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Regenerating nature: The future of business success

Regenerating nature: The future of business success
For the last nine years, ICF has run the EU Business and Biodiversity Platform project. It is a forum for dialogue and policy interface to discuss the links between business and biodiversity at EU level—and just one of the drivers behind the rapid acceleration of the Business for Biodiversity movement in Europe. 

The public sector has increased the level of ambition of its policies, realizing that all previous actions have been unable to stop the biodiversity crisis until now.

We have witnessed a great deal of progress in this area. Both public and private actors increasingly recognize the importance of healthy ecosystems for the survival of humanity. Public actors have well understood this for years—while businesses have lagged behind—but until now the means to put the whole of society on track to halt biodiversity loss have been insufficient. The latest EU nature restoration law aiming to set binding biodiversity protection targets for Member States is a perfect illustration of this increased ambition. This is accompanied by a flurry of other regulations seeking to make business actors more accountable, including the EU Taxonomy and the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), which has just been approved by the Council of the European Union.

In recent times, this ambition has been translated into high-level policy declarations such as the EU Green Deal and the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030 and numerous initiatives in the field of biodiversity measurement, valuation, target setting, and external disclosure. The UN Biodiversity Conference starting on 7 December in Montreal, COP15, is expected to mark another milestone in this process with the set-up of a Global Biodiversity Framework, the equivalent of the Paris Agreement for biodiversity.

We’re seeing important evolutions in the field of biodiversity data and biodiversity measurement tools. Not only have we witnessed a rapid increase in the number of biodiversity measurement methodologies to meet the growing demand from business and finance, but also an emergence of initiatives seeking to foster convergence and guide business across these approaches. The Science Based Targets Network (SBTN), the Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), the Commission-funded Align project coupled with regulatory initiatives such as the technical standards on biodiversity under the EU Taxonomy or the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD), are just a few of the examples that are now driving more positive behaviors in business across Europe and globally. At a global level, the EU is strongly advocating for an ambitious post-2020 agreement at COP15, but not all parties across the globe are thinking the same. Achieving an ambitious agreement to put biodiversity on a path to recovery will be a definite challenge.

These initiatives show that the public sector is now a key player in shaping future regulations. These are helping business and finance to recognize biodiversity as material within their value chain—and as a key aspect of their overall “license to operate.” Business and financial communities are gradually mobilizing, as there is a recognition that biodiversity should be put on an equal footing with—and fully integrated into other environmental considerations such as climate.

But despite growing momentum and a community that’s evolved, the Business for Biodiversity movement is still a minority within the wider business landscape.

From the minority to the mainstream

The challenge now is how to expand this movement so that it becomes mainstream. Recent progress is still not enough to meet the crisis we face. The negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystem functions seen globally are projected to continue or worsen to 2050 and beyond, based on current trajectories. The latest Living Planet report issued by WWF in October 2022 revealed a devastating 69% drop in wildlife populations on average since 1970.

ICF has a range of propositions to address this challenge, as we prepare for the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15). There, we will be one actor among many that are pushing for progress. We have already signed a call for action asking for an ambitious biodiversity framework, and in October we ran the European Business and Nature Summit, which was hugely successful and engaged all the key stakeholders in this challenge. Now is the moment to build on that momentum—to show pride in what has been achieved and summon the imagination to find new solutions.

Ultimately, the aim is to create a “Paris-like agreement for Biodiversity” for the period from 2020 to 2030. This will be compulsory and will drive the landscape in the future. Currently there is a draft reference under Article 15 pointing to the obligation for business to assess and disclose—in a legally binding manner—how they’re measuring their biodiversity impacts and dependencies. This is supported by more than 330 businesses and financial institutions globally under the #makeitmandatory campaign. While many parties currently see this as a “cost,” inaction on biodiversity will be far worse. This is a potential game changer that will drive action across the board and raise the levels of ambition around how we think about biodiversity and business at a high level.

How do we address this challenge?

A sustainable global future for people and nature is still within reach. But achieving it requires rapid transformative change that must be driven by unprecedented, far-reaching actions. Addressing the challenge successfully requires:

1. Recognizing interconnections between multiple crises

It is essential to consider the climate, biodiversity, and social equity crises together. This means understanding that biodiversity has many interlinkages, both with the social element and of course with climate. Breaking silos will help decomplexify problems—by addressing the synergies between mitigating biodiversity loss and climate change we will find new opportunities to maximize the benefits for people and planet and meet global development goals. COP27 was an example of this in practice: Nature was more visibly on the agenda, along with an acknowledgement of how it can help us achieve climate change targets. One of the reasons we haven't exceeded more than 1.1 degree at this stage is because we have nature as an ally. Seeing nature as an ally for addressing the climate challenge is essential, both from a planetary and global perspective, but also for individuals and companies who want to make progress.

2. Encouraging bold leadership

Bold leadership is essential for biodiversity progress. It will take boldness to be inspired by a new vision—such as “putting the planet before profit”—or take the steps necessary to transform our current economic paradigm into a nature-positive economy that prioritizes environmental and social impacts. Business and finance must break away from the status quo, creating a new vision in which nature is fully integrated and nature-positive business models can thrive. We need leaders who take meaningful action—but leadership can also be inspired by other actors. For example, small businesses have the power to demonstrate to others how to implement certain solutions and should take bold action that may be more challenging for large corporations to emulate because of the way they operate.

During the recent European Business and Nature Summit, we invited small companies based in Brussels to join us, in order to strengthen a Brussels ecosystem that is already making progress and thinking in new ways. You can find out more about these sessions here.

Of course, this bold leadership also requires imagination and vision. Rob Hopkins, the founder of the Transition movement, who also spoke at the summit, made this his key message. He explained that we need to find ways to “cultivate longing” in people for a nature positive future. That requires imagination—but we also need to create the spaces, the places, the practices, and the cooperation (for example through pacts) that make imaginative, positive, and constructive thinking about the future possible. When we can successfully draw imaginative solutions up through society, by involving people and then showing them that things actually change because of their ideas, real progress is possible.

3. Relying on a pragmatic approach that builds on the available frameworks and methods

There are many frameworks that companies can rely on to start moving. Yet they mostly boil down to the commonly agreed framework that most companies have committed to: Assess, Commit, Transform, and Disclose (ACT-D). To assess means to start measuring, in order to understand your relationship with nature. Are you dependent on or impacting it? Next, take stock, start prioritizing, and commit to targets—either to avoid doing things that impact nature, or to commit to science-based timebound targets. Then, it's a process of transformation as you change your processes and models. This is a continuous effort and one that requires striking a difficult balance between being bold and imaginative on one hand, and taking a pragmatic, realistic, and achievable step-by-step approach that makes an impact on the other.

Time to focus on impact, not just compliance

But what does transformational change actually mean? How do we avoid the pitfalls of the efforts to mitigate climate change? Given the urgency, it all comes down to generating rapid impact. While the ACT-D process is important for addressing the damage to biodiversity, we no longer have the luxury of time to try to be perfect in our approach. We need to be effective now. Often, as experts, we like to be precise. We like using data to validate our actions and inform our initiatives. However, to avoid analysis paralysis in the face of a rapidly intensifying challenge, it’s important to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good: Use data to prioritize quick wins and actions that will make an impact in the near term.

We know the drivers of biodiversity, and the driving forces for companies to act. There is top-down pressure on business to act, including a broader set of legislation to reinforce the business case for the integration of biodiversity. The EU has a biodiversity strategy, and with the new nature restoration law, freshly binding targets that will impact actors at the end of the day. The EU Taxonomy has a role to play in helping us speak about which actors can be classified as protecting biodiversity or not. There is the CSRD, and other reporting requirements. Whatever comes out of the UN Biodiversity Conference in Montreal will also add another layer to make this a world-wide objective and level the playing field globally, with a range of private initiatives, coalitions, and the science-based targets for nature providing guidance and frameworks to help companies in their process. But is all this enough to make a genuine difference for biodiversity?

Transformational change requires an emotional process too—one where we cultivate a longing for a better future, and create a space where we can advance to a more desirable, Nature Positive tomorrow. We are making progress by putting the conditions in place but realizing a Nature Positive vision is difficult in practice. It will require everyone to be bold, and to be imaginative. We have the frameworks and the regulations, but now is not the time to try to be perfect, or to simply tick boxes and move on as normal. Instead, we must be positive, optimistic, and focus on long-term impact, not just short-term compliance.

Meet the authors
  1. Yann Verstraeten, Senior Consultant, Sustainable Finance Practice

    Yann is an expert in economics and environmental science and management who helps public and private organizations with low-carbon and biodiverse transitions. View bio

  2. Jerome Kisielewicz, Managing Consultant, Sustainable Finance + ICF Climate Center Senior Fellow

    Jerome leads work in the field of European sustainable and positive impact finance, combining expertise in climate, renewable energy, and biodiversity finance. View bio

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