By Margaret O’Gorman, President, Wildlife Habitat Council
Business plays a lead role in addressing many of the challenges that face our world today. The inclusion of business as a significant sector in helping achieve the UNSDGs is no accident as policy makers increasingly see the power of business to create solutions and business leaders recognize the multiple benefits of doing good while also doing well. This year business will once again be called upon to be part of the solution as the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) adopts post-2020 goals that will, unlike the existing Aichi Biodiversity Targets, include a role for the private sector with a call for business in all industry sectors to ‘mainstream’ nature across operations.
While some business leaders will sigh at yet another global crisis being abandoned on their doorsteps, others will see the opportunity to continue, and perhaps increase their investments in nature having already experienced the co-benefits of mainstreaming nature-based approaches into operations and corporate goal-setting.
Mainstreaming nature into business can take many forms and can be done by all industry sectors regardless of their respective footprints or geographical location. The focus of the professional conservation community on biodiversity hotspots and large tracts of untouched wilderness have, like the brilliant and beautiful wildlife documentaries from the BBC and others, created a sense that nature is ‘over there’ and that the largest, rarest and most charismatic species alone are worthy of our attention. But, nature everywhere is suffering and can benefit from the smallest investments of time and resources. A well-tended native garden can provide essential stepping stone habitat for a migrating pollinator, a meadow on a corporate campus can shelter grassland birds and well-managed natural areas around mines or quarries can provide for the passage of bears and bobcats in otherwise populated areas.
For businesses that have embraced nature-based action on their properties, many co-benefits can be realized that make such investments more attractive by tethering nature to a business need or opportunity. The best and most successful mainstreaming efforts are made through a strategic and planned approach that is focused on a specific business need or opportunity and, designed to deliver metrics useful for CSR, sustainability and climate reporting. Mainstreaming nature consolidates local conservation action into global corporate goals.
Mainstreaming nature is more about implementation of on-the-ground action and less about the financial schemes advanced by the nature valuation community of practice. It is more about leaving a hand print and less about materiality. Mainstreaming nature acknowledges that we all impact the natural world regardless of our place on the value chain and that we can all make a positive difference regardless of our place on the planet.
Here are the top 3 considerations for mainstreaming nature across business:
1. Know Why:
For conservation action to become truly mainstreamed into corporate lands management it must be done for a business reason: to address a challenge, grasp an opportunity or meet a management, operational or corporate need. There are 16 common business drivers that can be addressed through conservation. These drivers range from securing social license to operate to advancing STEM education goals, providing a positive KPI for corporate reporting or enhancing employee engagement. By moving beyond an arms-length philanthropic investment in nature and focusing on its own lands, its own impacts and its own employees, a business will see benefits that are locally meaningful and longer-lasting than an annual contribution. Identifying the business reason is the first step towards developing a corporate conservation strategy.
2. Keep it simple:
The complexification of conservation has created an unnecessary distance between amateurs and professionals in nature-based action. In the words of Nobel laureate Wangari Mathai, “you don’t need a diploma to plant a tree.” By aligning with existing conservation plans like the US State Wildlife Action Plans or the European Natura 2000 plans, a company can easily understand what action is needed in what place. By entering into partnerships with local conservation groups, a single facility can take action that is locally meaningful but also, if designed within the corporate conservation strategy, makes a contribution to a larger corporate goal.
3. Enable local ownership:
If business leaders sigh at the proliferation of corporate citizenship initiatives, rank and file employees and their managers are no less sanguine. Every corporate mandate adds to already overburdened managers and workers and budgets are rarely expanded to accommodate growing needs. Successful mainstreaming happens against the pressures of budgets and compliance if ownership of the action is given to each location. A corporate conservation strategy should identify the corporate business driver; enumerate the metric but allow the action to be owned locally.
Waste Management (WM), with 100 of its landfills engaged in some form of conservation action understands that importance of mainstreaming conservation into operations to secure social license to operate, to engage employees and community members and to report a positive sustainability KPI. WM allows each location to design and implement according to the resources available at the site, the conservation context of the landfill and the interest of leadership and employees. This approach has created programs in place for decades that have measurable biodiversity outcomes, reach across corporate fence-lines into deep community relationships and provide the company with an inclusive sustainability goal that all employees can contribute to.
Toyota Motor North America likewise views mainstreaming conservation action as essential to meeting the global Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050 of ‘Establishing a society that lives in harmony with nature.’ With more than 21,000 acres of land in the USA, Toyota sees potential in its lands to host nature programs that connects its conservation to community efforts through employee engagement at the local level. Each site determines its own efforts but each site also contributes to the performance metrics in the company’s annual report.
With nature facing challenges from many directions that see rare species being lost at an alarming rate and common species becoming less common, the argument that nature is not a materiality is no longer valid. Every company owns land or property that can contribute to corporate conservation goals. By connecting it to a business challenge or opportunity, keeping it simple and allowing local ownership, all companies can mainstream nature to help build a more biodiverse world for future generations.
Margaret O’Gorman, President, Wildlife Habitat Council
Margaret O’Gorman operates at the intersection of business and nature. As President of the Wildlife Habitat Council, she helps companies find value in natural resources conservation and mainstream biodiversity across operations. She works with multinational corporations to develop integrated strategies to implement conservation projects to meet business needs and, in so doing, enhance ecosystems, connect communities and engage employees. She helps WHC members build conservation into their sustainability efforts and helps sustain conservation efforts through WHC’s signature Conservation Certification recognition, which serves to define the standard for corporate conservation worldwide. Prior to joining WHC, she served as the Executive Director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey where she transformed the little-known statewide non-profit into a well-respected and effective organization focused on rare and imperiled wildlife protection and recovery in the Garden State. Margaret’s extensive fundraising and development experience comes from almost a decade in lead development roles at New Jersey Future and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. She began her career in education publishing, developing an expertise in secondary and university STEM education.