Article

How Business & Finance Can Contribute to a Nature Positive Future Now

Posted December 5, 2022 | Sustainability | Amplify
nature positive finance
In this issue:

AMPLIFY  VOL. 35, NO. 11
  
ABSTRACT

Eva Zabey and Erin Billman begin the issue by reminding us how nature underpins our collective survival and then highlight the risk to the world’s GDP from continued nature loss. They provide an explanation of the difference between nature and biodiversity and present the high-level definition of nature positive.

 

Nature underpins our collective survival and well-being by providing human development and equality, economic value and security, and increasing our resilience to climate change. Its critical role in decision making, value chain management, and consumer preferences has been increasingly recognized within the business and finance community.

The term “nature positive” is quickly gaining traction. However, without broad alignment of what it means for business and finance, there is a genuine risk of confusion. How the term is interpreted, valued, and used continues to be contested, creating a risk of undermining the ability to drive meaningful change.

Why Is Nature Important to Business & Finance?

Business won’t function if nature continues to decline. Resources like water, soil, food, fiber, and minerals, and ecosystem services like crop pollination, water filtration, and climate regulation all contribute to business success and human livelihoods. Take these away, and companies will cease to function effectively.1 Business operations will become unviable, supply chains unmanageable, and relationships with employees and customers untenable.

The opposite is also true. When harnessed responsibly, natural abundance and regenerative natural systems translate into productive growth, both for companies and the communities they serve. Business and finance, therefore, have a critical role to play in protecting and restoring nature.

More than half of the world’s GDP is moderately or highly dependent on nature and the services it provides.2 For example, three of the world’s most nature-dependent sectors (construction, agriculture, and food and beverage) generate close to US $8 trillion of gross value added and could be directly impacted by poorer soils, scarcer water, and fewer pollinators.3

In addition to operational costs and complications due to nature loss, there is a very real possibility of stranded assets,4 investor divestment,5 consumer boycotts,6 capital destruction, increased price volatility, disruptions to processes and supply chains, and the loss of talented employees to more responsible competitors.

Conversely, a nature positive world presents opportunities for businesses willing to take bold actions. Consumers are looking for products that respect nature, not destroy it.7 Similarly, investors want to finance firms with business models and technologies that contribute to a circular economy8 and restore, rather than degrade, nature.9

Recent research predicts business investments in nature could generate significant opportunities and create up to 395 million jobs by 2030.10 But realizing this potential won’t be easy. Success relies on the transformation not just of individual companies, but entire sectors and value chains.

The long-term resilience of all businesses depends on bringing nature back into balance. The goal of a nature positive future and the existence of business are intimately interconnected.

What Is Nature Positive?

There is agreement among experts that nature positive is “a global goal to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030, and achieve full recovery by 2050,”11 where thriving ecosystems and nature-based solutions continue to support future generations and play a critical role in tackling climate change risks. The global goal represents an objective that should inform actions under all global multinational agreements, in particular the three Rio Conventions12 and the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) guide the activities of government, civil society, and business.

The global goal is supported by the heads of state of the world’s seven largest economies, and more than 300 leading organizations.13,14 Many are now advocating that this global goal should be Mission 2030 in the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, to be adopted by governments at the UN's Conference of the Parties (COP 15) in December 2022. Yet how businesses can practically engage with the global goal remains the subject of debate and confusion.

The Difference Between Nature & Biodiversity1,2

Nature is living organisms and their interactions among themselves and with their environment, including the geology, climate, and all other nonliving components. Nature can be understood through a construct of four realms on which all life on Earth depends: atmosphere, freshwater, land, and ocean.

Biodiversity is the diversity of all living things. More biodiversity is essential to a healthy, stable, resilient planet. Biodiversity is a subset of nature, so being nature positive means going far beyond being biodiversity positive.

1    Biodiversity and Nature, Close But Not Quite the Same.” United Nations (UN) Convention of Biological Diversity, accessed November 2022.
2    Dias, Sandra, et al. “The IPBES Conceptual Framework — Connecting Nature and People.” Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Vol. 14, June 2015.

Business & Finance Must Contribute to Nature Positive Goal

A nature positive goal places business and finance within a collective partnership that is necessary for nature recovery, moving business toward an appreciation of the interconnectedness of nature positive outcomes. Every business has a role to play, proportionate to their abilities (e.g., to pay, to innovate, and to change practices) and their responsibilities (based on historical contributions to harm).

Theoretically, if a business or financial institution contributes more to restoring, regenerating, and enhancing nature across its value chains and portfolios than to harming it, it could be nature positive. However, achieving this in practice is highly unlikely; it is not straightforward, and should be measured against strict spatially explicit criteria. It depends on the business model itself (e.g., companies focused on environmental improvements and restoration versus extractive industries) and where and when the impacts occur.

Businesses don’t operate in a silo. They operate in multiple systems and value chains that they can (and must) influence, despite the fact that their impacts cannot be fully attributed to them. Therefore, individual companies and financial institutions must adopt strategies across all their spheres of influence to contribute to the shared goal of a nature positive planet by 2030.

Such transformations will take different forms in various industrial sectors, but all intrinsically imply a decoupling of business activity from natural resource use, including through the circular economy. Achieving this decoupling will require an absolute reduction in material consumption and production.15

True contributions by businesses to a nature positive world by 2030 require considerable investments of time and major resources. Companies must understand their relationships with nature — the partnerships needed at sector, value chain, and landscape and seascape levels — and their levers for system change. Then they must act to avoid, reduce, regenerate, and restore nature. Financial institutions should transform operations by engaging with their clients and reorienting investments to support the urgent need to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030.

How Can Business & Finance Contribute to a Nature Positive Future?

Business for Nature, along with the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) and several other partners, provides a framework called High-Level Business Action on Nature (see Figure 1).16 The framework offers an overview of key actions companies can take to help reverse nature loss and contribute to a nature positive world under the headings of Assess, Commit, Transform, and Disclose. Any claims companies make regarding their nature positive contributions will, at a minimum, need to be verifiable, consistent with the best available science, logically coherent, and in accordance with policy at a local and national level. The framework’s actions are described below.

Figure 1. High-Level Business Action on Nature framework
Figure 1. High-Level Business Action on Nature framework

Assess

  • Measure and prioritize actions that will contribute most significantly to a nature positive world by identifying the most significant material impacts and dependencies. This will ensure credibility as well as management effectiveness, through integrating nature-related risks into decision making and disclosure.17 Companies can conduct these assessments by following the Natural Capital Protocol from the Capitals Coalition.18 Companies should also provide a clear plan for concrete actions to be taken across the value chain toward given outcomes (e.g., no deforestation or no activities in protected areas) to address nature impacts beyond their direct operations.19

Commit

  • Raise ambition levels and deliver a corporate strategy that demonstrates commitments to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030. Nature positive actions must include the organization, from the factory floor to the C-suite. This can be facilitated by (1) setting science-based, nature-related targets for individual business units, teams, and key decision makers; and (2) making sure employees have the skills and knowledge required to identify and reduce nature risks, as well as to design restorative solutions like circular business models.20

  • Make time-bound targets using SBTN guidance. In line with the global goal, companies should focus on reducing, reversing, and restoring all negative impacts on nature by 2030 and then shift to restoring all damage to nature. The quantification of the impacts to be avoided and reduced, and the regeneration and restoration to be delivered, will be defined through spatially explicit thresholds validated by the scientific community. Companies should adapt their targets and actions depending on whether they have:

    • New impacts. Companies should aim for zero negative impact, starting with zero new conversion of natural habitats. Any unavoidable impacts should be reduced as far as reasonably practicable.

    • Ongoing impacts. These should be reduced in line with science-based thresholds and then refocused on net positive impact.

    • Existing (or historical) impacts. Companies should make a proportional positive contribution to nature recovery.

Transform

  • Follow best practices across value chains with a strong focus on avoidance. Using the SBTN mitigation hierarchy, companies should avoid, reduce, restore, and regenerate biodiversity through location-specific efforts.21 They should focus on avoidance, especially no new conversion of natural habitats, and restrict the use of offsets to a very limited set of circumstances.22

  • Although businesses need to set up governance and board oversight on nature issues and develop robust measurement and accounting protocols, global nature loss is rooted in perverse policy incentives and political decision making. Companies must advocate for ambitious public policy that will change the rules in favor of nature. Companies should also contribute to investor, supplier, consumer, and employee engagement and work with peers to transform the economic sectors in which they operate. Platforms like We Value Nature provide helpful educational materials in this area.

Disclose

  • Companies should monitor and report progress regularly on a suite of indicators to capture their impacts and dependencies on nature. Frameworks such as the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure (TNFD) recommend that companies communicate information around corporate governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics and targets for measuring progress.23 The final TNFD framework will be released in September 2023, but companies should not wait until then to publicly report their progress. Financial institutions can play a critical role by requiring companies to disclose information on the systemic risk of nature loss across their operations (and therefore across the economy as a whole).

  • Companies and financial institutions must be clear on what to avoid, starting with greenwashing. Nothing undermines the credibility of a business’s pro-nature credentials more than making claims that are exaggerated, misleading, or false. Companies should carefully consider what they can legitimately claim in relation to being nature positive. This means sharing specifics on how the company is contributing to a nature positive world, rather than simply claiming to be nature positive. For example, reduced water use or biodiversity protection/restoration of high-priority sites. Ideally, this information should be audited or authenticated by an independent third party.

Overall, businesses should avoid letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Credible tools and approaches are out there, tested and ready for use. Today’s nature emergency demands that companies act immediately. Uncertainty and complexity mean mistakes almost certainly lie ahead, but companies can learn and adjust their approach along the way. What companies cannot do is hold back until the route ahead is clearly marked. By then, it will be too late.

The Future of Nature Positive

The nature positive goal is gaining momentum, but a nature positive world cannot be built on aspiration. Success will require practical, on-the-ground action from governments, businesses, finance, and civil society. So what can companies and financial institutions anticipate?

Nature-Focused Regional & National Polices Will Directly Impact How Companies Operate

The UN's Convention on Biological Diversity is expected to agree to a new post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which many believe should include the nature positive global goal as its Mission 2030. The draft text includes making it mandatory for business and finance to reduce their negative impacts on nature by at least half and to assess and disclose their impacts and dependencies on nature (Target 15).24 It also includes proposals for regulations around subsidy reform to address how we should transition away from environmentally harmful subsidies (Target 18).25 Once adopted, these global policies will trickle down to national regulations through National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans. Businesses and financial institutions will play a significant role in ensuring these targets are achieved.

Methodologies & Frameworks Will Provide More Standardized Guidance

Tools and methodologies designed to help businesses act on nature (e.g., the Natural Capital Protocol decision-making framework, SBTN guidance, and the TNFD risk management and disclosure framework) will continue to develop and aim to complement existing efforts to standardize corporate reporting through the European Financial Reporting Advisory Group (EFRAG), the International Sustainability Standards Board (ISSB), and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). This increased standardization will not only make it easier for businesses to progress on their nature positive journey, it will also increase transparency within and across sectors.

Sector Collaboration & Aligned Guidance Will Be Key to Implementation

Numerous efforts are under way that will provide further guidance to companies. The World Economic Forum has identified three socioeconomic systems that have significant opportunity and responsibility to reverse nature loss: (1) food, land, and ocean use; (2) infrastructure and the built environment; and (3) energy and extractives.

These systems represent a third of the global economy and drive threats that endanger almost 80% of the total threatened species. Building on this work, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is developing nature positive sector roadmaps that will provide practical guidance for setting targets and disclosing nature-related financial risks.26

TNFD is also developing sectoral guidance on disclosures, building on the work of Business for Nature, WBCSD, and the World Benchmarking Alliance. In 2023, the World Economic Forum will publish a report with insights on sector-specific actions to deliver nature positive outcomes in priority industries (including the financial sector) and accelerate the transition toward a nature positive economy.27

Successful collaboration examples already exist. The Textile Exchange’s corporate benchmarking program tracks and reports the progress of more than 300 companies in the apparel and textile sector.28 The Fauna & Flora International CALM Framework provides guidance for collaboration across landscapes to mitigate impacts of developments.29 The Systems Change Lab is developing an open source data platform to support greater understanding of the systems changes we need to make this decade.30

Corporate Performance on Nature Will Be Increasingly Rewarded

Businesses look for competitive advantage in the marketplace. As their role in halting and reversing nature loss becomes clearer, we can expect lines to start being drawn between leaders, followers, and laggards. The methodologies being developed by SBTN and TNFD will ensure that evaluations of companies’ support for nature (relative to one another as well as to the global goal for nature) are driven by comparable data and verifiable evidence and “supports a shift in global financial flows away from nature-negative outcomes and toward nature positive outcomes.”31

Learning from Climate Action 100+, proposals for Nature Action 100+ have been put forward by the World Bank to accelerate investor action toward greening investor and corporate behavior to protect ecosystems and biodiversity.32

Innovation Will Accelerate Action on Nature

Both technological and business innovation are crucial in the transition to a nature positive world. Examples of what we need include:

  • Publicly accessible spatial data for biodiversity and other nature-related issues areas (e.g., land-use change) to track nature positive contributions everywhere in real time and at low cost.

  • Financial products for net-positive impacts, including investment funds for private and listed markets.

  • Mechanisms to value and integrate biodiversity into carbon markets.

  • Novel partnerships between businesses, finance, local communities, civil society, and government.

  • Technical innovation for the implementation of SBTN target-setting methodologies and the TNFD framework.

Our Most Profitable Investment

Halting and reversing nature loss by 2030 requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, and businesses must take responsibility for their actions and influence. But they are not on this journey alone. Leading organizations are creating methodologies, tools, frameworks, and guidance, and governments are gearing up to deliver policy frameworks that help businesses aim for more ambitious goals.

The journey toward a nature positive future will not be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Think of all the agricultural, renewable energy, and IT revolutions and overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic. Actions that lead us to a nature positive future may turn out to be far less disruptive and much more rewarding than these previous events. Indeed, we may learn that preserving and restoring nature is a more profitable investment for our future generations, livelihoods, and economy than anything else.

References

1    Watson, Stephen, and Adrian Newton. “Dependency of Businesses on Flows of Ecosystem Services: A Case Study from the County of Dorset, UK.” Sustainability, Vol. 10, No. 5, 27 April 2018.

2    Nature Risk Rising: Why the Crisis Engulfing Nature Matters for Business and the Economy.” World Economic Forum, 19 January 2020.

3    World Economic Forum (see 2).

4    Caldecott, Ben, et al. “Stranded Assets: Environmental Drivers, Societal Challenges, and Supervisory Responses.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Vol. 46, October 2021.

5    5 Facts About Biodiversity Finance and Investing.” Credit Suisse, January 2021.

6    Taking Responsibility for Biodiversity Loss.” Zurich Insurance, 3 March 2020.

7    An Eco-Wakening: Measuring Awareness, Engagement, and Action for Nature.” WWF, 17 May 2021.

8    Regenerate & Restore: A Circular Economy Discussion Paper for Investors.” Investor Group on Climate Change, accessed November 2022.

9    New Nature Economy Report II: The Future of Nature and Business." World Economic Forum, 14 July 2020.

10  World Economic Forum (see 9).

11   Environmental Groups Urge UN Biodiversity Talks to Embrace a ‘Nature-Positive by 2030’ Goal.” Press release, WWF, 14 March 2022.   

12  Rio Conventions.” The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, accessed November 2022.

13  G7 Climate and Environment: Minister’s Communiqué.” Gov.UK, 21 May 2021.

14  WWF (see 11).

15  Jackson, Tim, and Peter Victor. “Unraveling the Claims for (and Against) Green Growth.” Science, Vol. 366, No. 6468, 22 November 2019.

16  High-Level Business Actions on Nature.” Business for Nature, accessed November 2022.

17  Integrating Nature: The Case for Action on Nature-Related Financial Risks.” Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, 7 April 2022.

18  Natural Capital Protocol.” Capitals Coalition, accessed November 2022.

19  What You Can Do Now.” Science Based Targets Network (SBTN), accessed November 2022.

20 Smith, Thomas, Jouni Paavola, and George Holmes. “Corporate Reporting and Conservation Realities: Understanding Differences in What Businesses Say and Do Regarding Biodiversity.” Environmental Policy and Governance, Vol. 15, 12 November 2018.

21  Biodiversity: Why Set Science-Based Targets for Species and Ecosystems?” Science Based Targets Network (SBTN), accessed November 2022.

22  IUCN Policy on Biodiversity Offsets.” International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 29 January 2016.

23  The TNFD Nature-Related Risk & Opportunity Management and Disclosure Framework.” Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), March 2022.

24  Business for Nature’s Position on Target 15.” Business for Nature, accessed November 2022.

25  Reform $1.8 Trillion Yearly Environmentally Harmful Subsidies to Deliver a Nature-Positive Economy.” Business for Nature, accessed November 2022.

26  Roadmaps to Nature Positive.” World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), accessed November 2022.

27  The Nature Action Agenda (NAA) has grown out of the World Economic Forum (WEF) New Nature Economy Report Series, which, in turn, forms parts of WEF’s Nature Action Agenda.

28  Why Biodiversity, Why Now?” Textile Exchange, accessed November 2022.

29  Collaboration Between Sectors.” Fauna & Flora International, accessed November 2022.

30 It’s Time to Change the Way We Think About Changing the World.” Systems Change Lab, accessed November 2022.

31  Taskforce on Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) Launched.” United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 4 June 2021.

32  Nature Action 100+.” World Bank Group, accessed November 2022.

About The Author
Eva Zabey
Eva Zabey is Executive Director at Business for Nature. With a background in natural capital and environmental management, she is an experienced leader, facilitator, speaker, writer, and spokesperson and has been featured on TEDx Talks. Previously, Ms. Zabey spent 15 years leading multiple projects at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, including work on natural, social, and human capital measurement and valuation for… Read More
Erin Billman
Erin Billman is Executive Director at the Science Based Targets Network. With more than 20 years’ experience, she has focused her career on working with organizations — both for-profit and nonprofit — to best steward the natural world as a strategy toward long-term success. Ms. Billman is a board member of the Earthwatch Institute, a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council for Nature-Based Solutions, and chair of the World… Read More