Oct 21, 2021
10 Questions on Biodiversity and Business Answered
Picture this: you’re standing in the middle of a rainforest. The earth below you is soft, the air is moist and balmy. Overhead, you hear the sharp call of a macaw. All around you are plants and trees ranging from rosewood to rubber trees. You run your hand along the rough bark of a Brazil nut tree, one of the last trees of its kind remaining in the entire Amazon rainforest. It starts to rain.
Suddenly you hear a noise in the distance — the hideous, disconcerting sound of metal sawing into wood. It is soon followed by the sound of leafy branches brushing other trees on the way down, like a waterfall. Glancing up, you see hoards of birds flying away from the noise and you start to run. The noises chase after you, closer and closer, playing catch up. Standing in its way, the Brazil nut tree isn't so lucky - it's next.
This scene occurs nearly every waking hour of every day in the Amazon rainforest, particularly during the dry season from May to October. In fact, an average of over 80,000 hectares of the Amazon are destroyed every single day. And it’s not just the Amazon Rainforest that’s getting destroyed. A study from the Rainforest Foundation Norway found that only 35% of the Earth’s tropical rainforests remain intact.
Nicknamed the "Lungs of the Earth" it is already relatively well-known that the Amazon plays a major role in sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere, and slowing the pace of climate change. Less talked about is the biodiversity loss that occurs while destroying our planet’s lungs.
For the first time ever, the United Nations is holding the UN Biodiversity Conference, or COP15, to set goals and policies for protecting biodiversity. Next week we’ll be taking a look at the big takeaways from Part 1 of the Convention on Biodiversity, so be sure to tune back in for updates.
But first, let's dive into the topic of biodiversity: what is it, and what does it have to do with you and your business? In this blog post we answer 10 common questions about biodiversity and business including:
What is biodiversity?
Where are the biggest biodiversity hotspots around the world?
Why is biodiversity important to the planet?
Is biodiversity under threat?
What are the main causes of biodiversity loss?
How does climate change impact biodiversity?
Why is biodiversity important for my business?
How does my business affect biodiversity?
What can my business do to protect biodiversity?
My company has set goals for protecting biodiversity, now what?
Let's dive right in.
1. What is biodiversity?
Biological diversity, or biodiversity for short, is defined as the vast variety of living species on Earth. The term includes all plants, animals, insects, and microbes in Earth’s ecosystems.
Around the world, there are an estimated 8.7 million species of plants, animals, fungi, and micro-organisms in existence, though as of now we have so far only identified and described 1.2 million of them.
When talking about biodiversity, the term ecosystem services also comes up frequently. Ecosystem services are any positive benefit that wildlife or ecosystems provide to people. Some obvious examples are food and water, but other ecosystem services also include flood regulation, fiber, and the production of atmospheric oxygen.
2. Where are the biggest biodiversity hotspots around the world?
A biodiversity hotspot is an area with extremely high levels of biodiversity. Ecosystems that are the most diverse tend to have more ideal conditions for plant growth, particularly the warm and wet climate of tropical regions. Some of these regions include parts of Mexico, South Africa, Brazil, South Western US, and Madagascar.
Of the various types of land-based ecosystems, such as deserts, tundra, and grasslands, tropical rainforests have the most biodiversity. Despite covering only 2% of Earth’s surface, rainforests are home to more than 50% of all plants and animals found on land.
3. Why is biodiversity important to the planet?
Biodiversity is important to the planet, because healthy, diverse ecosystems are better equipped to withstand and recover from a variety of disasters. All the species in an area work together to survive and maintain their ecosystem. For instance, large carnivores, such as lions, leopards, and wolves are essential for a healthy ecosystem. If the population of such carnivores falls, the herbivores they prey upon will likely see a population increase. This results in environmental deterioration, because they graze more. Thus a healthy ecosystem depends on a delicate balance based on cooperation and mutual survival.
4. Is biodiversity under threat?
Yes. Scientists warn that we are currently in the midst of the sixth mass extinction in our planet’s history. The present rate of extinction is between 100 to 100,000 species per year.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF)’s 2018 Living Planet Report found an average 60% decline in global populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians since 1970. Over 16,000 animal species are now threatened with extinction. And remember those large carnivores we were talking about? Today 75% of the world's big carnivores are in decline.
National Geographic estimates that "half of all species on Earth will be wiped out within the next century."
Take for instance, the island of Borneo. As the third-largest island in the world, parts of it belong to Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. Borneo is home to 15,000 plant species and 1,400 animal species, including orangutans, pygmy elephants, and rhinos, and some of the world’s tallest tropical trees. Over the past 40 years, 30% of Borneo’s forests have been wiped out by large-scale international interests looking to capitalize on the island’s natural resources of hardwood trees, coal, rubber, gold, and other minerals, putting Borneo’s rich biodiversity under threat.
5. What are the main causes of biodiversity loss?
As you’ve probably guessed by now, human activities threaten biodiversity. There are five main causes of biodiversity loss:
Changes in land and sea use
Invasive alien species
Worldwide, more than 33% of the Earth’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production. In the Amazon Rainforest, the WWF finds that 80% of current deforestation is due to extensive cattle ranching, while agriculture is largely responsible for the rest.
6. How does climate change impact biodiversity?
It’s no surprise that climate change isn’t exactly helping the current biodiversity crisis. Climate change means disrupted seasons, rising sea levels, and more extreme weather, all of which take a hefty toll on biodiversity. Organisms have spent millions of years evolving to survive under specific living conditions, and thanks to climate change, those conditions are changing faster than evolution can keep up.
A good example are coral reefs. Despite covering less than 1% of the ocean floor, coral reefs support more than 25% of marine diversity, ranging from fish to lobsters and turtles. Rises in sea temperature pose an existential threat to coral reefs. Thermal stress from warmer water causes corals to expel the colorful algae living in their tissues, resulting in coral bleaching, as the coral turns white.
Severe bleaching can kill them by leaving them vulnerable to disease, stunting their growth, and affecting reproduction. And once corals die, the reefs rarely come back. Coral bleaching is particularly affecting areas such as South and East Asia, Australia, and the Gulf of Oman.
7. Why is biodiversity important for my business?
Your company may be more dependent on biodiversity than you think. Exactly how dependent your company is can vary across sectors, but reduced biodiversity can lead to problems such as reduced food supplies, disrupted supply chains, and economic loss from floods or fires.
8. How does my business affect biodiversity?
While most companies have some form of direct or indirect impact on biodiversity, exactly how much of an impact and what that impact is varies by company and sector. Companies’ direct impacts on biodiversity stem primarily from land use and waste generation.
Want to figure out how much your company impacts biodiversity? Start by analyzing the important influencing factors on biodiversity along your whole value chain and take full account of all corporate areas of action. Make sure to also analyze your own dependencies on biodiversity and ecosystem services.
You may find that you are unknowingly harming biodiversity. For instance, if you rely on a crop such as the African oil palm for your raw material input of palm oil, and you’re not making a conscious effort to get it from sustainable sources, you could be contributing to biodiversity loss and deforestation in places like Indonesia and Malaysia.
Your company may also be causing other direct impacts on biodiversity including:
Habitat loss and degradation
Air and water pollution
Soil and water contamination
Remember, biodiversity loss isn’t just a problem in some remote area on the other side of the world, it has a direct impact on your company too.
9. What can my business do to protect biodiversity?
Unlike some other stakeholders, companies that have the resources, autonomy, technology, and ability to innovate are in a unique position to make a positive impact on biodiversity. Once you have analyzed your impacts and reliance on biodiversity, you can start to actually do something about it.
So you’ve analyzed your whole value chain and found the important influencing factors on biodiversity? Here are your next steps:
Define strategies and draft guidelines to protect biodiversity
Set measurable, realistic goals based on your research
Integrate suppliers, customers and other partners into your strategies.
Need an extra incentive to start prioritizing biodiversity protection? New, stricter environmental regulations are constantly getting passed. By analyzing your current business practices and those of your suppliers, you can determine your impacts on biodiversity and then invest in eco-forward business strategies now, so you don’t have to play catch up later when it’s too late.
On a larger scale, your company can work with environmental organizations such as the WWF and support Indigenous communities. Despite comprising only about 5% of the world human population, 80% of the world’s biodiversity is on land stewarded, managed, controlled, and governed by Indigenous people. Indigenous people have a deep respect for the land, resulting from depending on it for food, shelter, identity, and survival.
According to The Guardian, "Indigenous peoples traditionally develop a set of conservation measures that are passed down from one generation to the next, and as a result they should be seen as the best people to conserve that land."
It is crucial that your company acts to protect the land, resource, and human rights of Indigenous people. This requires conducting due diligence prior to and while embarking on investment projects. Assess where your operations intersect with the rights of Indigenous people and build frameworks for local Indigenous People’s Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) over the development of their lands, territories, and resources.
While it may seem like you can only protect biodiversity in far off regions of the world, the reality is that there are several measures you can take right at home too. For instance, you can help foster biodiversity at and around your office by:
Minimizing sealing soil surfaces in car parks and along paths
Avoiding the use of fertilizers and pesticides and instead opting for biological and integrated pest control
If you have any greenspace around the building, use plants that are local and suited to the site and choose a variety of plant species that offer food and shelter to birds and insects, such as bushes, wild herbs, and flowering fields.
10. My company has set goals for protecting biodiversity, now what?
Setting goals for protecting biodiversity is only half the battle. To make sure your company is actually leaving a positive impact, you need to track and monitor your progress and maintain an overview of your company’s impacts. Luckily, we’re here to help. At SustainLab we make tracking all your impacts easy. We offer a cutting-edge sustainability management platform that harnesses the power of AI to collect and analyze all your sustainability data, including your impacts on biodiversity, in one place.
Contact us to learn more about how we can help you ensure that you have a positive impact on biodiversity and create a better business - better planet.
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