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How the private sector can help and benefit from investing in nature

May 08, 2023

Johan Lammerant

Natural Capital and Biodiversity Lead

Businesses around the world are currently grappling with the immense pressure of climate change, and rightfully so. Failing to meet climate goals will have irreversible global consequences. However, amid this heightened focus on climate change, the urgency of addressing the looming biodiversity crisis often gets overlooked and relegated to being a ‘mere’ environmental issue. It’s important to acknowledge that with over half of the world’s GDP moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services, addressing biodiversity loss goes beyond being just an environmental concern.


In Arcadis’ recent biodiversity webinar, I had the opportunity to discuss with experts from business and the finance sector how the private sector is in a prime position to effect real change toward biodiversity restoration. The only question is: How and where do we begin?

The challenge of measuring biodiversity

Unlike carbon emissions, which can be quantified, measuring biodiversity is inherently complex. The sheer diversity of life on Earth, coupled with the need for location-specific measurements, presents significant difficulties. Without accurate measurements, it becomes challenging to make informed decisions and implement effective actions.

An example of the impact of accurate biodiversity measurement is our successful collaboration with Spadel in Belgium. Using Arcadis’ Biodiversity Net Gain Calculator, we conducted a robust assessment of the company’s impact on land since its foundation, which revealed a biodiversity-positive performance. This, in turn, led to the development of operational guidelines that align with the Science Based Targets Network’s parameters, demonstrating how concrete data can drive meaningful change in the business sector. What’s more, these principles are transferrable, and can be applied on projects across the world.

Nature-positive business

Companies are increasingly being called upon to not only make commitments, but also take tangible actions to preserve nature. Despite the significant impact of biodiversity on businesses, corporate efforts and commitments toward biodiversity remain inadequate. According to a 2022 report by S&P, less than 20% of 500 companies have made explicit commitments to address biodiversity loss.

A key concept that gained prominence to boost companies’ participation in conservation efforts is the notion of being ‘nature positive’ through corporate strategies. This goes beyond merely mitigating negative impacts on the environment, and instead focuses on actively contributing to the restoration and conservation of biodiversity.

To support our clients in adopting a nature-positive approach, we have helped them develop solutions that work in harmony with nature. How does this work in practice? Our experts in the Netherlands have successfully created an archipelago using dredged materials from the bottom of Lake Markermeer. This project not only proves to be cost-effective and ecologically resilient, but also promotes the growth of vegetation and flourishing of wildlife in the area. It stands as one of the largest ecosystem restoration projects in Western Europe, serving as a pioneering example of nature-based solutions in action. And in the US, our team successfully restored 94 acres of Louisiana's coastal wetlands using sediment from local dredging operations. This project will build up and restore 25,000 acres of wetlands over the next 50 years, strengthening coastal protection and ecosystems.

 

Moreover, employee benefit programs can be utilized to drive corporate engagement and responsibility. Companies can use these programs to foster a positive corporate culture while encouraging individual actions that contribute to overall sustainability goals. In addition to promoting sustainable behaviors among employees, companies should also look beyond traditional corporate social responsibility initiatives, which can sometimes be perceived as mere box-ticking exercises. Financial institutions, in particular, have a huge role here – actively supporting sustainable practices through sustainable investment and lending activities. One effective approach is to use exclusionary criteria or weigh investments based on target setting, disclosure or nature-positive strategies. Some institutions have started to exclude investments in companies involved in deforestation and other harmful activities, while others are using the Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures framework to assess and disclose their impacts on nature.

Holistic approach and cross-sectoral collaboration

Addressing biodiversity loss goes beyond corporate boundaries, necessitating coordination and collaboration with governments, communities and other businesses within or outside the industry. This is because biodiversity provides significant economic value, estimated at more than $150 trillion annually. Protecting biodiversity requires integrating a biodiversity framework across different regions and countries, and developing strategies that align with diverse ecological and socioeconomic contexts. Businesses alone, may find it challenging to identify where to start. Partnerships provide a great solution. In Belgium, for example, we have partnered with Natuurpunt, and independent, voluntary organization to help our client, the food company Alpro, incorporate biodiversity enhancing measures in its business strategy.

Moreover, a circular economy approach, focusing on regenerative practices, can contribute to biodiversity protection. By minimizing waste, pollution and unsustainable resource use, businesses can reduce their negative impacts on biodiversity and adopt regenerative practices.

Leveraging our expertise in sustainable land remediation and commitment to circularity, we have been commissioned to clean up and dismantle the Ensdorf coal-fired power plant in Germany with the goal of repurposing the site for sustainable use. The transformation of the site involved recycling materials after demolition and maximizing efficiency and safety using digital tools. Across the border, in neighboring France, Arcadis developed a tool in close collaboration with ADEME, the French agency for ecological transition, and Efficacity, to help communities and land development stakeholders make the right decisions on urban planning and take a more sustainable approach to their projects. Using it, cities will be able to redevelop brownfields, improving available land and curbing biodiversity destruction.

A critical question that arises in this context is how to deal with companies that are unwilling to invest in biodiversity protection. Some businesses may resist the additional financial burden of biodiversity conservation efforts, seeing it as an extra cost without immediate returns. Addressing this challenge requires creating incentives for companies, such as providing tax breaks, subsidies or other financial incentives. Public-private partnerships and public governance and subsidies that incentivize private sector commitments and investment are key. It also requires raising awareness among businesses about the long-term benefits of biodiversity protection, including improved brand reputation, reduced risks and access to new markets and customers.

Taking the first step

The biodiversity crisis is something we simply cannot ignore. It’s crucial that we act now to ensure the sustainability of our businesses and tackle the equally pressing issue of climate change. Nature and climate are intricately linked, and we don’t have to choose between them.

The key to addressing this dual challenge is to take a proactive step forward without waiting for the perfect plan, which many never materialize. A well-informed, data-driven plan that capitalizes on the resources nature already provides in a way that’s equitable for society and the environment should be enough to produce real change.

Get deeper insight into the role of corporates and the finance sector in leading biodiversity through this Arcadis Biodiversity Webinar.  Watch the recording