Reflecting on a recent trip to Paris to attend the ChangeNOW sustainability conference, one of the major themes (and key differences to previous years) was the shift in focus from ‘the climate crisis’ to ‘the biodiversity crisis’. The message was not that decarbonisation is no longer important, far from it, but instead that individuals and businesses must start looking beyond greenhouse gases and carbon footprints and consider their impacts and dependencies on nature too.

In this article we explore why biodiversity and nature is such an important topic, the unique challenges in this space and what steps businesses can take to start monitoring and reducing their impacts.

A crucial role in our lives and our economy

According to the WWF, the term ‘biodiversity’ refers to the variety of living species on earth and the level of biodiversity is maintained through ecosystems, where different species and microorganisms work together to maintain balance and support life.

Human activities, such as urbanisation, deforestation, chemical pesticide usage and fishing, are significantly impacting global biodiversity, leading to its erosion 100 to 1000 times faster than through natural processes. According to the IPBES, 75% of animal species are predicted to disappear in the next few centuries if we don’t take action.

Beyond the preservation of species for preservation’s sake, there are also strong human and economic arguments for preventing and reversing biodiversity loss. It is estimated that half of global GDP is reliant on nature and 80% of food crops depend upon pollination, making it essential for life as we know it, but at the same time food production is estimated to be responsible for half of all biodiversity loss. Even in healthcare, 60% of cancer drugs originate from natural sources, underscoring the importance of biodiversity in medical breakthroughs.

All things considered, it is almost guaranteed that every individual and business has an impact on biodiversity somewhere in their value chain, and therefore everyone has a role to play in reducing their impact.

The challenge of measuring biodiversity impacts: no current ‘one size fits all’ solution

For many businesses, understanding biodiversity impact is a relatively new area of focus, following on the heels of carbon emission assessments and decarbonisation plans developed over the last five to ten years. This has benefits, in that environmental issues and externalities of the business should have already been understood, there may already be dedicated teams and resources in place, and ESG performance may be built into the business’ performance metrics. However, although many will not be starting from scratch, tackling biodiversity cannot be a lift-and-shift approach based on carbon, as there are some key differences.

Unlike with greenhouse gases, there is not a single indicator that represents biodiversity. Though many have tried, there is unlikely to be a consensus on a meaningful single metric any time soon.

This means that businesses must define how best to measure biodiversity impact for their operations, asking: what are their most significant risk areas, what indicators best quantify those, how many different indicators are needed and how do we practically measure them.

As a starting point, at least one KPI should be established for each of the IPBES’s five direct drivers of biodiversity loss:

  • Changing use of land and sea
  • Direct exploitation of organisms
  • Climate change
  • Pollution, and
  • Invasive species.

Another difference compared to climate is that the conversation around biodiversity should not only focus on reduction of impacts, but instead on the reversal of biodiversity loss. This is reflected in the Biodiversity COP 15 target to reverse nature loss by 2050. To this end, businesses need to challenge themselves to go beyond reducing their impact and identify how to restore nature and adopt regenerative practices in their operations.

Doing nothing is not an option

Despite the challenges, the rate of change in this space is fast, with nature-related disclosures and legislation an inevitability (the EU Deforestation Regulation (EUDR) being an imminent example of this). Therefore, collective wisdom is that businesses should be making a start on understanding their biodiversity footprint – it will not be perfect first time, but it will be a step in the right direction.

A few examples of initial steps that can be taken are:

  • Educate the Board – Sometimes the connection between biodiversity loss and business performance is not particularly evident or well understood. Therefore, a good starting point is to run training for leadership on biodiversity, which should be tailored to the specific business’ operations and impacts.
  • Broaden your supplier conversations beyond carbon – As with scope 3 emissions, the biggest biodiversity impacts are often outside of a business’ direct operations and therefore collaboration with suppliers is essential. For many this will be broadening your existing environmental approach and agreements to include biodiversity metrics and reporting. Working with suppliers to improve performance collaboratively is preferable to moving away from ‘bad’ suppliers who will simply continue their current practices elsewhere – although your impacts may reduce, nature as a whole will not benefit.
  • Assess your impacts – As previously discussed, this action is broad and not without challenges. However, there are already several tools and frameworks in place to support.

Tools and frameworks already exist to help you make a start

In the last year there has been a significant increase in the number of resources and guidance available on the topic of nature and biodiversity, many free and open source, so there is no need to start with a blank sheet of paper. A few of the most well-known tools and frameworks are listed below:

  • The Science-Based Targets for Nature (SBTN) follows in the footsteps of SBTi for climate and is a framework that helps organisations set targets, report and disclose their impacts, risks and dependencies on biodiversity. The framework was first published in 2023 and takes a similar approach to its climate counter-part in terms of the five-step approach and commitment to rigour and scientific evidence.
  • The Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework, which again takes its inspiration from the climate movement and the TCFD, aims to deliver a nature-related risk management and disclosure framework for organisations. It was launched in 2023 along with supporting training and ‘getting started’ materials based on learnings from the earlier pilots.
  • The Global Biodiversity Score (GBS), which has been developed by the CDC, is a tool and methodology that helps companies access their impacts and dependencies on biodiversity; essentially a ‘biodiversity footprint calculator’. An open-source version of this tool was published in April 2024 which can be used to conduct self-assessments and is a great place to start.

A final word

There is no doubt that nature and biodiversity are important topics with a rapidly growing focus amongst academics, policy makers and business leaders. Although a relatively nascent topic, there are already clear practical steps that can be taken to start measuring, reducing and even reversing impacts, as well as globally-recognised frameworks and tools to support this, so there is no excuse not to take action today.

Author: Rachel Tooley

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