By Mary Fritz
Biodiversity management is the next generation of corporate sustainability strategy. Biodiversity, or the variety of life in an ecosystem, is an important factor in the ecological services that make life on this planet possible.
Biodiversity supplies us with crucial pharmaceutical ingredients, promotes stability in ecosystems, and gives us a sense of wonder and appreciation for our natural environment. The Amazon Rainforest produces 20% of the oxygen we breathe. Pollinators make it possible to grow the crops we eat.
Leading companies are beginning to actively address the value of biodiversity as a way to improve the value chain and mitigate reputational risk. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
For starters, currently there is no established mechanism for attributing economic value to biodiversity. And in most cases, the biggest impacts on biodiversity usually occur far upstream in the supply chain. That means that downstream companies may be far removed from activities that damage ecosystems and therefore struggle with a lack of control.
To manage these complexities, corporate leaders are tackling biodiversity through a number of strategies from both risk and opportunity perspectives.
In a famous example, Coca-Cola invested in wetland restoration to support natural water filtration. Companies have also started to look for ways to protect biodiversity to promote goodwill with consumers and the communities in which they work. General Motors, for example, has set the goal of certifying all manufacturing sites as certified wildlife habitats.
In terms of innovation and opportunity, businesses have invented a number of ways to use biodiversity to create value. These are just a few of the more popular ideas:
- Market biodiversity and its protection as a key value proposition to customers
- Leverage cross-sector partnerships to promote transparency
- Look to big data to support decision-making
- Utilize natural processes to replace cost-side efforts
- Build new products inspired by or directly using biodiversity and biomimicry
- Account for biodiversity as a revenue-generating asset
Of this list, cross-sector partnerships are one of the key strategies for staying ahead of the curve. Public and private sector leaders working together can promote scientifically sound decision-making. For example, International Paper has partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support restoration and habitat conservation initiatives in the southern U.S. International Paper views this partnership as a way to protect its future supply chain.
Despite its complexities, biodiversity support can help set the pace of progress in business. As innovators create new opportunities and develop ways to explicitly value natural resources, they will undoubtedly strengthen the relationship between biodiversity and business. And that is the most important step toward a sustainable future for all.
Mary Fritz is a Consultant with Agora Partnerships, where she focuses on financing for innovative business models focused on sustainable impact. She has worked with several entrepreneurs, as well as Acumen, KPMG, REI, and Ford Motor Company. She holds an MBA/MS from the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute and a BA from BeloitCollege and participated in a fellowship with the Erb Institute, IBM, and the World Environment Center (WEC). Twitter: @marykfritz