Inequities exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as protests against systemic racism and oppression, have led to a global reckoning on diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, increasing pressure on leaders across sectors to acknowledge and address the disproportionate disadvantages faced by society’s most vulnerable and marginalised.
But at the same time, nature has reached a critical tipping point.
Scientists have raised the alarm on the dangerous decline in global biodiversity, and the threat to vital ecosystem services that the World Economic Forum estimates more than half of the world’s GDP is highly or moderately dependent on, prompting calls for co-ordinated action.
This has led to growing expectations on businesses, especially to adopt more forward-thinking approaches to biodiversity, going beyond managing significant risks to delivering positive impact in the form of restoration.
Fortunately, we are already seeing leading companies adopt bold strategies to nature. Businesses such as Microsoft and Walmart have adopted regenerative approaches, setting bold commitments to protect and restore land and water. For example, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation have committed to help protect, manage or restore at least 50 million acres of land and one million square miles of ocean by 2030.
Many more companies have yet to fully embrace this approach. But with increased stakeholder pressure, as well as emerging tools and frameworks such as the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure and the Science-based Targets for Nature to support businesses, we could see changes in the coming years.
That said, while taking a critical look at their approaches to nature, companies should also consider developing strategies that also advance equity, inclusion and justice.
At the intersection of nature and equity
Whether brought on by climate change, government negligence, poor urban planning or business misdeeds, low-income communities and historically marginalised groups have been disproportionally impacted by the loss of nature, and the livelihood-sustaining or wellbeing-promoting benefits that it provides.
Business in particular has often played a significant role in limiting the ability of disadvantaged groups to benefit from the resources that nature provides. Examples are abundant, from food and beverage corporations coming under fire for depleting natural water resources that underserved communities rely on, to extractive companies receiving criticism for disrupting and polluting ecosystems that sustain livelihoods of the poor.
Recognising the need for equitable and inclusive nature-positive strategies, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity set a 2020 target to ensure that “ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are restored and safeguarded, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable”.
However, along with the UN’s other 2020 Biodiversity goals, this target was not met. But with recent movements for racial justice, which have shed more light on the disparities in access to vital natural resources, we are seeing even more action from governments and civil society.
In the US, there are excellent examples at the local level, with city governments from Oakland to the Kansas City region developing bold climate action plans that centre equity, and have clear provisions to ensure underserved communities benefit from the resiliency provided through nature preservation and restoration. For example, as part of broader efforts to address inequities in natural resource allocation in Oakland, the school district aims to transform asphalt-covered schoolyards into green spaces or “living schoolyards” that could help to improve student health. In the Kansas City region, as part of urban greening efforts, officials hope to limit the effects of urban heat islands, particularly for those living in inefficient or substandard housing.
The role business can play
Forward-thinking companies have already launched initiatives that advance key strategic objectives, while ensuring access to nature and the resources and services it provides.
A great example is Kellogg’s partnership with its supplier Olam Group, on an initiative to support cocoa farmers in Ecuador by promoting greater agrobiodiversity. New fruit and native trees are planted with cocoa seedlings, contributing to greater biodiversity on cocoa plantations, while helping farmers generate new sources of income. This is part of a range of biodiversity programmes that help advance Kellogg’s goal of supporting one million farmers and workers by the end of 2030 (with a clear emphasis on women, smallholders and family farmers), while respecting the natural limits of the planet.
AT&T and Wells Fargo have partnered with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) on initiatives to launch nature conservation and restoration projects in underserved communities throughout the US. Integrating equity and justice into its climate resilience work, AT&T in particular supports the NFWF’s National Coastal Resilience Fund, which has invested in habitat restoration and other nature-based solutions, to minimise the impacts of storms and other naturally occurring events on coastal communities. In 2020, NFWF and Wells Fargo began supporting conservation and resilience projects that aim to build “green infrastructure” (examples include habitat/ecosystem restoration to address poor air quality, urban heat island effect, improving access to green spaces for recreation) in high-need areas such as affordable housing communities and small business districts.
There are other clear ways that corporations across industries can leverage expertise and resources, to deliver nature-positive solutions that advance key strategic goals, while promoting equity, inclusion and justice:
- Develop an understanding of key risks and direct impacts when it comes to nature, and identify potential impacts that this might have on communities along the value chain
- Centre equity and justice in climate change strategies, and consider nature-based solutions that also help build resiliency of underserved populations
- Evaluate and leverage current approaches in other relevant ESG areas, including social impact, supply chain management, or diversity, equity and inclusion, to identify opportunities to advance equitable and inclusive nature-positive solutions
- Engage with and support multi-stakeholder initiatives such as Business for Nature or Science-based Targets for Nature, that provide businesses with resources and guidance on how to act, and measure the impact of those actions
- Leverage political influence to advocate for policies that help reverse nature loss and ensure disadvantaged groups have access to critical natural resources
With leading experts at Corporate Citizenship, part of SLR, we have the experience to help guide companies and other major organisations through developing nature or broader environmental management approaches that cross-cut and drive progress in other ESG areas, such as diversity, equity and inclusion. Please get in touch to learn more about the services we provide.