Beyond office plants – how every business has a direct link to nature
Biodiversity is the foundation of our society and economies; it underpins everything that we do. Biodiversity is the variety of life on our planet, including genetic diversity within species. It is essential to ensure that ecosystems can function and provide services, much like how diverse revenue sources provide a business with security in the face of economic challenges.
The four types of ecosystem services and their benefits (image source: Nature Positive)
Ecosystem services are fundamental to individuals and for the viability of every business. When you think about the impacts your business has on biodiversity, it is easy to focus on the green spaces around your site or even office plants. Although these do bring benefits, such as improved air quality and employee well-being, it is just the beginning of the links between biodiversity and business.
Everything we use in business comes from nature. Even the mass-manufactured office chair you might be sitting on has been made using natural resources: oil extracted from the ground is refined into the polymers used in the hard plastic base and nylon mesh backing. We all have some impact on the planet through this reliance on nature and the overuse of resources like oil and water.
It is easier to see our direct impacts, like the land we use, or the pollution released by our operations. However, dependencies and impacts can be hidden either upstream in our supply chain or downstream in the use or disposal of products and packaging.
In upstream operations, sourcing raw materials from the natural world for the manufacture of products or services can cause habitat change, degradation and destruction, so it is a key driver of biodiversity loss. This is very visible to a mining company but less so to a business that uses metal components or minerals in its products or processes. For another example, nitrogen fertilisers used in agricultural supply chains can contaminate land and rivers through nutrient run-off, which kills species and damages ecosystems. This is perhaps obvious to the farmer growing the cotton, but less so to the company purchasing cotton-based personal protective equipment for its workforce.
The transportation of materials to manufacturing sites relies on fossil fuels that contribute to climate change: a driver of biodiversity loss. The processing and manufacturing of products are often dependent on the provision of ecosystem services, such as fresh water and sources of energy.
We often do not consider business impacts on biodiversity as they do not occur where we can see them (image source: Dion Beetson on Unsplash)
As businesses are disconnected from the full scale of their impacts, it is easy for them to contribute to the unsustainable overexploitation of natural resources. The Dasgupta review highlighted that demands from businesses exceed the resources that ecosystems can provide. While most natural resources will recover if given the chance, current rates of consumption prevent this.
This unsustainable use of natural resources will threaten the resilience of your supply chain by depleting resource pools, which will also increase the cost of the resources as they become scarcer, jeopardising future growth.
Even after a consumer buys a product or service, there are downstream biodiversity impacts to consider. Products that are neither durable nor biodegradable or recyclable will contribute to increasing amounts of waste alongside chemical and plastic (later, microplastic) pollution, which harms species and undermines an ecosystem’s stability. Businesses that fail to incorporate biodiversity fully into their supply chains or fuel unsustainable consumption may find they threaten the ecosystem services they rely on for economic survival.
Downstream supply chains often involve shipping, which relies on fossil fuels (image source: CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash)
Consumer demands and expectations are ever-changing. People are increasingly aware of the importance of biodiversity and have begun to demand products that are more biodiversity-friendly. Ignoring these demands risks damaging business reputation and losing consumers, investors and profit.
Biodiversity is fundamental to businesses. It links to almost everything, from staff well-being through office plants and green spaces to the impact of your value chain and the end life of your product. These connections must be recognised and considered in every action that businesses take, or they risk shortages, rising prices and future reputational damage.
Businesses have the power to cause a lot of harm to biodiversity and ecosystems, but equally, they have the power to do a lot of good. You might think of them as the anti-heroes, providing us with goods and services but with a cost to biodiversity and functioning ecosystem services. However, they have the potential to take action to preserve and enhance biodiversity to create real and meaningful change.
Businesses can become heroes by tackling biodiversity loss and saving the planet while also de-risking their supply chains and securing a more sustainable and nature-positive future.
Do you need help in untangling your business’s impacts and dependencies on biodiversity?
Discover how Nature Positive, a specialist management consultancy, can help you to understand and address your impacts on biodiversity and leave a positive environmental legacy.
Our services include
- biodiversity footprinting, baseline assessments and due diligence and screening
- developing sustainability strategies
- biodiversity supply chain risk assessments
- practical mitigation, compensation and offsetting.
It is important to consider biodiversity beyond the obvious (image source: Annie Spratt on Unsplash)