Time to act: Business must lead the fight against nature loss

For edie’s Business Leadership Month, Sophie Stephens, head of environment and sustainability at Ground Control, looks at the role that businesses can play to “build back nature”.

Time to act: Business must lead the fight against nature loss

One million animal and plant species around the world are threatened with extinction.

Add to that the fact that 40% of the global population has been adversely affected by land degradation, and it’s clear that countries have little choice but to open their eyes to the dangers of the global nature crisis.

Legislation is needed not only to restore nature, but also to hold businesses responsible for their impact on the environment.

In the UK, the 2021 Environment Act constitutes some progress on this matter – from November this year, all developers will be mandated to leave wildlife habitats in a better state than they found them and achieve 10% ‘biodiversity net gain’ (BNG) on their sites.

The Act will play an important role in the government’s ambition to reverse the decline of animal populations, to restore or create more than 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat and to meet the UK’s international commitment to protect 30% of its land and oceans by 2030. However, to meet these goals, more legislation and action that targets all land currently under management – rather than focussing only on new developments – is needed.

Beyond that, mandating organisations to report on their environmental impact will be an important step towards encouraging business accountability and action. Conservation and financial experts are currently piloting a new nature-related disclosure framework that will incentivise nature-positivity for businesses and make impact reporting more straightforward.

Developing or updating environmental legislation and guidance tends to be a complicated and slow process. Given the urgency of the UK’s nature crisis, companies must be proactive rather than waiting for new legislation before taking action – this is not solely a case of altruism, but sound business.

The role of business in building back nature

To date, biodiversity management has largely fallen to local governments. However, limited budgets and a lack of direction from the government make it difficult for them to handle the full-scale nature recovery needed to reverse declining biodiversity.

The UK has lost almost half of its biodiversity since the industrial revolution and recent reports about high pollution levels in the UK’s rivers have attracted significant public attention to the declining state of the UK’s natural environments.

With its innovative capabilities and entrepreneurial spirit, the private sector has the expertise and resources needed to deliver nature recovery efficiently and at scale, in the process safeguarding the natural environment on which all businesses – one way or another – depend.

Given that much of UK land is stewarded by private owners, such as developers or water companies, the private sector has significant power to help restore the UK’s natural capital. Recent research from Ground Control found that 82% of business leaders say biodiversity is personally very important to them.

Like everyone else, large businesses are currently tightening their purse strings – we know the good intentions are there, and the challenge now is about educating leaders on the economic incentives for taking action on environmental protection. At least half of the world’s GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature and the decline of ecosystems costs the global economy about $5 trillion each year.

Rewilding the UK

One increasingly popular option for landowning businesses that wish to do their part to restore local ecosystems is getting involved in rewilding projects. The Wildfell Centre for Environmental Recovery, which is converting 296 acres of former farmland into a thriving ecosystem for nature, exemplifies how business can play a vital role in regional conservation efforts, habitat creation and building ‘biodiversity corridors’ between private land and other natural spaces.

The Wildfell Centre and similar rewilding projects not only provide habitats for native species, but also play an important role in tackling climate change as a critical carbon sink. They can also function as a test bed for companies to trial innovations in rewilding and explore how to make pieces of natural land pay for themselves through systems like biodiversity units, which will form an important part of solving the wider BNG puzzle.

Concluding thoughts

Biodiversity loss, pollution and climate change are problems that cannot be solved by any single actor alone. It will take a broad coalition of public and private sector actors, as well as wider civil society involvement, to deliver real change.

It is crucial that businesses recognise that now is the time to give back by investing in nature recovery, transforming the UK’s natural landscapes while driving wider economic growth in the process. Whether by driving rewilding projects, creating new businesses that are both green and profitable, or enabling routes into green finance, there is a lot that the private sector can do to help.

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