The business of protecting biodiversity – and why it’s your business
While sustainability pledges are becoming more common as part of businesses’ strategic planning, investing in protecting and increasing global biodiversity is an area that hasn’t yet received the attention it needs.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF) more than 50% of global GDP is highly or moderately dependent on ecosystem services including the raw materials provided by nature, plus groundwater, and the role of pollination in food production. We cannot derive fundamentals for life as we know it - fresh food, water and medicine - without a rich and flourishing biodiversity.
“Some industries have experience in the field of biodiversity and they have incorporated sustainable business practices into their use of land and water but there’s always room for improvement,” explains Tatu Leinonen, specialist in climate and nature solutions at future-oriented fund Sitra. “For other industries, addressing issues surrounding biodiversity have only become priorities recently because many have been focusing on tackling climate change instead.”
Investing in biodiversity is not only about taking action in sustainability – there is also a good business case for it. Over the next 10 years, the WEF estimates that protecting nature and increasing biodiversity could generate business opportunities worth $10 trillion annually and create nearly 400 million new jobs in areas such as improving energy efficiency in the construction industry and delivering circular economy solutions in the automotive, electronics, and textile industries.
“Companies that invest in protecting nature are also likely to enhance their reputation and be able to access finance on better terms than companies that cause more pollution or rely on fossil fuels for power,” Leinonen continues. “By managing their dependencies and impacts on nature, businesses can build the foundations for long-term success.”
In early June 2022, the UN hosted a biodiversity and sustainability conference in Stockholm. The event provided a platform for companies like Neste, a global leader in the field of renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel, to show the commitment it has already made to protecting global biodiversity and to highlight how similar organizations can do more to raise awareness of the link between business operations and biodiversity.
Neste is now developing a systematic approach to delivering net positivity on biodiversity on all its new projects and operations by 2025. It will also integrate biodiversity issues into wider operations by 2035 with the aim of having a positive impact on biodiversity throughout the entire value chain by 2040.
“This means investing in, and building the means, to achieve tough goals,” says Niina Niemelä, Neste’s sustainability manager for climate and the circular economy.
“By evaluating our supply chain from a biodiversity perspective, we can identify areas that will deliver the most significant impact on the environment. We have also begun piloting methods for measuring biodiversity and will use this information to drive our investment decisions.
“Unfortunately, many businesses still don’t understand the links between biodiversity and ecosystem services, and how a lack of biodiversity may negatively affect their access to raw materials, energy, and other utilities,” Niemelä adds.
“By understanding the impacts, evaluating the risks and opportunities, and integrating biodiversity into company strategy, businesses will ensure that they minimize the negative impact on biodiversity and maximize the opportunities related to natural capital. Business leaders therefore need to use fine metrics to form a more holistic approach to setting targets and improving biodiversity.”
The benefits of increasing biodiversity
Biodiversity and overall genetic diversity regulate all the planet’s biological processes and enable organisms to adapt to their environments and crops to withstand disease. Healthy and diverse ecosystems allow us to derive many modern pharmaceuticals that help treat cancer, heart disease, and illnesses like malaria, as well as supporting food security, so it is essential for human health and wellbeing that we manage the planet’s biodiversity. In addition, for example the monetary value of bee pollination to food production globally is estimated to be $400 billion each year.
“We are now at a tipping point in terms of ecological restoration and safeguarding natural landscapes,” explains Pippa Howard, strategy expert at Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the world’s oldest wildlife-conservation organization which has launched dozens of pioneering projects to help increase biodiversity, and has now started a collaboration with Neste to improve the company’s approach to conservationism.
“To return these landscapes to their original condition,” Howard continues, “we must educate everyone in the supply chain so they can manage the use of the land more efficiently, starting with single farmers and small communities and then graduating to the industry as a whole. This will preserve vital genetic resources and nature services and allow land to be used more effectively and sustainably in the long term.”
The immediate future
“Big business must contribute to the global situation and not focus on specific areas that degrade land and ecosystems,” Howard adds.
“For nature to be healthy, it must be resilient and intact. The focus now needs to be on improving resilience by taking responsibility for regenerating areas that have been exploited already.”
“If we think of the Earth’s natural resources as being like money we hold in a bank, we can’t keep withdrawing cash and expect to survive. We need to live on the interest. Nature provides all the capital we need, but only when it’s healthy. If we erode that stock, we undermine the entire global ecosystem.”
Niemelä agrees with this assessment: “We depend on ecosystem services but overuse natural resources. Climate change has taken most of the headlines recently but this needs to change so that biodiversity is given equal billing, although the complexity of global ecosystems means this is harder for most people to grasp than simply talking about increasing temperatures leading to extreme weather.
“Companies need to realize that a loss of biodiversity threatens not just their business but the future of all life on Earth. In Finland, the government is responding by developing a national framework for incorporating biodiversity into its policy and, by extension, every aspect of people’s lives.”
Later this year at the 2022 United Nations Biodiversity Conference in China, governments will discuss a long-term action plan known as the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework. The aim is to value, conserve, and restore global biodiversity by 2050, which will deliver essential benefits for billions of people. It will also focus on using resources more equally and sustainably, as well as providing up to $200bn per year to support the protection of biodiversity globally.
With political awareness and momentum accelerating, this is the time for forward-thinking companies to take the opportunity to show the way - and reap the benefits for doing so.
Biodiversity: The collective term for all life on Earth, which includes animals, plants, fungi and bacteria.
Ecosystem/nature services: The direct and indirect contributions ecosystems make for human wellbeing and quality of life. In practical terms, this includes how nature provides us with food, water, and a habitable climate (natural capital), as well as how we feel about our interactions with the natural world in terms of our physical and emotional wellbeing.
Circular economy: A sustainable model of production and consumption that keeps waste to a minimum by sharing, leasing, repairing, and recycling goods and services so that they can be used productively for longer.
Conservationism: An environmental and political movement that aims to protect all the planet’s natural resources, including everything from endangered species to historic landmarks.
Restoration economy: The value that is derived from recovering and regenerating natural landscapes and ecosystems that have been degraded, damaged, or destroyed by human mismanagement.
Net Positive Impact (NPI): Achieving net gains for biodiversity as an outcome of the activity. Impacts caused by the activity are outweighed by actions taken to avoid and reduce impacts.
No Net Loss: Concept where overall gains in biodiversity are equal, or greater than the losses.
Net Gain: Approach aiming to leave the biodiversity or the natural environment in a measurably better state than it was before.
Liam McCann is a best-selling author and journalist who has written dozens of articles on sustainability and the journey to net zero, particularly in the automotive and transport industries, as well as the retail sector.