The simple fact is that the biodiversity crisis has been caused by relentless economic activity on a global scale. There’s no getting away from that. No amount of tree-planting, or wildflower meadows, or good intentions, or photo opportunities are going to address the issue of biodiversity loss. Businesses just have to fundamentally change the way they work.
I have been approached many times over the past few years by well intentioned businesses, with a sum of money, that want to do something positive for biodiversity. That’s wonderful and I’m fully supportive of anyone who wants to contribute to the recovery of nature, but the reality is that nature loss is occurring because of the way businesses operate. Until these nature-degrading activities are halted, the “biodiversity projects” are all but futile.
One million species are at risk of extinction because of pollution, invasive species and habitat degradation. We have lost habitats because of agriculture and the expansion of the built environment. And climate change is warming our oceans, increasing ocean acidity leading to the disruption of natural cycles and destruction of marine ecosystems.
We are consistently operating in a linear mode, extracting, harvesting and stripping away our natural capital. Processing, manipulating and manufacturing products and generating profits, upon profits, upon profits. There is no mechanism that funnels any of those profits back to nature. They just sit in the banks, getting bigger and bigger, while our natural capital gets smaller and smaller.
This needs to change. We need to start paying for the benefits we get from our natural resources, our beautiful natural landscapes, the services that nature provides us with, fresh water, fresh air, healthy soils for growing food, protection from disease and protection from the impacts of climate change. We need to account for nature. We need to close the loop.
Solving the problem
Many of us now appreciate that there is a biodiversity crisis. The Irish government declared a biodiversity emergency in 2019. Many of us have mobilised to try and help contribute to solutioning and many businesses are stepping up, but often with traditional or token actions. How can a business expect to contribute to the solution, when they don’t fully understand the problem or how they contribute to it? All this boils down to understanding business impacts, both direct and value chain impacts. That exercise can be complex and so businesses are shying away from it.
Nature loss also presents risks to business continuity, like supply risk, insurance risk and regulatory risk. To date, very few organisations have assessed these risks or created risk management strategies around biodiversity loss.
How can we, as consumers, make better, more sustainable choices? How can we make those decisions when we don’t have the necessary information to inform these choices? Many people don’t know what regenerative farming is and products marketed as “sustainable” often come with a higher price tag. Cost will always be a principle decision-making tool for many consumers. Should the government be tackling this? Sustainable products should be normalised and unsustainable products should be taxed out of the market. Well-informed consumers have the power to tip business models towards nature-positive.
Businesses are very good at externalising their environmental impact. Every business has to take accountability for their contribution to the biodiversity crisis, and through that accountability, there needs to be a profit-linked contribution to financing nature recovery.
While we can acknowledge that most of the impact is happening at the primary producer level, companies downstream in the value chain have to understand that their demand for products and raw materials indirectly pressurizes the drivers of biodiversity loss at that primary level. So why shouldn’t they be responsible for financing recovery or supporting primary producers to become more sustainable or nature positive? Is it unfair to burden the primary producers alone with the blame and the financial responsibility of remediation or the financial responsibility of fundamentally adjusting their, often very traditional, business models?
Primary producers should be at the centre of the transition to nature positive and should be receiving most of the financial support. A sustainable and nature-positive primary production sector percolates through the entire value chain.
Businesses have the power to move the dial towards nature positive. How can they do that? By beginning to understand the issues and how they contribute to them.
Eliminate the harm and then plant some trees.