AUTHOR

Greet Vanderheyden
Business Developer Sustainability Services
Business Developer Sustainability Services
Greet Vanderheyden, Senior Consultant Sustainability at Arcadis Belgium, explains the vital role of organizations, governments and international NGOs in protecting and saving biodiversity.

We know for a fact that the Earth is a distinct planet in our solar system. But what specific trait sets it apart from others? The answer: Its rich biodiversity. It is what makes the planet livable for humans and other living organisms. Conversely, the loss of biodiversity presents catastrophic consequences as it throws our ecosystems out of balance, causing disease outbreaks, food shortage, severe weather conditions and economic crises, to name a few. Sadly, we can already see these consequences happening today.

Five global trends drive the loss of biodiversity across the world:

  1. Land use changes: The loss and fragmentation of animal and plant habitats, often to make place for agriculture, industry, mining, housing, roads and other infrastructure 
  2. Climate change: Rising temperatures that threaten biodiversity hotspots like coral reefs and disrupt local conditions of habitats and ecosystems  
  3. Pollution
  4. Use and exploitation of natural resources
  5. Invasive species

These trends put a strain on Earth’s biodiversity and equilibrium. In the process, it endangers us as individuals and communities relying on the planet’s uniquely rich biodiversity to thrive. How do we address these risks?

We start by creating awareness. First, let’s take a closer look at the benefits of our rich biodiversity. How does it impact our lives on a societal and business standpoint? After exploring these benefits, the next step is to develop strategies and act on them.

 

A healthy economy is built on a healthy ecosystem

At least 40% of the world’s economy is obtained from biological resources. Investing in nature can lead to huge opportunities as well. As the World Economic Forum states: "A realignment of our economies, including public and private financial flows, towards nature-positive pathways is imperative, and could deliver $10 trillion of annual business opportunities and 395 million jobs by 2030".

(WEF_The_Future_Of_Nature_And_Business_2020.pdf (weforum.org)

Healthy ecosystems provide natural carbon sinks at little cost. Acting as buffers against extreme weather conditions, and protecting houses, crops, water supplies and infrastructure, these carbon sinks help restore and protect nature. In the process, the focus on healthy ecosystems also aligns with existing strategies in tackling climate change.

 

The power of business

Companies, one of the key stakeholders, have proven they can be progressive frontrunners in addressing environmental challenges. By achieving Net Zero Loss or Net Gain for biodiversity, industries can restore nature that was lost in their value chains and beyond. Furthermore, by taking this direction, corporations set an example for society and work towards an international consensus on meaningful targets.

Involving nature and biodiversity in how they operate will bring many intrinsic benefits for companies, including increased financial performance, supply chain security, increased resilience against climate change and a positive impact on reputation. Arcadis specializes in supporting companies and organizations looking to invest in sustainability to bolster the value and profitability of their businesses in the long term.

Priority should always be given to the prevention of biodiversity loss at the site- and value chain level. We should also focus our efforts on increasing biodiversity through restoration measures. A good example of this strategy is through nature-inclusive building; that instead of building to replace nature, we should build with nature.

This strategy was the very goal of one of our retail clients. The company sought Arcadis’s help to develop a new site and assess the biodiversity value before and after construction. Additionally, Arcadis monitored how this value evolved in the subsequent years of operation.

We set to work on a nature-based development of the site, which included green roofing, wadi and a central water area. Compared to traditional grey engineering, the project required fewer costs to comply with water legislation. The result: The project proved to be a more cost-effective solution as it provided financial gains for the client.

 

Making up for biodiversity loss: a win-win case for companies and nature

More companies are now looking into reversing their negative impact on biodiversity and shifting towards a neutral and even more positive 'No Net Loss' and 'Net Gain' approach. To achieve this, however, production sites or development areas need to assume several functions. It may not always be possible for companies to achieve this massive undertaking on their sites. A helpful and highly recommended solution is to do off-site nature restoration investments.

Sadly, until now, these investments are treated as merely ad hoc projects. Planting trees in a nearby nature reserve is usually viewed as a ‘nice story’ to engage employees and share with stakeholders. Rarely are these projects done to achieve a quantified Net Zero Loss or Net Gain Loss.

Arcadis is collaborating with an international NGO to develop an approach that will guide companies in working towards a quantitative biodiversity goal, such as No Net Loss or Net Gain, in their nature reserve investments. These will be in the form of support for land purchases and/or biodiversity-promoting interventions.

This way, a win-win situation can be achieved by both the company, which ensures every euro invested in biodiversity restoration translates into a quantitative increase towards Net Zero, and the local NGO, which has funding needs for achieving its conservation and restoration goals.

A pilot project has already started for a food and beverage company with three European production sites.

 

Leading the way to international standards

Following the principle of a target global warming limit of 1.5 C° to mitigate climate change, we need an internationally standardized framework to measure nature and biodiversity. To achieve this, we need meaningful, science-based goals and roadmaps. International efforts are increasing in this area, with scientific institutions and international NGOs as key players.

Arcadis is taking the lead in this initiative. Our experts are spearheading the Methods workstream within the EU Business @ Biodiversity Platform, which focuses on metric-driven approaches to biodiversity for businesses and financial institutions. As technical co-lead in the EU-funded Align project, Arcadis also assists the European Commission in its efforts to establish a standardized approach to biodiversity measurement and valuation.

 

Resiliency at its best

These global efforts should usher in restoration policies and actions by governments, companies and citizens. By actively embracing the Net Zero Loss or Net Gain approach and investing in biodiversity, we can reverse the negative impact we have had on the natural world. In the process, we will also be able to understand how resilient nature can be.

Even as individuals, we can take part in global efforts to boost biodiversity. By simply letting a corner of our garden to grow wild, for instance, we create a natural carbon sink -- an ecosystem in our own backyard that benefits the planet in more ways than we may know. Nature is amazing!

 

Terminology

Net Zero Loss or Net Gain refers to the result of a company’s efforts to neutralize or restore natural resources and biodiversity that was lost in its value chain.

AUTHOR

Greet Vanderheyden
Business Developer Sustainability Services
Business Developer Sustainability Services

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