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March, 16, 2021  |  Rae Mpashi-Marx  |  

Not Just Polar Bears and Penguins

It’s time to focus on nature degradation & biodiversity loss. Purpose-led companies are leading the way. Are you ready to join them?

Close up of a bee collecting pollen from a flower
Rae Mpashi-Marx
Senior Sustainability Consultant at Junxion

You Should Really Look at Your Ecological Footprint

Zero is a number that holds peculiar power in an environmental sustainability context. So often, it is the target we’re aiming for as we hurry to reduce the damage we’re doing – zero carbon footprint, zero species loss. And yet in 2020, zero was the number of UN Convention on Biodiversity (Aichi) Targets achieved in a decade. Despite the fact that biological diversity is declining faster now than at any time in our history, the unsuccessful end to the Aichi Biodiversity Targets was a disturbing milestone that passed relatively unnoticed in a year filled with so many other climate change and nature-related events.

A new nature-focused decade begins on Earth Day, 5th June, this year – the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. In the UN General Assembly resolution, passed in March 2019, explicit reference is made to the failure so far to make sufficient headway in relation to biodiversity loss, habitat degradation and ecosystem destruction, despite the many initiatives that have been launched over the last decade or more. It also clearly links the need to restore the natural world to our ability to successfully tackle climate change. Peatlands, wetlands, forests and coral reefs. All of these are critical to the on-going wellbeing of people and planet. As Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta, author of the widely praised Economics of Biodiversity, puts it, “if we care about our common future and the common future of our descendants, we should all in part be naturalists.”

Nature Underpins our Global Economy

The reason to act is not only because it is so obviously the right thing to do. Around half the world’s GDP depends on nature. The decline in ecosystem functionality already costs the global economy more than $5 trillion a year in the form of lost natural services. That will continue to rise sharply as elements of nature, from pollination to water flow regulation and air filtration degrade under pressure from human activity. “Hidden dependencies” on nature exist far beyond the obvious, and most companies are at risk if not directly, then through their supply chains.

B Corps Can Lead the Change

As purpose-driven companies committed to using business as a force for good, B Corps have the potential to be leaders during this decade. There are some clues in the B Impact Assessment about what this might look like. Great value is given in the toxin reduction Impact Business Model to organic products, for example.

For those on the manufacturing track, there are specific questions about how impacts on biodiversity are being managed throughout the value chain.

Certain operational questions offer up opportunities too, for example chemical reduction methods in the Environment section, which asks about non-toxic janitorial products and unbleached/chlorine free paper products.

The decline in ecosystem functionality already costs the global economy more than $5 trillion a year.

Measuring Your Ecological Footprint

However, biodiversity can feel like it’s not directly relevant to many companies. How does a stationary company in Peterborough, or a media agency in Leeds impact biodiversity, and what can they do any differently? It’s a good question, but one that has echoes of the debates around responsibility for carbon emissions not that long ago. Many businesses thought that reducing carbon emissions was someone else’s priority, not necessarily realising that even every email they send has a real world carbon implication.

Of course, things have changed a lot over the last few years, and now everyone knows they have a carbon footprint, and can do something about it. So perhaps it’s time to take inspiration from the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, and start to think about our ecological footprint too. It doesn’t have as neat or as distinct a definition as carbon emissions, however work is underway to develop shared frameworks. The nascent Task Force on Nature-Related Disclosures, modelled after the Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosures, is likely to grab headlines, and be pretty influential, so worth watching out for. 

In the meantime, a good starting place is to examine your own business through the lens of biodiversity and ecosystem impact. You can begin by reviewing your business, from the start of your value chain to the end of your product or service’s life, to identify where there are nature-related impacts. Look at what ecosystems are involved and how they are being put under pressure. Do you have full insight into what your company’s role in that is?

Once you have a good understanding of these factors, you can analyse which are the most urgent and relevant issues, and use this as the foundation on which to build a strategy to reduce your company’s negative impacts, and increase its positives.

Examine your own business through the lens of biodiversity and ecosystem impact.

Setting targets, and monitoring and evaluating your progress along the way will provide you with a clear path to follow, and sufficient data to understand how well the journey is going.

Sharing a Natural Connection

Biodiversity and nature are topics that resonate widely, particularly since so many of us have reconnected to nature during our long lockdowns over the last twelve months or so. They can be motivating and exciting priorities to share with your team, and your wider stakeholders, including suppliers and customers. Everyone is going to need to do their part to ensure that the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration ends more successfully than its predecessor. And, chances are, what’s good for nature, is ultimately good for your business too.