How becoming biodiversity ambassadors can help businesses combat the climate crisis

EXCLUSIVE: Pernod Ricard's vice president of global sustainability Vanessa Wright discusses the company's approach to regenerative agriculture and biodiversity and why more people will be focusing on natural climate solutions moving forward.

How becoming biodiversity ambassadors can help businesses combat the climate crisis

Pernod Ricard is currently one-year into a new 10-year strategy

It is early days to be noting trends with Covid-19, but there are some longer-standing links between disease outbreaks and the destruction of natural habitats.

Between 1980 and 2013 there were 12,012 recorded virus outbreaks globally. Factors spurring this trend are various and have been linked to a rise in trade and global connectivity and increased travel. As those factors rise, biodiversity falls, which is the crux of the issue.

Deforestation is linked to 31% of outbreaks such as Ebola, and the Zika and Nipah viruses. It assists in driving animals into human populations and away from their natural habitat, which in turn accelerates the spread of “zoonotic” diseases. Viruses like Zika, malaria and dengue fever have all been accelerated by climate change, according to the World Health Organisation.

Already, many thought leaders have penned opinion pieces on how the response to Covid-19 could be mirrored by the global effort to combat the climate crisis. And as many people fall back in love with nature by wanting what they can’t currently have, biodiversity is emerging as a key topic in both the Covid-19 discussion and the wider climate change battle.

Beverage giant Pernod Ricard is one such business that relies heavily on nature and biodiversity. The company’s drinks are made using natural ingredients and that represents more than 250,000 hectares of land which produces more than 2.6m tonnes of crops annually.

Pernod Ricard is currently one-year into a new strategy, of which a key pillar is “nurturing terroir” – broadly defined as the environmental factors that affect crops. That particular pillar sees Pernod Ricard targeting all of the group’s global affiliates – which include Chivas Brothers, Malibu and Absolut Vodka – to have strategic biodiversity projects in place.

The company’s vice president of global sustainability Vanessa Wright notes that 2020 was set to be a big year for biodiversity, but that high-profile conferences to set the agenda have had to be pushed back due to Covid-19. However, she believes that more consumers and businesses could focus on the issue as a result.

“Initially when we talk about sustainability and CSR, people are talking about issues that very clearly impact their license to operate and general risks to the business,” Wright told edie. “Now that sustainability is a little more mature the topic of biodiversity is rising up the political agenda and the sustainability agenda. There’s a much stronger understanding of the impact of biodiversity on the whole ecosystem.

“Deforestation and urbanisation have led to [closer interactions] between human and animals. These factors, according to science, are resulting in the transmission of more diseases. Consumers are starting to get a better understanding about nature and I do believe that when we come out of the other side of this pandemic, everyone will be increasingly more aware of their actions and impacts on nature and it is our duty to protect and nurture the limited amount of natural resources that we have.”

It has been confirmed that a COP conference for the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) due to be held later this year in China has been pushed back to October 2021. It was hoped the conference would be used to create a “Paris-style” agreement to halt Earth’s sixth mass extinction through a biodiversity pact.

While global discussions to protect at least 30% of the planet have been shelved, a selection of businesses have already noted the importance of biodiversity on their license to operate.

Regenerative agricultural practices – whereby natural elements associated with farming are regenerated through new systems – are emerging at pace and are being championed within ambitious corporate sustainability strategies. Pernod Ricard’s “terroir” approach is one example, but outdoor clothing brand Timberland ‘net-positive’ leather sourcing, Kering’s fashion industry standard capable of verifying raw materials and finished products as ‘regenerative’ and General Mills’ supply chain programme are just some examples of how companies are moving from the mitigation environmental degradation to regenerative approaches.

Wright notes that the nurturing terroir pillar is a critical business element as people, climate and nature are “closely interlinked”. Pernod Ricard’s ethos is to look at nature through the lens of the communities that interact and rely on it.

Good Times from a Good Place

Exactly one year ago, Pernod Ricard launched a sustainability roadmap aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that commits to ambitious new targets relating to regenerative agriculture and biodiversity, recyclable packaging and a science-based carbon target.

Pernod Ricard’s new 2030 “Good Times from a Good Place” strategy commits the firm to reducing the overall intensity of its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030, as part of the Science-Based Targets (SBTs) initiative – originally committed in September 2018. The company is also targeting improved water use in high-risk watersheds, such as India and Australia, and will replenish 100% of the water used in its production sites.

By 2025, the group will develop regenerative agriculture pilot projects within its own vineyards in eight wine regions – Argentina, California, Cognac, Champagne, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and China – to improve the quality of topsoil, watersheds and ecosystems. By 2030, Pernod Ricard will partner with more than 5,000 farmers to expand the learnings of these projects.

“We believe we have a strong and credible voice in this space,” Wright added. “We’ve asked for all our affiliates to have a strategic biodiversity project in place by 2030 and what we’ve just completed is a set of clear guidelines for alignment and strong scientific robustness, as well as measurement and how we link these initiatives to make sure they’re measurable and significant.”

Again, biodiversity links to Pernod Ricard’s license to operate and the company has also implemented a range of environmental initiatives at its facilities and vineyards. Over an eight-year period, 93% of the firm’s production facilities have been certified to ISO 14001 standards and 95% of vineyards have also achieved relevant certification. Water consumption per litre of alcohol has been reduced by 20% while carbon emissions have fallen by 30% per unit of production.

Pernod Ricard has also developed plans to embed a UN Human Rights approach across its value chain and move towards fully renewable electricity. 

Offsetting debate

But as biodiversity rises up the corporate and political agenda, so does the risk that businesses will overtly rely too much on biodiversity in place of actual reductions to environmental footprints.

Several NGOs offering carbon offsets have reportedly experienced a fourfold increase in investment over the past two years, with purchases coming from individuals and businesses alike who are turning to nature restoration amongst other measures to offset their impacts.

This growth in interest is being attributed to the implementation of ever-more net-zero legislation by nations and the growing climate activism movement among the general public. But with questions still surfacing as to the potential of new woodland in combatting climate change, Wright believes that and biodiversity regeneration and offsets have their place, but not as a replacement for carbon reduction efforts.

During the current lockdown period, it can be easy to disassociate from nature when stuck in a home. But Wright offers some advice to place nature at the heart of all individual and business actions.

“Think broader than just where you’re sitting,” Wright said. “Everywhere around us there is nature, there is biodiversity and it is linked with the air that we breathe and everything we do on a daily basis. Going forward, we can all be ambassadors and contributors to research on biodiversity.”

Matt Mace

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