Alliance Manchester Business School - AMBS
Article By
Beccy Speight

Beccy Speight

Chief Executive of the RSPB

Turning the Tide

Businesses must better encompass Nature in their decision-making, says Beccy Speight.

The People’s Plan for Nature, a report published following an independent citizens’ assembly process, was released this year.

It delivered a clear public mandate for nature action, calling amongst other things for a Director of Nature to be established on the board of every company.

We’ve seen this work. Faith in Nature kicked this off a couple of years ago by appointing Nature to its board, and just recently House of Hackney followed with a similar appointment.

In recent years we have seen a step change in the number of conversations and initiatives emerging that look at how and why businesses can better encompass nature in their decision-making.

Protect and restore

Businesses around the globe are beginning to look at how they can protect and restore nature, and thereby reduce carbon loss and protect nature. For instance, Triodos Bank is investing in woodland creation and wetland conservation for flood management, while the John Lewis Partnership has released its ‘Plan for Nature’. This is all great news and shows the positive impact businesses can have on nature restoration.

Most of our global economy is wholly or partly dependent on healthy, functioning ecosystems. Nature is fundamental to business — resilient, healthy nature will protect us and our livelihoods from the early effects of climate change. It will protect against flooding and retain water during a drought, regulate extreme temperatures, and directly influence the stability of supply chains and the health and well-being of employees.

From behind a desk it can be hard to recognise where the impacts on nature are. This makes it easy for businesses to feel like they are removed from the crisis.

The challenge

Nature doesn’t always feel tangible. From behind a desk it can be hard to recognise where the impacts on nature are. This makes it easy for businesses to feel like they are removed from the crisis. However, we know this is far from the truth and all sectors — from finance and investment to retail, production and transport, and everything in between — are impacting nature. Every business has a stake in reversing its decline.

One business alone will not succeed in saving nature and won’t be able to turn the tide, but if every business embedded nature in its strategy, we would be on a path to a much better future, for people and planet.

To put the challenge into context, the People’s Plan for Nature highlighted that the UK’s wildlife is continuing to decline and, like most other countries, we have seen significant loss of our plants, animals and fungi over the last 50 years. In the UK, we’ve lost 38 million birds from our skies. As a result of centuries of habitat loss, development and persecution, the UK is already one of the most nature-depleted countries on earth.

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Towards a nature positive economy

These ongoing and increasing trends not only sound alarms for nature and climate but also our economic well-being and that of future generations. But how can the whole system shift towards a nature positive economy?

It is worth first considering what we mean by a nature positive economy. In simple terms it is the system that allocates scarce resources (of land, people, capital and raw materials) in a way that halts nature loss, leads to nature recovery and delivers improvements in economic well-being for all, which goes hand-in-hand with a net zero future.

The bottom line is that we must undertake conservation and restoration to increase the capacity of nature to supply the many services that sustain us. We also need to see concerted action that will change the way our economy operates in order to reduce the demands we place on our natural environment. Put simply, we need to diminish our ecological footprint.

New thinking

This requires new ways of thinking and a new holistic and inclusive way of measuring economic success. At the systemic level, we must reduce our insatiable demand for more goods and services so that it does not exceed earth’s capacity to supply them. At the local level, place-making must be more sustainable and local communities involved in decision-making.

For businesses, every decision should be looked at with nature-tinted glasses, exploring how they impact nature across their operations, bringing their employees, supply chains, customers and competitors with them to find innovative ways to reduce their impacts on the planet.

We are calling on all businesses to set demanding and audacious targets for nature and climate, such as Science-Based Targets for Nature, and engage with initiatives like the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD).

As David Thomas, CEO of housebuilder Barratts Developments, recently said in the Save Our Wild Isles business films: "Nature and business can co-exist, and nature and business must co-exist."

I couldn’t agree more. The solutions are out there and more innovative ideas are emerging from businesses every day. It’s an exciting place to be, but only if we are all part of the solution together.

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