Six top tips for developing a leading business biodiversity strategy
Biodiversity is steadily rising up the business agenda in the run-up to COP26. But how can the private sector go beyond greenwashing to deliver meaningful, engaging, science-based strategies?
That was the topic of discussion at edie’s recent webinar. The session is entitled ‘biodiversity and business: Restoring nature through your sustainability strategy’ and is now available to stream on-demand for the ticket price of £10 plus VAT.
Sponsored by the Woodland Trust, the hour-long session also featured expert speakers from Kering and Unilever, outlining how businesses can harness existing solutions to protect and restore ecosystems at the scale and pace needed to avert the twin climate and nature crises. Presentations and an interactive Q&A session saw attendees gain the information and inspiration needed to begin developing credible biodiversity strategies, or to accelerate and scale existing initiatives.
Here, edie rounds up the key takeaways from that session for professionals at organisations that are embarking on that journey.
1) Start by truly understanding your impact
The session saw many questions asked around the best place to start building a biodiversity strategy. This is perhaps to be expected; KPMG’s 2020 review of sustainability reporting found that less than one-quarter of businesses exposed to nature risks are measuring and disclosing them.
Kering’s sustainable sourcing specialist Katrina ole-MoiYoi said that before offsetting, organisations of all sizes and sectors should assess their nature-related risks and dependencies. This will make the topic business-critical to all departments and ensure that strategies are context-based.
“Look at what your key products are, what they are made from, and where they come from,” she said. “You can then start to really build internal support for biodiversity programming.”
ole-MoiYoi admitted that there are not many tools available to ensure that core targets are ambitious enough and urged listeners to watch for the science-based nature targets framework publication later this year, along with the work of the Taskforce for Nature-Related Disclosures. The Woodland Trust’s director of conservation and external affairs Abi Bunker agreed and highlighted that partnerships with NGOs or consultancies can help develop credible baselines.
2) Go back to the source
Agriculture is estimated to account for more than half of the world’s annual water use and to have driven more than 70% of deforestation to date. Transparency is a first step to tackling these trends and builds on the baselines discussed above.
ole-MoiYoi argued that many businesses with agricultural supply chains find it challenging to map to farm level – but that doing so is crucial to ensure meaningful work. She said: “If you don’t understand where your materials come from, the idea of taking on ‘biodiversity’ is so abstract…. Biodiversity impacts are highest at the farm level, so really zooming down to that level is critical if the intention is to put meaningful programmes in place.”
Providing advice on mapping, which she admitted is a challenging exercise, she highlighted the importance of asking suppliers who their suppliers are and building strong relationships. She also urged businesses without the capacity to develop in-house tools to make use of open-source tools and existing collaborations.
“Engaging your suppliers is very powerful,” Unilever’s sustainable sourcing director Giulia Stellari added. “There are standards, tools and ways of getting greater transparency that exist. But, equally importantly, you have to communicate ‘this is where we are going as a business, it is strategic, and we would like you to come along.’”
Stellari outlined how Unilever asks suppliers which information is simple and challenging for them to collect and to regularly disclose on-farm impacts.
3) Choose the right metrics
In the absence of science-based targets for nature, and with biodiversity being more challenging to account for than carbon, many viewers wanted to know the best way to measure a baseline and track progress. The idea of natural capital – assigning a value to natural resources – was floated as one option, but speakers agreed that it is not the only potential approach.
“If you’re talking to investors of your board, I think you can build out really specific KPIs tied to biodiversity, with one of the best proxies we have today being around land use per hectare,” ole-MoiYoi said. “If your audience is your customers, who are becoming increasingly hungry for this kind of information…. You’ll need a slightly different level of reporting, like talking around specific programmes.”
Stellari added: “There is still quite a job to be done in terms of developing and aligning metrics across industry in ways that make them meaningful. But proxies like land use change are good steps in that direction.”
4) Choose the right partner(s)
The UN’s 17th Sustainable Development Goal concerns partnerships. There is a general consensus in the sustainability space that collaboration can maximise positive outcomes – so long as initiatives are selected well and supported strongly on an ongoing basis.
The Woodland Trust has partnerships with many recognisable organisations in the private and public sector, such as People’s Postcode Lottery and Sainsbury’s – its longest-standing corporate supporter.
Bunker said that the value of good partnerships, beyond improving tools or skills, or ensuring that key projects have eyes on the ground, can lie in “boosting the evidence base”. Value could also lie in policy engagement or reaching as many members of the general public as possible, with a view to changing legal requirements and cultures to the point that all laggards are brought along.
5) Don’t feel that you have to choose between conservation, restoration and creation
Speakers agreed that it can sometimes feel daunting knowing where to start on biodiversity, given the fact that the world is on-track for a sixth mass extinction and given that many nations, including the UK, have failed to deliver their nature targets time and again. A particularly damning study out this month found that human activity has affected 97% of the world’s ecosystems.
The Woodland Trust’s Bunker emphasised the importance of an approach that supports a range of solutions at a range of speeds, and in ensuring that progress on one metric does not result in unintended negative consequences elsewhere.
“We need an integrated approach to protection, restoration and expansion in the UK, in ways that can help the UK deliver its contribution to global efforts on biodiversity loss and climate change,” she said, emphasising that this is why the Trust-enabled UK Reforestation Coalition was developed.
Businesses not involved with a coalition will need to use in-house expertise, NGO partnerships or simply collaboration with communities to ensure that schemes are context-specific and genuinely meaningful.
6) Don't feel put off if you're an SME on a budget
During the Q&A session, a representative for an office-based SME asked what their firm could do after ‘getting its own house in order’ in terms of emissions, waste and water, given that it does not have a multinational supply chain or operate in a particularly biodiverse community.
Bunker said: “If you’re an organisation that does not use land-based sectors, this can be challenging. Starting with your constituency in terms of your customer base and your location, look for local civil society experts on biodiversity and get in there early, looking at how you might partner with them.
“Also, engaging with existing frameworks and business groups can be a good way to start. The Science-Based Targets initiative is developing nature-based targets. Here in the UK, we have a range of coalitions that are really picking up the baton.”
Stellari called this response “excellent” and went on to highlight the importance of land footprint calculations. While businesses -SMEs in particular – may not think they have large land footprints, this is not always the case. She also highlighted the array of climate-related resources, like the SME Climate Hub, which will also help businesses improve their biodiversity footprint, simply due to the ways in which climate and nature are “intimately interconnected”.
This webinar is the third and final part of a series with The Woodland Trust, also featuring a podcast episode with experts from Patagonia and Earth Security, and a free-to-download 'edie Explains' guide for businesses.