Posted on Jan 12, 2021 1:05 PM

In many ways, 2020 was to be the year of biodiversity, crowned by the holding of the World Conservation Congress in Marseille, ultimately postponed due to the health crisis. The tragic Covid-19 pandemic will benefit from being analyzed as a warning signal for the preservation of ecosystems essential to the survival of our planet.

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) recently revealed that 65% of emerging infectious diseases, including the currently raging coronavirus, are zoonoses, that is, pathogens that spread transmit animals to humans. However, it is precisely the diversity of species that constitutes a bulwark against the development of future pandemics, potentially more deadly. According to WWF’s latest “Living Planet” report, 68% of wild vertebrate populations have disappeared in just fifty years. Urgent action is needed and COP15, which is to be held in Kunming, China next May, will be an opportunity to define a more ambitious framework for the protection of biodiversity on a global scale.

A consideration still in its infancy

Companies are in constant interaction with biodiversity. While they derive certain benefits from ecosystem services, their activity also impacts the diversity of living things. Their operations represent the main source of anthropogenic pressures that threaten tens of thousands of species and the ecosystems that shelter them (pollution, global warming, overexploitation of resources and destruction of natural habitats). Companies have every interest in better understanding the issue of their protection, and this for two reasons. On the one hand, they are led to recognize their environmental responsibility, and on the other hand, their dependence on biodiversity exposes them to many risks for their economic sustainability in the event of its destruction.

In the short term, the reputational risk for those who neglect this problem turns out to be all the greater as the expectations of citizens and stakeholders increase sharply. According to an Ifop survey for the Cercle de Giverny, 85% of French people consider that companies have an important responsibility in the development of a greener and more equitable society, to prevent a new health crisis. And two-thirds intend to it into their purchasing behavior by favoring products from environmentally friendly companies.

In the medium and long term, the absence of a biodiversity strategy and action plan represents a direct risk for companies’ legal security (by contravening new regulations) as well as for their operational efficiency (erosion of available resources, instability of supplies) . In France and in Europe, certain sectors of activity have started to take their impact on ecosystems seriously into account. We will think in particular of the sectors directly linked to regional planning and to the agro-food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries which depend very heavily on natural and animal resources.

However, the integration of biodiversity into business strategy is still quite insufficient. To be up to the emergency, economic and financial actors must go beyond approaches limited to the simple compensation of their negative externalities to engage in systemic CSR policies. Their success will come from real work to reduce their impacts on biodiversity, but also from a contribution to the preservation and restoration of ecosystems.

Integrated accounting

Measuring your biodiversity footprint is a key first step for such an approach. More and more standardized tools are starting to appear, covering entire sites or sectors. We can cite, for example, the Global Biodiversity Score (GBS) launched in May 2020 by CDC Biodiversité, or the Biodiversity Impact Metric developed by Cambridge Institute for Sustainable Leadership, which allow companies to establish a quantitative link between their activity and the pressures affecting the biodiversity. Ultimately, these scores should allow financial institutions to identify and invest in truly virtuous companies.

Becoming aware of your biodiversity footprint in order to reduce it more effectively represents the best insurance for our future.

However, the real daring in terms of biodiversity will be to adopt an integrated accounting model. This is what the first companies began to do by launching into natural capital accounting, for which the Natural Capital Coalition established the methodological foundations. Designed by several French pioneers, the CARE method extends traditional accounting principles to natural and human capital in order to value them in the income statement of companies in the same way as financial capital. This model, currently being tested by several organizations, is based on the conservation, and if possible the development, of three types of capital (natural, human and financial). It thus seeks to design and promote profits that do not degrade ecosystems.

Far from being reduced to the protection of certain emblematic species, ensuring biodiversity involves the preservation of a web of biotic interactions that we now know are vital for humans and businesses. Becoming aware of your biodiversity footprint in order to reduce it better is the best insurance for our future. It is by tackling this crucial subject head-on that economic players will succeed in initiating a dynamic for the preservation of ecosystems at the level of that already initiated for the climate.

Marie-Claire Daveu is director of sustainable development and international institutional relations for the Kering group, a founding member of the Cercle de Giverny. Romain Mouton is president of the Cercle de Giverny.