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Business & Biodiversity (2/3): Our lessons learned

By February 27, 2019 April 23rd, 2020 No Comments

In our previous message, we shared how Nature^Squared was founded to reverse the trend of global biodiversity loss and how difficult it was to engage the business community. This message will focus on the key lessons learned during our journey around business and biodiversity.

#1 Provide a perspective to act

Whoever wants to start working with biodiversity is faced with complex calculation models and scientific publications, benchmarking, and the complexity of supply chains. We notice that these methods are not very appealing to companies. The methods are too complex and companies dot not feel as if these methods lead to a significant impact on biodiversity. A few front runners, on the other hand, have invested heavily in improving the methodology to measure biodiversity. Yet, also these companies experience that after years of research there is still a lack of manageable and accessible methods that can be easily implemented. How to ensure that we do not wait until we read the next headline with worrying news about the loss of biodiversity? Why can’t we already make a change tomorrow? This led us to believe that we can do things differently.

#2 Talk business

You can only work together when you speak the same language. For Nature^Squared that meant that we needed to understand the world and scope of businesses and to learn their language. Founder Erwin van Woudenberg therefore founded a second company, Sterkur, that produces physiotherapy products that have a positive impact on the planet. ‘’Only after working in the world of purchasing, margins, and supply chains myself did I realise how difficult it is to be profitable and think about the earth at the same time’’. A valuable lesson? Definitely. It meant that we started looking for ways that link impact on biodiversity to business processes and that are easy to implement.

#3 Focus on the land use at the start of the supply chain: agriculture and primary production

In almost all of our projects, we arrived to the same conclusion: the largest impact on plants and animals can be found at the start of the supply chain. There were farmers are farming the ingredients for the end products. From cotton in clothing, palm oil in shampoo to rubber in a stress ball. For the extraction of raw materials and the farming of these crops, rainforests are being cleared, toxic pesticides are being used and the soil becomes depleted. These actions have led to a loss of animal and plant species at a rate that is 1000-10.000 faster than is naturally expected, triggering the loss of valuable ecosystem services that are indispensable for us human beings. By focusing on land use at the start of the chain, it becomes easier to work with biodiversity. Based on the 80/20 principle it allows companies to immediately start making a positive impact.

#4 In farmers we trust

While the greatest impact of products can often be traced back to agriculture, this does not mean that farmers are the villains in this story. Because of the highly efficient, cost-driven chains, farmers have little room for maneuver to contribute to sustainable and long-term goals.

This is the case both in the Netherlands and internationally. This does not mean that we should tell farmers what is good for them. Based on our field visits in e.g. Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Mexico, China, and Indonesia we gained confidence that farmers themselves often know the answers to arrive at more sustainable modes of production. Provided they have the right means. Concretely, this means that we ensure an improved income and invest in personal relations to collaboratively identify areas for improvement.

We have learned from all these lessons and developed a new approach which makes it possible for a company to have a positive impact on biodiversity. Next week we will share this new approach: The Short Circuit Project.