Report: Only 6% of corporate sustainability initiatives focused on biodiversity

Conducted as part of a partnership between HSBC and the Business School at Imperial College London, the analysis reveals how protecting and restoring nature has been low on the corporate sustainability agenda.

It studied almost 652,000 initiatives launched between 2000 and 2021, revealing that just 6% related to biodiversity. Of those initiatives, the vast majority – 96% – targeted the improvement of biodiversity on land. Just 4% were designed to address biodiversity decline in water-based habitats.

There is some good news, though. The research revealed that the average number of corporate biodiversity initiatives launched globally more than quadrupled between 2005 and 2021. An average of 600 initiatives were launched globally between 2005-2007, compared to an average of over 4,000 initiatives between 2019- 2021.

Also confirmed was a significant shift in the types of biodiversity activities that big businesses are prioritising. Less prioritisation is being given to initiatives purely focused on communications, as well as direct donations to NGOs. Instead, more businesses are seeking long-term NGO partnerships and are looking at changing their business models to incorporate nature conservation and/or regeneration as a strategic priority.

This shift is particularly pronounced, the research found, in the utilities, industrials and materials and consumer goods sectors.

Imperial College London’s scientific director for the Leonardo Centre on Business for Society, Maurizio Zollo, said: “Biodiversity is emerging as an increasingly important topic on CEO agendas. However, the fundamental problem, and at the same time the unique strategic opportunity, is the failure to seize the strategic value of engaging customers, partners, employees and local communities in innovations linking environmental regeneration and business model development.”

The publication of the research comes days after the launch of the first framework enabling businesses to set science-based targets for nature. More than a dozen corporates have announced their intention to set targets using this framework, including Nestle, Tesco and H&M Group.

Later this year, businesses will have a new global framework to measure and disclose their nature-related risks though the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD).

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