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Why biodiversity matters to your business after COP15

January 25, 2023

By Dan Salas and Chris Kline

The COP15 conference resulted in a new global biodiversity goal and targets. Here is our take on how this affects business and sustainability planning.

António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, recently opened the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal, Quebec, with this three-sentence warning:

Without nature, we have nothing.

Without nature, we are nothing.

Nature is our life-support system.

This warning was not just for environmentalists but also for leaders in government, businesses, and finance. COP15 drew world leaders to Montreal to approve a framework to address biodiversity loss. Unlike past meetings, the role of the private sector—investors, businesses, and industry representatives—was large. 

A monarch butterfly feeds on a butterfly milkweed within a powerline corridor. Targeted vegetation management can improve habitats for at-risk species like the monarch butterfly.

And for good reason. Biodiversity is connected to our food security, climate resilience, supply chains, air quality, and water quality. Companies are now paying closer attention to biodiversity. Their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) disclosures are starting to require it.

No longer is biodiversity only a topic of David Attenborough documentaries (of which we are big fans!). It is now an agenda item for investors and corporate boards.

What the COP15 framework means for business

Biodiversity represents all life on Earth. On the final day of COP15, the conference adopted the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. This document lays out global biodiversity goals and action targets. Efforts not only achieve a “no-net-loss” of biodiversity but work toward a “net-positive impact.”

Among the targets:

  • Protecting or restoring 30% of lands and waters
  • Stopping human-induced extinctions
  • Promoting sustainable development and resource use
  • Improving climate resilience

To do this, the framework urges businesses and investors to disclose their risks, dependencies, and impacts on biodiversity. Those include the full company supply chains.

These targets pose a new challenge to businesses and leaders. How do businesses respond to this call for an enhanced nature-based focus? How should businesses consider and show how they affect species and habitats? How does a business describe how they contribute a net-positive impact on nature without “greenwashing”? 

Improving biodiversity can be accomplished by treating and removing invasive species, such as this roadside phragmites, for the benefit of native grasses.

Thinking globally and acting locally

Protecting biodiversity poses challenges of scale and complexity. It’s much like the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.

One challenge is getting the right data. As the adage goes, “what gets measured, gets done.” Sadly, consistent and reliable data on biodiversity is not available for much of the world. Where data is available, companies often need specialized knowledge to interpret and apply it.

A second challenge is tailoring global targets to company plans and local action. The Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures aids this approach. It is one of the most widely accepted frameworks for biodiversity planning. It encourages companies to understand their local interface with biodiversity, its impacts on their business, and how to decide proper actions.

Companies need to define connections between their footprint and measurable actions to improve biodiversity. This often begins by looking at the following:

  • Where are company assets found relative to biodiversity features?
  • What areas of the company, its supply chain, or communities they support are dependent on biodiversity?
  • What risks to company operations are caused by biodiversity losses?
  • What prospects for increasing biodiversity are available to the company?
  • How can these risks be mitigated and biodiversity enhanced?

Answering these questions requires input from diverse viewpoints. It brings together knowledge and awareness of company operations with biodiversity global targets. And it can create profound actions. 

Protecting biodiversity poses challenges of scale and complexity.

Species losses = Increased risks

There are several ways that biodiversity losses pose added cost and risks to businesses. They include the following risks.

  • Regulatory risks: The listing of new species under state and federal endangered species laws creates risks. With each new species listing, suppliers and operations are faced with added costs and complexity.
  • Operational risks: The loss of natural capacity or resilience can disrupt operations. Pests and disease often thrive in less diverse landscapes. We’ve seen this with tree pests like the emerald ash borer.
  • Societal risks: Biodiversity loss, and it’s impacts on society, can hurt companies. Invasive species, like common reed, can create fire hazards, inhibit visibility, and limit access for maintenance or emergency response vehicles.
  • Financial risks: Investors are increasingly considering the risk to a company posed by biodiversity losses. Failure to address these concerns can limit access to loans or capital needed to help businesses grow.

Other types of risks may exist as well. Understanding these risks, disclosing company exposure to them, and planning actions to address these concerns can protect a company.

Restoring wetlands and wildlife habitat can increase biodiversity while reducing flood hazards and other risks.

How can companies start to understand and measure biodiversity?

Companies can disclose their biodiversity impacts in two ways. One is formal reporting using established ESG frameworks. Other companies might opt for an informal approach through corporate annual reporting, company websites, or social media. No matter the option, the journey to improved biodiversity reporting requires businesses to educate their leaders and begin proactive planning.

At Stantec, we are helping companies on this journey. We help them understand the rewards of incorporating biodiversity in their ESG portfolios—and the risks of not including it. Our team has developed biodiversity programs across the renewable energy industry. Our ecologists and planners support some of the largest utilities in the US with technical advice to navigate this new world of biodiversity disclosures and corporate strategic planning. We’ve also helped businesses add value through Nature-based Solutions.

In addition to planning, our team also brings specialists that support on-the-ground fulfillment. As a partner in the UN’s Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, we are taking part in global solutions to restoring biodiversity and ecosystems. That might include improving diversity through vegetation management. Or perhaps revegetating with native plants from our nursery in Indiana.

Consider how working with Indigenous communities can create equity. And look at how Nature-based Solutions can address biodiversity and climate resilience.

Looking ahead to biodiversity opportunities

No society or business works independent of nature. Biodiversity underpins our lives and businesses. All actions are positive or negative. The challenge for all of us is to recognize those connections. Then we make thoughtful choices to protect and restore biodiversity. In doing so, we help ensure the resources we have always relied upon will be there for future generations.

Together, we can turn the boardroom discussions into actions that would make David Attenborough proud. And they strengthen our global life-support system, too.

  • Dan Salas

    Dan is a senior ecologist who provides expertise in areas of vegetation management, pollinator conservation, and biodiversity planning. His is also certified as a Senior Ecologist by the Ecological Society of America.

    Contact Dan
  • Chris Kline

    Based in Walkerton, Indiana, Chris is the global senior principal for our Sustainability and Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) team.

    Contact Chris
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