1970 – 2020 witnessed an alarming decrease in biodiversity. As consequences become increasingly apparent, it is clear that ending and reversing the trend is a global priority. The upcoming UN Biodiversity Conference in China will discuss a strategic vision for ecosystem conservation and management through the adoption of the Post 2020 Convention on Biological Diversity. The framework recognises the need for policy action at global, regional, and national levels to transform economic, social, and financial models with the goal of stabilising biodiversity loss by 2030 and encouraging ecosystem recovery by 2050. This sentiment is clearly echoed in the Sustainable Development Goals. The target of “net positive for nature” is sure to follow.
Biodiversity loss presents material risks for business. Such business risks include rising resource costs, deteriorating supply chains and disrupted operations. Procurement standards, licensing and permitting procedures embody yet another dimension of risk. Businesses will have to keep abreast of such changes to secure supply chains. From a reputational standpoint, addressing biodiversity loss will become an increasing area of focus for investors, consumers and policymakers.
In furtherance of stimulating conversation on this pressing issue and raising awareness of potential business risks linked to diminishing biodiversity, Sancroft welcomed Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, the statutory body working for the conservation and restoration of the natural environment in England, and senior business leaders from many sectors. All were invited to participate in a discussion on the ways in which biodiversity will become a priority that businesses must address. The conversation was facilitated by Sancroft Chairman Lord Deben.
Below are the 5 key take-outs from the discussion, which focused on how integral nature is for business, and the ways in which businesses can effectively address biodiversity loss.
- Nature is the foundation of our economy, it cannot be undervalued
For the past few decades environmental discussions largely centred on decarbonisation. Biodiversity loss was often a minor topic and indeed it was almost accepted as the price of progress. As science and business continue to reveal how our economic activities harm nature, the interconnectedness between humans and the systems in which they live becomes increasingly apparent. In their 2014 study “Changes in the global value chain of ecosystem services”, Costanza et al. estimated the value of ecosystem services to the world at $145 trillion, twice the global GDP of the year in question. Almost all businesses can trace their activities back to nature. Whether it is raw materials, supply chains, employee wellbeing or agriculture itself, ecosystem decline will trigger catastrophic consequences if not addressed.
Biodiversity loss cannot be separated from climate change. Indeed, ecosystems play a vital role in the processes of our planet. For example, zooplankton in the oceans release gases which get converted into microscopic solid particles around which water vapour condenses to form clouds. From clouds, we get rainwater, the very essence of life on this planet. The improper treatment of animals increased the risk of zoonotic diseases crossing the species barrier – with Covid-19 a recent example. While initially it may not be clear that nature loss is of great significance to business and our society, the relationship between these two factors is in fact fundamental.
- “Net positive for nature” must become an essential part of business
The concept of “net-zero” is widely used in business and society, especially following the Paris Agreement of 2015. It provided a focus, a common goal for “green” activities worldwide. It is impossible to navigate the sustainability landscape without becoming intricately familiar with net zero targets. However, the phrase “net positive for nature”, is much less recognised. It encompasses the idea of leaving behind a more stable, natural ecosystem or an increase in biodiversity as a result of projects, developments and business operations.
The UK Government has promoted the concept of “Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG)” as an equivalent to “net positive for nature”. Such a condition is articulated within the Environment Bill and net gain is calculated using Natural England’s Biodiversity Metric. Developers and land/marine managers will have to leave biodiversity in a measurably better state than before their projects began, with targets moving towards 10% BNG. Simply leaving habitats as you found them is no longer enough. While we may be able to replenish carbon stores in peat bogs, or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, species loss is irreversible.
- Biodiversity needs to become an investable proposition. With this, comes regulation
Carbon offset schemes allow companies and organisations to invest in environmentally positive projects to balance out the carbon emissions produced within their own value chain. This has been a functioning economy for some time. However, the concept has not yet gained the same level of acceptance when applied to nature positive work. One of the challenges here is how to establish a standardised system of qualitative benchmarks. How does one “measure” nature in all its complexities and charming idiosyncrasies?
Regulation is therefore required for biodiversity to move towards becoming an investable proposition. It will be necessary to bring together different elements like water quality and soil health, as well as a coalition of interested stakeholders; NGOs, farmers, governments, companies and consumers. Universal standards and rigorous systems of accreditation can only arise through collaboration. Entities such as the UK Business & Biodiversity Forum, which seeks to understand the value of nature to business, are a solid start but more work is required.
- Restoring biodiversity can align with business goals
To understand the reliance your business has on nature is the first step towards learning how to ensure your activities benefit biodiversity. This process works like an audit of nature dependencies, linkages and impacts – a way of recognising where there is a dependency on biodiversity for normal business operations. This exercise highlights where biodiversity loss can adversely impact a business, but the reverse is also true. Addressing vulnerabilities by strengthening ecosystems can secure supply chains, insulate against climate risks and even improve products or services. South West Water, for instance, has invested in restoring peatlands, leading to greater yields of cleaner water. Working to improve biodiversity, then, is not just about eliminating negative effects on business, it is about determining and enhancing the upsides.
- The emotive nature of biodiversity can be harnessed
Whether it is a stroll through the park or tending flowers in the garden, the natural world provides us all with recreation, leisure, and mental health benefits. By connecting with biodiversity, businesses can ensure they are in-touch with the consumer at a basic level. Consumers will associate your business with these emotive qualities and begin to care about your organisation through its relationship with the natural world, something they themselves share. There is a definite opportunity here to capitalise on biodiversity gain from a business standpoint, should the appropriate strategies be implemented. Connection with customers can therefore come as a benefit when care is taken for nature in business operations.
All businesses are fundamentally rooted in nature. You rely on it and need to understand it to limit risks and maximise its potential for alignment with business goals. Sancroft can help you comprehend how dependent your business is on nature and where opportunities lie regarding biodiversity.
We will continue to convene opportunities for businesses to learn and connect about the most pressing sustainability challenges and opportunities. To register your interest in forthcoming events and webinars please email email@example.com.