Businesses must be pioneers of a new development path that is just, equitable and puts people and nature first. Beyond ensuring their own operations are sustainable, businesses are primed to lead on rapid adaptation and the innovative solutions needed to drive change.
01 September 2021 • 4 min read
Photograph: Mohamed Nohassi/Unsplash
Climate change and nature loss are no longer future risks. We are already living in times of unprecedented environmental change that present significant challenges for business.
According to the World Meteorological Organisation, climate, weather or water-related disasters have increased by a factor of five over the last 50 years due to climate change. On average, the world has experienced one disaster every day over this period, killing 115 people every day and causing $202 million in losses. In total that’s more than 11,000 disasters, over 2 million deaths, and $3.64 trillion in losses.
$44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half of the world’s total GDP – is dependent on nature and its services, and could be wiped out if we do not reverse nature loss.
While climate change and nature loss are increasingly becoming material risks for business, there are also unparalleled opportunities for positive change. Through innovation, science and collaboration, partnerships between the private sector and civil society organisations like WWF can help turn things around.
The WWF’s Living Planet Report shows that nature loss is at an all-time high: global population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles have declined on average by 68% since 1970. This should be alarming for business: according to research by the World Economic Forum, $44 trillion of economic value generation – more than half of the world’s total GDP – is dependent on nature and its services, and could be wiped out if we do not reverse nature loss.
Pollination is a prime example of business dependency on nature. Bees, often described as nature’s most essential workers, and other insects, are vital for pollinating about 75% of all crops and contribute at least $235 billion to global food production. However, as most are likely aware, bee populations continue to decline at alarming rates.
California’s almond industry, for example, which produces 80% of the world’s almonds and is worth over $10 billion, risks collapse without a healthy bee population. As a result, farmers in America have been reported to spend $274 million on shipping in bees to pollinate their almond crops.
More broadly, agricultural expansion, deforestation, overfishing, urban development, energy use, mining and pollution are all driving habitat loss, water shortges and climate change. And according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report, nature loss and climate change are the greatest systemic risks to our global economy, and natural disasters caused by human ecosystem disruption and climate change already cost more than $300 billion per year.
Addressing climate change and reversing nature loss should be both an ethical imperative and a business strategy for the corporate sector. Our conventional model of growth and development has pushed nature, and the services that power and sustain us, to the brink.
As business drives much of the global economy, enterprise also has a specific responsibility to ensure that the natural resources and ecosystems that underpin their business are used sustainably. Business is also primed to lead on rapid adaptation and the innovative solutions needed to drive change.
Yet, in our experience at WWF, corporate sustainability can be a complex journey.
Bold, innovative partnerships can help companies accelerate positive change, whether future-proofing operations and supply chains, securing a license to operate, or enhancing brand and reputation.
Businesses [must] look outwards at their supply chains, engaging with peers, competitors, governments and local communities. Working with other resource users, companies can deliver collective action and create shared value.
While companies may adopt one or more different approaches in the pursuit of sustainability and transformation, our experience at WWF has shown that three elements are key.
Sustainability should begin ‘at home’, in the heart of your business operation. Companies can find ways to make their operations and supply chains more efficient through innovation and reducing costs and impacts. The Danish toy company LEGO demonstrates this approach well.
Through participating in WWF Climate Savers between 2013 and 2016, the LEGO Group met or exceeded all its climate targets. This included balancing 100% of energy use with renewable sources through investing 6 billion Danish Krone (almost £690 million) in two offshore wind farms. In addition, the total energy output from investments in renewable energy was greater than the energy used at LEGO factories, offices and stores. The LEGO Group has also invested in research and development of more sustainable materials and improved the energy efficiency of producing LEGO bricks by more than 12%, beating the target of 10%. This was achieved by optimising the production process and investing in newer, more efficient moulding machines used to make LEGO bricks.
This requires businesses to look outwards at their supply chains, engaging with peers, competitors, governments and local communities. Working with other resource users, companies can deliver collective action and create shared value.
Our new and ambitious partnership with the VELUX Group, the world’s leading roof window manufacturer, epitomises this. The company has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in line with climate science and also, through working with WWF, capture its historical emissions – totalling 5.6 million tonnes of CO2 including a 25% buffer – through forest conservation projects. This forms part of the VELUX Group’s Lifetime Carbon Neutral commitment, which the company has set out to achieve by its 100th anniversary in 2041. The climate, forest and biodiversity projects under this partnership will tackle climate change and halt habitat loss, preserving biodiversity and improving local livelihoods around the world.
Through evolving services, promoting sustainable consumption, engaging consumers, and calling for good governance and supportive public policies, companies can drive wider societal change. A strong example of this is WWF’s partnership with Organic Basics, a young and B-Certified Danish company that makes everyday essentials for women and men. In November 2020, off the back of their three-year partnership with WWF supporting regenerative cotton agriculture in Turkey, Organic Basics ran a Black Friday campaign aimed at raising consumer awareness about the impact of conventional cotton farming, and also promoting more sustainable cotton farming. The campaign landed positively with consumers and others in the industry. As a result, several textile companies approached WWF to discuss possible implementation of similar projects around regenerative cotton and starting a movement in Turkey.
The threats facing our planet affect us all. But working together, through collective and concerted effort, we can find solutions and act at a scale that delivers. What is needed are concrete commitments and actions from countries, businesses and individuals to tackle nature loss, climate change, and pursue a new development path that is just, equitable and puts people and nature first. Business is known for being entrepreneurial; now is their chance to be pioneers and truly achieve a triple bottom line.
To read more about WWF’s work with businesses visit panda.org/naturemeansbusiness.
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