manner.

WLCs can be seen as a bridge to resolve some of the emerging sectors’ infrastructure and sustainable feedstock supply issues, as the production of WLCs can help “grow” the number of farmers producing commodity crops more sustainably and demonstrate the market demand for this type of production. This approach can also allow companies — at a much-reduced cost from directly sourcing the materials — to support farmers in making changes to their production systems. And as the number of farmers producing crops more sustainably increases, companies interested in directly purchasing feedstocks produced in this manner will have an increased supply available from which to source.

From the perspective of IATP and GHT, the WLC program is the first, crucial step needed to create truly sustainable biomaterials. In this phase, the focus is on driving more sustainable production of the “commodity crop” feedstocks currently in use in biomaterials refining. Further stages will emphasize direct sourcing of these more sustainable feedstocks to material and, ultimately, a transition towards cellulosic and other feedstocks.

The WLC program is only intended and available for sectors where there are limited supply and production facilities, such as the bioplastics industry. In areas such as biofuels, where the infrastructure and ability to directly source are much greater, an offset program such as WLCs is not necessary, nor as effective in promoting feedstock sustainability.

Better Farming Practices

WLCs are voluntary and are bought on a per-acre basis. This approach avoids the incentive a “per bushel” payment would create to produce more than may be appropriate based on other landscape considerations (water quality, wildlife habitat, etc.). Farmers selling WLCs take specific, measurable steps to improve the environmental impact of their commodity crop production. Some of the production criteria include:

  • No use of genetically modified (GM) crops, thereby protecting biodiversity.
  • No continuous annual crop production on the same acreage, thereby protecting soil.
  • Soil testing on contracted acres and fertilization according to test results and state agronomic recommendations to assure that nutrients are used efficiently and are not likely to be leached from the soil.
  • No use of chemicals that are known human or animal carcinogens and no use of atrazine.
  • Use of cover crops or assurance that at least 70 percent of crop residues remain on the entire field to minimize soil erosion
  • Creation of farm plan that includes information on biodiversity, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions to help identify and encourage improvements in sustainability areas not currently addressed by WLCs.

Farming practices based on the WLC guidelines will not, in isolation, lead to full sustainability on the farm or in the production of biomass. But these practices represent achievable and proven first steps that can improve the environmental performance of commodity crop production in the key areas of water, soil, habitat, and biodiversity. As the WLC program continues to develop, participating farmers will be required to take additional steps to improve farm sustainability, including increasing biodiversity, reducing use of energy and resources, and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.

A Growing Program

The Working Landscapes Certificates program was created by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in 2006. Since 2008, IATP and Green Harvest Technologies (GHT) have collaborated to build the program into its present form. Green Harvest is responsible for WLC sales and contracting, while IATP is responsible for farmer outreach and WLC criteria development and verification.

The program is expected to expand significantly in the 2010 season. We will be working with a large company, which we expect will greatly increase the profile and potential impact of WLC. In addition, we are now working with farmers near a bioplastic production facility, which can potentially allow for more direct feedstock and WLC connections in the future. IATP and GHT are willing to work with current and potential customers to explore how to ensure that the WLC program best meets needs for the 2011 and future growing seasons.

As one of the fastest growing areas of commodity utilization and a sector that is billed as environmentally preferable, it is crucial that the bioindustrial sector incorporates sustainability criteria into the entire life cycle of products. (see Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative below). As has been discussed, WLCs are a potentially valuable tool for addressing the “front end” issues, by providing a traceable system that can be used to promote and verify commodity crop production that meets specific sustainability criteria, and to compensate farmers willing to take these steps. Considering the current impact of agricultural production on the environment and the limitations of the commodity infrastructure, WLCs are a way to begin moving agriculture and the biomaterials industry in a more sustainable direction.

If you are a manufacturer, retailer or another type of user of biomaterials and you want to link more sustainable production to your product, then Working Landscapes Certificates may be an important option for you.

Getting Involved

David Levine, Green Harvest Technologies

Green Harvest Technologies LLC (GHT), an innovation product venture, makes and sells preferable, high-performing consumer and medical products made from renewable materials.


Jim Kleinschmit, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems.