The Role of the Enterprise in a Nature Positive World, Part I — Opening Statement
AMPLIFY VOL. 35, NO. 11
On 7 December 2022, 10,000 people from 196 countries will arrive at Montreal’s Palais des Congrès to negotiate a new Global Framework for Biodiversity (GBF), seeking to reverse the trend of nature loss that some call the sixth mass extinction.1 This meeting is an important milestone for the United Nation’s (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), one of three conventions resulting from the historic Rio Earth Summit in 1992. In the 30 years since the Rio Summit, CBD set a series of goals for nature and failed to meet most of them. The new GBF replaces the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 that was agreed to in 2010 at the CBD’s 10th Conference of the Parties (COP 10) in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. The plan included 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, none of which were met in full by the 2020 deadline.2
This year’s COP 15 is being hailed as the most important meeting of CBD since the origins of the convention. Leaders across the world, including CBD Executive Secretary Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, are looking for a “Paris moment” for nature when 196 countries will sign off on a new framework with a vision of living in harmony with nature by 2050. COP 15 is being called a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure a healthy future for nature on our planet. Indeed, the private sector will be expected to contribute to this vision through disclosures, decisions, and actions for nature.
Target 15 in the first draft of the GBF states that:
All businesses (public and private, large, medium and small) assess and report on their dependencies and impacts on biodiversity, from local to global, progressively reduce negative impacts, by at least half and increase positive impacts, reducing biodiversity-related risks to businesses and moving towards the full sustainability of extraction and production practices, sourcing and supply chains, and use and disposal.3
In past iterations, business did not have a role in delivering for nature, so Target 15 sets the stage for robust expectations. Past iterations have also been vague about specific goals and metrics, but emerging frameworks like the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN), the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure (TNFD), and the EU Taxonomy should provide clear guidance on assessments and actions while the “Make it Mandatory” campaign from Business for Nature seeks to remove the excuse often used by businesses: that biodiversity is not a materiality.
Nature positivity is an emerging frame for this effort. This two-part series of Amplify explores the nature positive frame, defining what is meant by nature positive and examining the role of enterprise in creating a nature positive world.
In This Issue
The five articles in this issue, written by thought leaders in their respective arenas, explore the concept of nature positivity and offer a suite of approaches for meaningful business engagement. They attempt to pivot business leaders from “carbon tunnel vision” to a broader view of planetary issues that represent significant risk to business and the world economy. Carbon tunnel vision was identified by Dr. Jan Konietzko to reflect the private sector’s narrow focus on carbon, excluding a plethora of other sustainability-related challenges.4
Our first two articles set out the business case for action on nature. 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. In our second article, Margot Greenen and Tom Butterworth examine how the nature agenda is trending in global conversations and emerging as an issue equal to climate.
Both articles introduce the concept of nature positive, with Zabey and Billman providing an explanation of the difference between nature and biodiversity and presenting the high-level definition of nature positive, as defined by Business for Nature, as “a global goal to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030, and achieve full recovery by 2050.”5 But the details of nature positive can be hard to pin down, so Greenen and Butterworth offer examples of different definitions focused on targets, processes, or concepts.
Zabey and Billman describe the High-Level Business Action for Nature framework, which lays out key actions that companies can take to contribute to a nature positive world. For companies starting on the journey, the suggested steps of assess, commit, transform, and disclose are straightforward and mirror existing frameworks for climate and other issues that the private sector already engages with. Zabey and Billman go further by encouraging specificity in all steps to secure legitimacy and credibility. Looking into the future, the authors see that regional and national government policies will soon drive action in this arena. Alignment and standardization are much needed to support the efforts, and the authors see emerging frameworks like SBTN and sectoral collaboration as key to aligned guidance in support of implementation.
Greenen and Butterworth base their article on a survey of business members of the UK Business & Biodiversity Forum (UKBBF) that found all but two of the members surveyed have made a carbon commitment, but only slightly more than half have nature-related commitments and targets.
One of the challenges of nature-related commitments and targets is how SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timebound) they are. Greenen and Butterworth find that area-based metrics are popular and that a limited number of indicators are used. The authors conclude that there is real appetite for nature positive action in the private sector, but barriers remain to translating this appetite into action. They offer a six-element framework to support business engagement and introduce the UKBBF’s Nature Positive Business Pledge with core principles like additionality and longevity, a requirement for SMART targets, evidence-based approaches, and transparency in reporting and disclosures.
Moving toward action, our next pair of articles discusses the importance of partnerships to deliver progress on nature positive. There are many reasons for partnerships as well as many approaches to building successful collaborations, but the authors of both articles highlight the tensions intrinsic to teams combining the private sector with local nongovernmental organization (NGO) groups.
In the first of the two, Colleen Corrigan talks about the ways in which businesses can act for nature. They can make pledges like the one outlined by Greenen and Butterworth. They can track policies like those under development at COP 15. They can hire biodiversity experts. They can act in a place-based way to effect change. Corrigan lays out the enabling environment for effective public-private partnerships where trust, reputation, and stakeholder engagement are foundational. She explores various approaches used by global groups and highlights the importance of local and indigenous knowledge to any partnership.
Next, Jessica L. Deichmann et al. look at the tension across knowledge areas and highlight items companies should know when engaging with ecologists and biodiversity experts. This article, based on decades of working with private sector companies on some of the most complex nature-based issues, highlights the interdisciplinary nature of ecosystem restoration and species recovery. It offers nine principles to foster positive collaborations, including an acknowledgment that small actions can make big differences and that people are a critical element of any successful conservation collaboration. The authors know that business can and should be leaders in helping achieve the global goals for nature and seek to share their model for best practices. (Note that the corporate version of these nine principles are laid out in my book, Strategic Corporate Conservation Planning,6 which helps NGOs and others understand the realities of collaborating for conservation.)
In a brief detour to climate, our final article explores how nature can contribute solutions to the climate crisis by supporting community-resilience efforts that not only address climate but also support a plethora of interrelated issues like ecological, cultural, and services values. Alison Shaw and Kacia Tolsma introduce nature-based solutions as actions to protect and restore ecosystems that simultaneously benefit people and nature.
With examples from across Canada, Shaw and Tolsma show how nature-based investments in forests, wetlands, and wastewater and stormwater management have saved significant amounts of money for towns from Nova Scotia to the Pacific Coast. The authors’ approach to placing nature on the balance sheet and within profit and loss accounting is backed up by a section outlining current and emerging financially focused frameworks, including TNFD. This article is persuasive in prioritizing nature-based investments that can meet a variety of challenges, and the examples from towns across Canada can easily be transferred to corporate lands.
All five articles drive home the same message. Zabey and Billman claim that today’s nature emergency demands that companies act immediately. Greenen and Butterworth tell us that if we wait for the perfect answer, it will be too late and suggest that companies incorporate nature-based solutions into core business strategies. Deichmann et al. suggest that we must reassess our nature positive strategies and search for ways to collaborate. Corrigan says that companies should start building partnerships now to make collective decisions on shared outcomes. And, finally, Shaw and Tolsma call for an accelerated transition on local and global scales. The authors are united in advocating for the private sector to embrace nature positive approaches for positive outcomes.
The ideas in these articles are beautifully intertwined. The first is that business should avoid greenwashing when engaging on a nature positive journey. Greenwashing can undermine best efforts, so companies should avoid claims that are exaggerated, misleading, or false. The second point is linked to the first: companies should be clear and transparent in disclosing their impacts on nature and design actions aligned with those impacts. Finally, companies must include people in their nature positive journey. Employees, community members (indigenous and other), customers, and stakeholders can enhance a company’s nature positive journey by contributing value, knowledge, and support. Ignoring people in the nature equation is shortsighted and a risk to nature-based investments.
The last word here should go to Zabey and Billman who suggest we may learn that preserving and restoring nature is a more profitable investment for future generations, livelihoods, and economies than anything else.
In this first installment of this two-part series, we focused on policy when it comes to being nature positive. The next issue of Amplify will explore practice — because at the end of the day, it is the practice of place-based action that will deliver a nature positive future.
1 “What Is the Sixth Mass Extinction and What Can We Do About It?” WWF, 15 March 2022.
2 “Humanity at a Crossroads.” United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity, 18 August 2020.
3 “First Draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.” United Nations (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity, 5 July 2021.
4 Konietzko, Jan. “Moving Beyond Carbon Tunnel Vision with a Sustainability Data Strategy.” Cognizant, 8 February 2022.
5 “Environmental Groups Urge UN Biodiversity Talks to Embrace a ‘Nature-Positive by 2030’ Goal.” Press release, WWF, 14 March 2022.
6 O’Gorman, Margaret. Strategic Corporate Conservation Planning. Island Press, February 2020.