Biodiversity is a hot topic for businesses. Companies have a growing awareness of their relation with ecosystems: they have an impact on ecosystems and they are dependent on resources from those ecosystems.
We also see more and more organizations ‘quantify’ their biodiversity impacts enabling them to start managing the impact.
But the domain is also complex and new to many of us.
In this blog we briefly address the: why, what, and how of biodiversity.
Q1: Why is biodiversity (more & more) important?
Everyone knows our planet has limits, including the burden placed upon it by human activities. In 1972, The Limits to Growth was published, and ever since we have learned more and more about how we are approaching the limits of our planet. In 2009, a group of environmental scientists led by Johan Rockström identified nine “planetary life support systems” essential for human survival, attempting to quantify how far seven of these systems had been pushed already.
This study was updated in 2015. Estimates indicated that at least three of these boundaries -climate change, biodiversity loss, and the biogeochemical flow boundary- appear to have been crossed. The authors of both publications argue that:
‘Changes to ecosystems due to human activities were more rapid in the past 50 years than at any time in human history, increasing the risks of abrupt and irreversible changes. The main drivers of change are the demand for food, water, and natural resources, causing severe biodiversity loss and leading to changes in ecosystem services. These drivers are either steady, showing no evidence of declining over time, or are increasing in intensity.’
Q2: Is it important for my business?
Most probably yes. The vast majority of companies have critical biodiversity impacts or dependencies. This holds for almost all sectors including sectors that deliver services. Such impacts may occur in your own operations but could also be induced in your supply chain -related to the purchasing of materials that have biodiversity impacts- or be caused downstream e.g. due to landfilling of waste.
The obvious sectors include e.g.: food & agri, oil & gas, metals & mining, paper & pulp, and textiles; but the biodiversity impacts of sectors such as the ICT or the financial sector should not be underestimated. All of the sectors above use land, have emissions (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions, toxic substances, Nitrogen, and Phosphorus emissions) or use inputs (e.g. scarcely available water, scarce metals, or oil) that affect ecosystems. As companies have a growing awareness and knowledge around the topic, companies recognize that their biodiversity impact imposes a risk on them. Hence, we see a growing number of companies taking ‘biodiversity initiatives’.
Q3: How should I start?
You could start with steps to get a basic understanding of your value chain and its key biodiversity impacts and dependencies. This will help get a better understanding of where your ‘biodiversity hotspots’ are. The next step is to start measuring (you can’t manage what you can’t measure), which is covered in more detail in the next question. A more structured approach to tackling the topic is provided by the standards and protocols that are underway.
First of all, a biodiversity protocol is currently in the making with the ‘capitals coalition’: it describes the key steps of how to address biodiversity in your business in several pragmatic steps: why, what and how. The protocol is expected to be released this summer. More recently the financial sector is also starting to assess biodiversity impacts as well as risks. This is currently taking shape in the ‘Partnership for biodiversity accounting’ (PBAF) initiative which is aligning the reporting & disclosure guidelines for biodiversity footprinting for the financial sector.
Q4: How can I measure my biodiversity impact?
There are several approaches available, ranging from high-level quick scans to actual species counting in the field.
It is not the objective of this Q&A to list all of them. But what I do want to point out that measuring biodiversity footprinting has been around for quite some time in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). LCA provides a means of measuring the impact on ecosystems. LCA methodologies have midpoint and/or endpoint indicators.
In LCA endpoint modeling, we focus on biodiversity as a proxy to express the impacts we have on nature. For instance, in ReCiPe, the damage to diversity can be described as ‘the fraction of species that has been lost in comparison with a natural or undisturbed area’ (the so-called potentially disappeared fraction of species lost or PDF). Although this approach has a few complications and limitations, it provides the user with useful information around the biodiversity hotspots. The major advantage is that the instrument is already in use with many organizations for other purposes such as the determination of the carbon footprint of their product. Hence, in order to account for biodiversity impacts within organizations that already work with LCA, this is usually a small step as most data is already in place.
Q5: Any Closing Remarks?
Yes, do take this topic seriously but be pragmatic. There is a lot you can do with a relatively low effort so my advice is to start taking the basic steps described above. This will already give you a high-level view of your biodiversity hotspots.