The Mitigation Hierarchy
The mitigation hierarchy is a framework for businesses to address biodiversity loss to maximise tangible change. It has a prioritised approach to control negative impacts on the environment, which is:
This can be a useful framework to explore the practical actions a business can take to reduce environmental impacts.
Businesses should first avoid harming biodiversity whenever possible. This will require an understanding of how likely their operations or proposed projects are to have negative impacts on biodiversity and whether the location is in, or close to, areas of importance to biodiversity. Potential impacts can be identified before they occur by carrying out high-level screening. This can be done relatively quickly and inexpensively and will provide vital information at the project planning stage, helping you to avoid or minimise any impacts.
Where impacts cannot be avoided completely, measures should be put in place to mitigate any harm to biodiversity. For example, a project’s construction methods or a business’s operations might, if unmitigated, have the potential to create pollution, thus affecting nature on adjacent land or further afield. Businesses should then minimise the damage through eliminating or reducing impacts where they cannot be avoided. This could involve reducing pollution by adopting different working methods or equipment or preventing its spread through the use of products or techniques that capture the pollution, enabling its safe removal.
If, despite all best efforts to avoid or mitigate, the project or operation is predicted to have an impact on biodiversity then rehabilitation and restoration should be planned before that damage occurs and should be implemented at an appropriate stage in the process. Although rehabilitation only aims to restore basic ecosystem functions, restoration strives to achieve a fully operational ecosystem comparable to the original area.
The use of nature-based solutions is growing in popularity as a way of trying to restore degraded or damaged ecosystems and compensating for biodiversity that has been lost or damaged during developments. Nature-based solutions also provide a host of additional benefits, for example, through carbon sequestration, flood alleviation, reducing soil erosion, enhancing water quality and providing wellbeing and recreational benefits for people and reinforcing their relationship with the natural world. Nature-based solutions can be used to achieve no net loss or net-positive biodiversity and can address impacts caused by a company’s direct operational activities or more widely to address the indirect impacts caused by activities that take place within its value chain.
The above three steps encompass all actions a business can take to reduce the impacts of a project or its operations on biodiversity. However, they rarely result in no net biodiversity loss, so additional steps are often required. These steps can be offsets that compensate for the harm caused and enable businesses to achieve a net positive biodiversity outcome.
Owing to the complexity of ecological networks, areas cannot be considered as interchangeable, for example, a biodiversity offset scheme cannot be justified if it threatens an endangered species. Therefore, when businesses are considering offsetting, they should undertake research into the schemes through detailed assessments of the impact on existing biodiversity and visual amenity of the site and take independent advice from an ecologist to confirm if the activity will deliver the required results.
All businesses can become nature positive, but the specific actions undertaken will depend on the business in question. Larger businesses have an increased capacity to drive change but also often have more complex supply chains, inhibiting them from gaining a holistic understanding of the true extent of their impacts. Our Nature Positive team can give expert advice when implementing the mitigation hierarchy. To find out more, please visit our services page.