Business and biodiversity – Why does it matter, and how to contribute and report on it

As we fumble our way through the COVID-19 induced crisis, another major disaster is already sneaking up on us: climate change. Any measures to mitigate climate change would heavily depend on the resilience of eco-systems; the health of which is measured by the scale and extent of biodiversity.

We are currently living in the age of the Anthropocene; a period in the Earth’s history that is marked by anthropogenic changes. These changes have triggered a sixth mass extinction at a 1000 times faster rate (than the average of the past 10 million years).  Even if corrected today, it would take millions of years for the natural world to recover from this annihilation. Just between 1970 and 2014, for example, 60% of vertebrates and 83% of freshwater species have gone extinct. Changes in the climate further exacerbate species extinction, which adversely affects ecosystems and their ability to adapt to climate change – resulting in a negative feedback loop.

The value of nature is often discussed for its eco-system services – or the benefits that humans receive from healthy eco-systems. Regardless of how far technology advances the standards of human life, replacing the services at the scale provided by nature is heretical fantasy.

There is overwhelming evidence that proves that higher biodiversity translates to superior eco-system functioning – soil formation, pollution breakdown, pollination, and nutrient recycling, just to name a few. Loss in biodiversity therefore equates to loss in eco-system services.

Service type Examples of goods or services provided
Provisional Fiber; Food; Freshwater; Fuel wood and other essential resources
Regulative Climate regulation; Disease control and suppression of pathogens; Water purification and regulation
Supporting
(processes)
Nutrient cycling; Primary production; Soil formation
Cultural Aesthetics; Cultural heritage and sense of place; Educational; Recreational; Spiritual and religious
Classification of ecosystem services. Based on Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA, 2003).
Taken from Wall and Nielson (2012).

One painful lesson the pandemic has taught us is how intricately connected the planet is. Changes in the natural equilibrium regardless of where they happen, will affect us.

Biodiversity loss for your business means higher risks, increased costs, complications with raw materials and suppliers, and consumer distrust. It also means not being able to rely on ecosystems for waste dissipation, soil and water quality, and healthy air composition.

In the capitalist system, the value of an item is measured by its price. Demand and supply economics dictate a price hike to result from a scarcity in resources. Ecosystem services and biodiversity however are part of an invisible economy – their benefits to us are so existential and vast that they are taken for granted despite not being renewable. It is therefore difficult to put a real price on what biodiversity loss can mean for business (see here for EU’s natural capital accounting).

In this same invisible economy, corporations are directly responsible for adding to social and environmental costs, that are borne not by them but by the larger society (and often due to the capitalist structure by the bottom of the pyramid). Regardless of the sector your business is in, it is directly or indirectly hurting biodiversity (it is not just a manufacturing sector problem). Though corporations might not be able to retroactively ‘pay’ for their actions, they can make efforts today to eradicate their role in biodiversity loss, and help in its conservation.

Corporate reporting on biodiversity

Forward looking corporations today are moving away from being just profit driven machines. The focus is shifting towards showcasing a larger picture of how companies create value – beyond just the financial and manufactured, to include the intellectual, human, social, and natural. According to a survey CERB conducted among listed companies in 2019, 30% of companies report on sustainability and environmental factors. And though some companies (in particular multi-nationals) have lofty environmental targets, only 14% of companies considered biodiversity to be a material issue. SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 15 (life on land) were the least prioritized by companies working on SDGs.

Similarly, the few companies that do disclose on natural factors through the SDGs, GRI, or other standards, pay little to no attention to biodiversity in their sustainability strategies or reporting. This is also the case globally, where companies that do account for climate change related financial risks do not consider biodiversity loss, despite the clear interdependent relationship between the two.

PwC and WWF identified biodiversity related financial risks to include:

  1. Risks related to the transition to an economy which conserves and restores biodiversity. For example, technological innovations that disrupt conservative structures like renewable energy for coal plants, and reputational risks influenced by conscious consumers.
  2. Risks related to the physical impacts of biodiversity loss such as coastal flooding.
  3. Risks related to litigation pertaining to biodiversity loss and breach of the underlying legal frameworks.
  4. Risks related to systemic impacts of biodiversity loss

Standardized tools for assessing these risks and indicators to report on are not as well developed for biodiversity as they are for climate and environmental issues.  A good place to start is by looking into GRI indicators for biodiversity and Sustainable Development Goals targets.

GRI 304

General requirements for reporting the management approach

1.1 – If management approach disclosures are combined for a group of material topics,the reporting organization shall state which topics are covered by each disclosure.

1.2 – If there is no management approach for a material topic,the reporting organization shall describe:

1.2.1 – Any plans to implement a management approach; or

1.2.2 – The reason for not having a management approach

Indicators

GRI 304-1

Operational sites owned, leased, managed in, or adjacent to, protected areas and areas of high biodiversity value outside protected areas

GRI 304-2

Significant impacts of activities, products, and services

GRI 304-3

Habitats protected or restored

GRI 304-4

IUCN Red List species and national conservation list species with habitats in areas affected by operations

Taken from overview of GRI Standards (2016)

UN Sustainable Development Goals

There are a number of UN SDG targets that directly and indirectly benefit biodiversity and can be contributed to by the private sector.

Target 1.5. By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters

Target 2.4. By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality

Target 2.5. By 2020, maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at the national, regional and international levels, and promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, as internationally agreed

Target 3.9. By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination

Target 4.7. By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development

Target 6.3. By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally

Target 6.4. By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity

Target 6.6. By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes

Target 8.4. Improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, in accordance with the Ten‑Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production, with developed countries taking the lead

Target 8.9. By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products

Target 9.4. By 2030, upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes, with all countries taking action in accordance with their respective capabilities

Target 11.6. By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management

Target 12.4. By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their lifecycle, in accordance with agreed international frameworks, and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil in order to minimize their adverse impacts on human health and the environment

Target 12.5. By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse

Target 12.8. By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature

Target 13.1. Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries

Target 13.2. Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning

Target 13.3. Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning

Target 14.1. By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution

Target 14.2. By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans

Target 14.5. By 2020, conserve at least ten per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information

Target 15.1. By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands, in line with obligations under international agreements

Target 15.2. By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally

Target 15.3. By 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world

Target 15.4. By 2030, ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity, in order to enhance their capacity to provide benefits that are essential for sustainable development

Target 15.5. Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species

Target 15.7. Take urgent action to end poaching and trafficking of protected species of flora and fauna and address both demand and supply of illegal wildlife products

Target 17.17. Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships

Steps business can take to alleviate biodiversity loss and promote conservation

Addressing these indicators would require as the first step, building a business case for biodiversity and integrating it into your company’s sustainability and CSR strategies. Here are some concrete ways your company can contribute to conservation and reducing its impact on biodiversity loss:

  • Assess, monitor, and report on business impact and dependencies on biodiversity, including the supply chain.
  • Invest in restoring degraded land. Ecological restoration has a significant impact on improving biodiversity. For example, Artistic Garment and Fabric Industries (with WWF) and Engro Elengy Terminal (with IUCN) have worked to restore mangroves on Karachi’s coastline.
  • Conserve nature capital. For example, Coca-Cola supported WWF Pakistan in their development of water projects in Ayubia National Park. Through efforts implemented inside the park to collect water and increase soil absorption, the project benefited the community and the greater watershed outside the park.
  • Ensure that the company’s operations and supply chain are not damaging the environment. For example, Packages Limited is conducting cradle to gate carbon emissions to measure the footprint of their products and identify areas where environmental impact can be reduced.
  • Collaborate with other stakeholders to protect the areas the corporation operates in or reduce impact. For example, an alliance called Collection and Recycling (CoRe) has been formed with the aim to reduce plastic waste by building a system of plastic collection and recycling. This includes a number of vested companies including Nestle, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi Co.
  • Identify how the physical infrastructure of your company directly affects biodiversity. Ideally assessments should be done before any construction, but it is possible to take measures while the site is operational. For example, Byco Petroleum has sites that are near by resting locations of migratory birds that flock to Sindh in the winter and they have taken measures in the past to ensure their activities do not interfere with breeding and roosting of the birds. Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company has conducted assessments in Tharparkar for vulture species who are critically endangered in Pakistan and important to the ecosystem as disease buffers. Companies with wind turbines would need to get assessments done to ensure that the turbines do not cause bird mortalities and affect breeding birds.

Nature is the foundation of most industries and livelihoods; nature supports life itself. By not addressing biodiversity loss, corporations are evading their responsibility in the degradation of eco-systems, and the system that supports humans. COVID-19 has served as a reminder of how upsetting the balance with nature and removing the buffer provided by biodiversity we are truly vulnerable as a species. In a planet of 8.7 million species (with around 2 million being animals) one species Homo Sapiens has sent the Earth on a path towards self-destruction, and only we can curb it. Corporations have huge potential to play a part in this. What are you going to do?

Is your company involved in biodiversity conservation or interested in learning what it can do? We want to hear from you. Please reach out at [email protected]


References not linked in article

Anup Shah (2014). Why Is Biodiversity Important? Who Cares? https://www.globalissues.org/article/170/why-is-biodiversity-important-who-cares#:~:text=Biodiversity%20boosts%20ecosystem%20productivity%20where,sustainability%20for%20all%20life%20forms

Sofia Faruqi (2017) The business of biodiversity. Stanford social innovation review. https://ssir.org/articles/entry/the_business_of_biodiversity

Wall, D. H. & Nielsen, U. N. (2012) Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services: Is It the Same Below Ground? Nature Education Knowledge 3(12):8