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Kim DuBose, Director of Sustainability at Enviva

All conversations about climate change have to involve the energy sector. It is responsible for more emissions than any other industry — 35 percent of total global emissions.

Maryland-based Enviva Biomass produces bioenergy — turning wood fiber into pellets that can be used to generate electricity and heat. Founded in 2004, the company set out to create a renewable, low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels. Enviva is now the world’s largest producer of industrial wood pellets.

In February 2021, the company announced a strategic plan that provides a roadmap to make it a net-zero emissions company by 2030. Kim DuBose, Director of Commerce and Sustainability at Enviva, explained that the plan has four main elements:

  1. Reduce, eliminate, or offset all of its direct emissions

  2. Source 100 percent renewable energy

  3. Improve clean energy solutions within its supply chain

  4. Transparently report progress to the public and stakeholders.

The significance of bioenergy in sustainability

In the renewable energy field, we are familiar with hydropower, wind, and solar. Enviva produces bioenergy — wood pellets that are then used to generate electricity and heat. 

As a company, sustainability is not ‘bolted on’ to our mission.

What many do not realize is that bioenergy generates more renewable energy than all other renewables combined. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) specifically names bioenergy as a critical component of a comprehensive plan to mitigate climate change, because of its role as a low-carbon energy source, and also because it prevents the destruction of forests needed to protect the health of the planet’s land, water, and air. 

How the sustainability team works

Enviva’s sustainability team sits at the center of the company’s operational and commercial decisions.  

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An Enviva associate working in a forest. Image courtesy of Enviva.

“Our sustainability team is part of the commercial team,” explains DuBose. “Sustainability is mission critical to Enviva’s overall product–sustainably sourced biomass. As a company, sustainability is not ‘bolted on’ to our mission.”

DuBose’s team looks after relationships with stakeholders, including private forest landowners, wood products industry professionals, community partners, conservation organizations, and Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) stakeholders, and pellet feedstock suppliers. 

The team also works closely with the third-party pellet suppliers to ensure traceability in the supply chain and that the wood pellets are sourced from sustainably managed forests. They collect, report, and share the supply chain data with partners, stakeholders, and the general public through a system called Track & Trace, a monitoring program that tracks the wood they receive to its harvest origin. Transparency and accountability go hand-in-hand. The data they collect through Track & Trace is shared publicly on the company’s website.  

This web of relationships and tools is guided by Enviva’s Responsible Sourcing Policy (RSP). Enviva only sources raw material from what can be described as waste wood — tree tops and limbs that are not usable as lumber, trimmings, mill waste, and low-value wood from land planned to be replanted as forests. Without Enviva, these materials would likely be abandoned and burned to make room for lumber-grade timber.

Enviva only sources raw material from what can be described as waste wood — tree tops and limbs that are not usable as lumber, trimmings, mill waste…

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Wood pellets. Image courtesy Enviva.

“Our team is a part of every discussion and decision at the company that pertains to contracts, partnerships, fiber purchases, and future development plans,” DuBose says. 

A tent pole of climate change mitigation is that we have to preserve what we have and restore what we lost. To prevent landowners from selling to developers, Enviva provides incentives to private landowners to keep their land as forests.

Grant funding for nonprofits seeking to preserve ecosystems

The company has also created a partnership with the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities,: The Enviva Forest Conservation Fund. It’s a 10-year, $5 million commitment to protect and conserve tens of thousands of acres of forests in North Carolina and Virginia.

The land that Enviva is saving through this fund creates habitats for vulnerable tree species and wildlife, including marshlands that serve as a critical ecosystem to absorb carbon. The fund provides matching-fund grants to nonprofit organizations that preserve these ecosystems. To date, they have awarded $2,535,000 in grants that have helped conserve more than 26,500 acres.

Sustainability requires a collaborative mindset

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Seedling of longleaf pine. Image courtesy Enviva.

Enviva’s comprehensive sustainability work shows the diversity of skill sets that today’s sustainability leaders need. An understanding of science, data analysis, business, operations, strategic partnerships, communications, and governance are just a few areas of necessary expertise. While the sustainability team at Enviva is tasked with a wide variety of work, none of it is done in isolation. It has to be done collaboratively, with the line businesses inside of the company and external stakeholders. They all have to move forward in concert, providing support to one another — not unlike a healthy natural ecosystem.