Conducting business or protecting biodiversity? Both, please!
Margaret O’Gorman explains how industrial companies can contribute
With what scientists are calling “the sixth mass extinction” currently happening before our eyes due to habitat destruction caused by human activities, it’s high time governments and organizations more efficiently consider their impact on biodiversity. Just as climate impact has (at long last) become a priority for many, the impact on wildlife should be treated just as seriously, despite the difficulty to measure that impact. As Wildlife Habitat Council president Margaret O’Gorman explains, there is a strong need for stronger global biodiversity policies to be enacted now.
Through her work at WHC, Margaret works closely with multinational corporations to develop and implement conservation projects that are good for biodiversity and business. She is the author of Strategic Corporate Conservation Planning: A Guide to Meaningful Engagement, which helps companies create a culture of conservation, lays out the business case for biodiversity protection, and provides concrete steps companies can take to move from an idea to real impact. She sat down with Solvay CEO Ilham Kadri to talk about all of this in a podcast, which you can listen to by clicking this link:
It all begins with education
If we want biodiversity policies to become a priority on a global scale, the first thing to do is focus on educating people about its importance, explains Margaret. We only protect what we love, and we only love what we know.
And that doesn’t just mean working on adding biodiversity awareness in school curriculums. It’s also about raising awareness among policy makers so that governments and organizations can come up with regulations that will halt the destruction and fragmentation of habitats, which are the leading causes of extinction. In short, we need to create policies that no longer allow us to use the land in ways that don’t take nature into consideration.
Increasing biodiversity awareness
The protection of biodiversity doesn’t get as much attention as the fight against climate change. Companies and governments have embraced climate action much faster, “perhaps because it's easier to measure a ton of carbon than it is to measure the impact of biodiversity,” says Margaret.
That being said, there has been an interesting evolution of the past few years, in part because the economic consequences of biodiversity loss are starting to become better known and quantified. Multiple initiatives have been launched by companies wanting to measure and reduce their biodiversity impact, and the World Economic Forum has listed biodiversity loss in its global risk report as a top five or top seven in terms of impact on the economy.
“The economic impact of pollinators on the global economy is equivalent to that of the world’s three largest auto manufacturing companies,” says Margaret in a telling example. “If pollinators were to disappear tomorrow, it would have a similar economic impact as if Ford, Stellantis and Toyota were to disappear with a ripple effect outwards in the economy.”
The call for a Ministry for Nature
One answer to remedy these issues in an efficient way would be to create a Ministry for Nature in every country, says Margaret, so that policies for the protection of biodiversity created in one government agency aren’t annulled and/or ignored by the actions of other agencies, typically departments such as Economic Development, Transportation or Energy.
“I think something that would be really good to see come out of phase two of COP15 is understanding how international, national and subnational governments can actually make a change to their structures to allow for nature to have a place at the table.”
Measuring the unmeasurable
Of course, the main reason biodiversity impact is so overlooked by governments and companies alike is probably the fact it’s so difficult to measure, as biodiversity is a multifaceted and highly complex system.
The Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Tool (IBAT) was created to provide a way for companies to understand where they sit with respect to nature. As for the WHC, it runs a certification program that underlines the importance of thinking locally: what matters is looking at local resources and figuring out how industrial activities are impacting them.
Margaret also believes that a company’s intent and action count even more than the outcome of its biodiversity projects, “because most conservation projects don't have complete control over their outcomes. If you know what you're trying to do, and you're doing it in the right way, that’s 90% of the way.”
The economic impact of pollinators on the global economy is equivalent to that of the world’s three largest auto manufacturing companies.
Nature and industry, juxtaposed
In the end, it’s all about finding ways to make nature and industrial activities coexist - and that’s far from impossible, says Margaret, who constantly hears stories about surprising and sometimes successful juxtapositions of nature and industry.
“One of my favorite ones is from Cleveland Cliffs, a steel company in the US. They have a steel mill on the shores of Lake Michigan, and years ago, one of the steel workers decided to restore 40 acres of land. It’s on the migratory path of the Piping Clover, an endangered bird in the US. Today, that land that sits right next to a national park is actually a better Piping Clover habitat because it’s free of any human disturbance.”