Companies need to recognise the value of biodiversity for their specific operations. Adopting a nature-positive approach holds the potential to generate $10.1 trillion in annual business value and create 395 million jobs by 2030. Effective collaboration and partnerships are key for raising awareness and effectively addressing biodiversity challenges.
Trialogue’s October webinar, in partnership with Nedbank Private Wealth, centred on supporting biodiversity and the critical role business plays in driving nature-positive initiatives. Three expert panellists participated in the discussion: Dr Gabi Teren, Programme Manager at the Endangered Wildlife Trust, Feroz Koor, Group Head of Sustainability at Woolworths and Anne Emmett, Independent Consultant and Grantmaker at Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust.
Exploring the context and implications of biodiversity loss
The webinar began with Trialogue exploring the intricate world of biodiversity, offering crucial definitions and context. The term ‘nature-positive’ was introduced, underscoring the urgency of reversing the ongoing decline in biodiversity.
Despite all businesses benefitting from nature’s resources and services, The Biodiversity Disclosure Project found that only 35% of South African companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange acknowledge biodiversity as a material issue. This lack of recognition is noted in the 2022 Trialogue Business in Society Handbook, which revealed that, while companies have increased their allocation of resources to environmental initiatives, only 3% of their overall corporate social investment (CSI) spend was directed toward environment-focused projects.
The 2020 Living Planet report revealed a 65% biodiversity loss in Africa since 1970. In addition to the existential crisis it poses, biodiversity loss has serious financial implications. More than half of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), totalling around $44 trillion, relies on nature, and the potential collapse of these systems, or ‘ecosystem services’ could result in a global GDP decline of $2.7 trillion each year by 2030.
These opening insights underscored the pressing need for companies to make biodiversity conservation a top priority.
Biodiversity conservation challenges and opportunities for business
Webinar panellist Dr Gabi Teren revealed that, while South Africa is one of the 17 mega-diverse countries in the world being home to exceptional natural wealth, the country has witnessed a 65% decline in its wetlands alone.
“This is particularly concerning given that wetlands play a crucial role in providing essential services to people, such as the foundation for clean drinking water, which is of paramount importance in a water-stressed country like ours,” Dr Teren explained.
The private sector is the leading driver of global biodiversity loss, However, there is some cause for hope. In December 2022, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework was adopted, with specific targets relevant to business. This framework, put together by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, aims to halt and reverse nature loss. One target obliges businesses, especially large and transnational companies and financial institutions, to measure their impacts, dependencies, and risks related to biodiversity and disclose these findings. The critical part of this target is that its intent lies in increasing positive impacts while reducing negative ones, Dr Teren explained.
Prioritising biodiversity and responsible retailing
Woolworths representative Feroz Koor explained that Woolworths’ Vision 2025 strategy is designed to position the company as a leading, purpose-driven, and environmentally responsible retailer. The strategy aims to address complex and interconnected sustainability challenges, with biodiversity being one of the key focus areas.
The strategy aims to harmonise the group’s operations with responsible and sustainable practices, minimising negative environmental effects. It underscores the intricate connection between business activities and the natural environment acknowledging, for instance, the pivotal role of ecosystem services such as pollination in food production and highlighting the urgency of preserving biodiversity.
“Our role should be one where we are taking a very wide view as to how we run our operations, with our focus extending beyond what we would typically consider within the purview of a business. It is about cultivating ‘peripheral vision’—a deep understanding of everything around us and how our business can make a positive impact on the world, rather than a negative one. We put this vision into practice through our ‘Good Business Journey’,” he said.
Koor highlighted that Woolworths has set specific targets and commitments to address environmental sustainability both within its own operations and in its supply chain. This extends to evaluating the environmental impact of sourcing and managing water usage and optimising packaging.
“We have established a range of goals, endorsed by our board and translated into key performance indicators for the organisation. These encompass traceability in our supply chain, transparency in responsible commodity sourcing, striving for a net zero carbon impact, and committing to water resilience through participation in the Global Water Resilience Coalition and the CEO Water Mandate. We have also set targets related to reducing food loss and waste in alignment with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” he added.
Funding biodiversity conservation for long-term impact
The Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust managed by Nedbank Private Wealth, is dedicated to funding the conservation of South Africa’s flora and fauna. The trust provides grants to various Public Benefit Organisations dedicated to biodiversity conservation. Beyond this, the trust is actively involved in crosscutting environmental governance and advocacy initiatives, fostering collaborative efforts to safeguard biodiversity.
Grantmaker at the trust, Anne Emmett, elaborated on its commitment, stating that among other aspects, their support extends to climate change and research, demonstrating an awareness of the intrinsic link between climate and biodiversity. The trust places great importance on education, recognising its pivotal role in raising awareness, driving positive transformation, and making a significant impact.
“It’s about achieving lasting impact over time through an integrated strategy that aligns with biodiversity needs, data insights, and core purpose. It’s essential to embrace a peripheral vision, considering elements that may not be part of the organisation’s mission but directly impact it. This approach is a crucial addition to our funding strategies for biodiversity conservation,” explained Emmett.
Developing a successful biodiversity conservation strategy involves a holistic approach that goes beyond focusing on specific species. It requires a combination of research to establish baselines and conservation management plans, physical biodiversity work, education, and active engagement with stakeholders, including communities and government agencies. Funding larger and smaller entities in the conservation field is recommended, as each brings unique advantages, she continued.
Measuring and accounting for biodiversity impact
Dr Teren shed light on the importance of transparency and accountability, highlighting how the Biological Diversity Protocol serves as a crucial instrument for companies to gauge their biodiversity impact. It streamlines complexity by condensing intricate biodiversity-specific metrics into key performance indicators that encompass both positive and negative biodiversity footprints. This protocol not only ensures transparency but also enables the monitoring of progress while safeguarding against greenwashing.
Similarly, the Biodiversity Disclosure Project promotes disclosure practices and awareness about biodiversity challenges. It has achieved milestones like making biodiversity accounting a valuable tool and influencing biodiversity policies on major stock exchanges. Looking ahead, the project will focus on mitigation strategies and educational resources, underlining the corporate world’s commitment to biodiversity and sustainability.
Key steps for prioritising nature-positive initiatives
Panellists shared some practical recommendations for companies and organisations that want to prioritise nature-positive initiatives and effectively tackle biodiversity loss.
- Companies should proactively identify their impact on nature and how nature, in turn, affects their operations. This entails focusing on material aspects relevant to the business. Additionally, companies should demonstrate dedication, establish clear commitments, and develop the capacity to effectively address complexities and trade-offs.
- The significance of biodiversity-related corporate reporting is increasingly evident, highlighting the necessity for companies to participate in initiatives that facilitate the evaluation and reduction of their biodiversity impacts. Clear objectives, measurable indicators, and regular reviews are essential for continuous learning and improvement in conservation funding practices.
- Employees have an important role to play in pressuring decision makers and companies to take meaningful action in response to the biodiversity crisis. Collaborative efforts among employees, decision makers, and companies to enhance awareness and drive positive change in addressing biodiversity loss should be fostered.
- Stakeholders must advocate for effective collaboration between non-profit organisations and funders to address biodiversity conservation. Such partnerships are essential to achieving shared biodiversity conservation goals.
Watch the webinar recording:
– Read the article ‘Biodiversity in crisis: what companies can do’
– Explore more research and insights on ‘environment’ as a development sector.