Creating Intersections Between Corporate Ambition & Nature Action

Posted November 1, 2023 | Sustainability |
Creating Intersections Between Corporate Ambition & Nature Action

The columns of words written about how the private sector can engage with nature have been dominated by high-level initiatives and frameworks aimed at helping businesses understand their impact on nature; assess risks and dependencies on water, air, and biodiversity; and account for these items in complex ways. Far fewer words have been expended on moving a company from understanding its dependencies to understanding its opportunities — and how to create intersections between corporate ambition and action for nature. With more than three decades of engagement at the action end of corporate conservation, Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) offers various actions for nature, including the two imperatives highlighted in this Advisor.

1. Start with a Strategy

Strategic planning is more than a half-century-old. Small nonprofits and large corporations alike use it to set priorities and create common goals around which resources, employees, and stakeholders can be deployed. Strategic planning connects corporate priorities to site-based activities and ensures that operations support financial and other needs at headquarters. Good strategic plans can remove distractions, eliminate uncertainties, and provide clear pathways for progress and performance assessments.

When companies look to create pathways for progress on nature, they should reach back to basic business management and create a strategic plan. Because nature is not acknowledged by many businesses as a materiality, it’s even more important that any corporate ambition toward nature positivity be framed as a strategy. And because action for nature is not central to most industrial processes (or most environmental health and safety regulations), it’s imperative that it be resourced accordingly.

When former building materials company Lafarge (now Holcim) adopted a net positive impact (NPI) goal for its quarries worldwide, it knew a strategy was needed to ensure that its more than 700 quarries worldwide would act for biodiversity. In 2014, the company worked with WWF and an international biodiversity panel to create the Lafarge Biodiversity Strategy. It pulled together existing processes to address biodiversity efforts like group-level guidance documents, site-based stakeholder engagement efforts, biodiversity management plans, and rehabilitation plans.

Importantly, the strategy overlaid Lafarge’s commitment to the mitigation hierarchy, to NPI, and to not opening new sites in World Heritage areas or areas designated (at the time) as International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) priority areas.

The strategy laid out biodiversity risks and opportunities, presented tools and processes that could be deployed at the sites, and highlighted the results of a screening process that determined the proximity of locations to sensitive biodiversity areas. It was an early example of a company working to frame its impacts and ambitions by using tools and screening exercises to prioritize action.

2. Offer Action-Based Toolkits

Action for nature can be complex. For example, restoring wetland complexes requires knowledge of hydrology, and managing rare/protected species can only be successful with knowledge of both regulations and biology. In instances like these, corporate land managers reach out to experts from government agencies and civic society. But for many private sector lands, experts are not required, and best management practices exist to support basic restoration and habitat management programs.

For example, place-based efforts can be supported with toolkits and decision trees that are typically deployed across companies for a variety of uses, from business improvement initiatives to the introduction of new processes and products. Toolkits and decision trees can be likewise deployed for nature-based efforts.

In 2016, when General Motors (GM) announced its goal to have 100% of its manufacturing facilities engaged in nature-based programs, the declaration was made from corporate headquarters, but operations across the world lost the imperative in translation. Proving grounds in China, assembly plants in South Korea, and the iconic GM Tech Center in Michigan, USA, were all expected to participate, but because each location has a unique conservation context, culture of engagement, and available resources, a blanket statement of intent was not sufficient to drive action.

Over the next five years, GM developed toolkits for every location covered by the sustainability goal. The toolkits did the following:

  • Spelled out the importance of biodiversity and the crisis of biodiversity loss.

  • Placed this issue within the company’s sustainability ambition and highlighted the specific goal to have all manufacturing facilities implementing biodiversity efforts by 2020.

  • Set out the conservation context in which the location sat, outlining the ecoregion, the conservation priorities pertinent to that place, and the opportunities to act for specific species or habitat types.

  • Reckoned with the specific culture of the operation, understanding that some sites would be able to engage employees in voluntary conservation efforts while others would need to reach out to community partners.

Specific project recommendations aligned with local conservation priorities and explained the necessary resources in terms of people, money, and intensity of future management. Because GM encouraged sites to seek verification for these efforts, the toolkits aligned with WHC’s certification requirements for ease of reporting.

In part because of these toolkits, GM met its sustainability goal in 2020, with its global manufacturing group implementing nature programs and seeking verification. GM exceeded expectations when locations outside of the manufacturing sector joined the effort. Subsequently, when the company divested many of its European operations, the programs continued outside of the sustainability goal.

[For more from the author on this topic, see: “A Strategic Approach to Creating Nature Uplift on Corporate Lands.”]

About The Author
Sara Cook
Sara Cook is Director of Business Development at Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC), where she links WHC’s mission and conservation priorities to corporate performance, fostering responsible action for environment and communities. As a senior sustainability and environmental professional, with more than 18 years’ experience in the industrial minerals and resources sector, she brings industry-recognized best practices to design strategic… Read More