Recently I joined the Ideas to Impact programat the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. This program was an enterprise skills initiative offered to four postdoctoral researchers from the University of Oxford, who were welcomed into the executive MBA elective course ‘Strategy & Innovation’ at the business school.
This was an incredible opportunity to be immersed in the business world, and learn about all things strategy and innovation – from the evolution of markets, disruption, ecosystems for innovation, and the architecture of social networks. I’d like to thank the MPLS Division and the Saïd Business School (especially Professor Marc Vantresca) for offering this incredible opportunity, and the executive MBA cohort for welcoming us into their classroom.
On Monday 24 July, Prue Addison and Joe Bull will be hosting a special symposium at ICCB on “Developing the scientific basis that enables businesses to support biodiversity conservation”. The symposium will be run on Monday, from 14.30 – 16.00, in Sala 103.
The fundamental goal of conservation science is to provide the technical understanding and tools that enable humanity to conserve biodiversity. End-users of conservation science include international policymakers, governments, and NGOs. More recently, an important end-user of conservation science has emerged – businesses, an increasing number of which seek to take an active role in biodiversity conservation.
Businesses face serious barriers that prevent them from supporting biodiversity conservation. These barriers are scientific, as much as social and economic, including: establishing metrics for objectively evaluating and reporting on biodiversity performance; methods for comparing performance across multiple scales; and, managing biodiversity in the face of uncertainty. In fact, efforts to conserve biodiversity as part of business operations expose gaps in the scientific basis underlying conservation science more generally.
In this symposium, we will discuss ‘business and biodiversity’ though the lens of topics including ‘no net loss’ conservation mechanisms (e.g. biodiversity offsetting), natural capital accounting, and factoring industry into landscape conservation planning. The symposium will showcase recent developments in the ‘business and biodiversity’ research field, identify critical research gaps, and will provide an opportunity for delegates to join discussions around engaging businesses more meaningfully in applied conservation.
Prue Addison, University of Oxford “Engaging with business to revolutionize biodiversity conservation”
Fabien Quétier, Biotope “Developing robust biodiversity indicators for private sector conservation and natural capital accounting”
Eugenie Regan, The Biodiversity Consultancy “What biodiversity data does business need?”
The Natural Environment Research Council Planet Earth magazine has just been released, and it’s all about biodiversity! This magazine is full of interesting articles about what biodiversity is, and illustrates some current NERC research on biodiversity. It also features some NERC Knowledge Exchange fellowship work, which is helping connect biodiversity research to address businesses challenges. Check out the full magazine hereor the article on Making Clean Growth Happen, which features my work to help multi-national businesses understand and minimise their impacts on biodiversity.
Happy International Day of Biological Diversity! I am a lucky conservation scientist who is working at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science at the University of Oxford. I spend a lot of time working with business and government decision-makers to help them understand and manage environmental impacts, by using conservation science. This is all done with my ultimate aim of helping to balance sustainable development with the conservation of biodiversity.
To celebrate International day of Biological Diversity, I thought I’d highlight some of the amazing ICCS research that focuses on dealing with uncertainty in understanding and managing nature. These are just a few papers from this year that I think are critically relevant to ongoing work to conserve biodiversity:
E.J. and Katriona Shea recently provided a great commentary on how applied ecologists and conservation scientists can and should embrace uncertainty. They used some neat conservation examples from around the world to illustrate some of the common traps that applied ecologists can fall into. These include ignoring uncertainty all together, putting too much faith in their models, and failing to set clear objectives for monitoring and management. To overcome these uncertainty traps they point to a range of practical approaches to help practitioners, such as: using decision theory to frame the purpose of ecological monitoring and management more carefully, using virtual experiments to explore critical uncertainties prior to undertaking monitoring and management, and using a wider suite of models that account for uncertainty.
This paper is really relevant for conservation scientists developing models and helping support conservation decision-making. You can read their paper here.
Mike Burgass: navigating uncertainty in composite indicators
Mike and his co-authors (Ben Halpern, Emily Nicholson, and E.J. Milner-Gulland) undertook a comprehensive review of the use of composite indicators that are used to measure and track environmental systems (just like theOcean Health Index, which is used to measure how healthy our oceans are around the world). They illustrated how uncertainty can creep into composite indicators in many different ways. There is the uncertainty associated with the monitoring data used to inform an indicator value, the construction of composite indicators (aggregating lots of individual indicators), and in post-development in the way that composite indicators are communicated. They provide a suite of solutions to help address uncertainty in composite indicators to ensure they can be used more confidently in environmental management.
This paper is really relevant for conservation scientists developing composite indicators for applied purposes. This is also incredibly relevant to businesses seeking to develop biodiversity metrics, which will often end up being a composite metric of multiple attributes of biodiversity (e.g., combining species and ecosystem information). You can read their paperhere.
In the world of sustainable development, goals like ‘no net loss’ and ‘net gain’ of biodiversity are being set to ensure that biodiversity losses from development are compensated with gains through the application of the mitigation hierarchy. To deal with uncertainty (e.g., in natural systems, and the data and models used to estimate biodiversity gains and losses), multipliers are used in the calculation of biodiversity mitigation measures. The more uncertain the ecological outcome, the greater the multiplier, and thus the greater the mitigation measure should be. In their review paper, Joe, Sam and their colleagueNeils Strange explore the gap that exists between the theory of how multipliers should be used and what the reality is in practice. Multiplier values should theoretically be set at the tens or hundreds when considering ecological uncertainties. But multipliers used in offset and biodiversity policies and projects around the world are often less than ten. Joe and his colleagues recommend that there will be many occasions where larger multipliers should be used in practice, and these relate not only to ecological considerations, but also social, ethical and governance considerations.
This paper is relevant to all businesses considering commitments like ‘no net loss’ and ‘net gain’ of biodiversity, as it explains how uncertainty in natural systems is commonly underestimated. If uncertainty is not addressed systematically by practitioners and businesses implementing biodiversity ‘no net loss’ and ‘net gain’ projects then there will be a substantial undermining of biodiversity conservation efforts globally. You can read their paper here.
Papers cited in this blog:
Bull, J.W., Lloyd, S.P., Strange, N. (2017) Implementation gap between the theory and practice of biodiversity offset multipliers. Conservation Letters, DOI: 10.1111/conl.12335
Burgass, M., Halpern, B., Nicholson, E., Milner-Gulland, E.J. (2017) Exposing and navigating uncertainty in composite indicators. Ecological Indicators, 75, 268-278
Milner-Gulland, E. J. and Shea, K. (2017), Embracing uncertainty in applied ecology. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi:10.1111/1365-2664.12887
I recently wrote a blog on the ICCS research website about early career research & conservation impact. This was inspired by my current work as a NERC Knowledge Exchange fellow, my passion for working in the knowledge exchange space and applying conservation science to achieve real impact. In my blog I point out some handy online resources that will help early career researchers get started on their own pathway to research impact. You can read the full blog here.
Knowledge Exchange – creating a pathway to impact (source: Research Councils UK word cloud of Pathways to Impact)
The answer is yes, but it won’t be as simple as directly applying terrestrial approaches in the ocean…
A new report prepared by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) explores the feasibility of achieving no net loss (NNL) of biodiversity in the ocean. This review suggests that many of the challenges in achieving NNL on land are also very similar in the ocean (e.g., setting appropriate baselines, setting and monitoring appropriate biodiversity metrics).
There are also additional challenges in achieving NNL of marine biodiversity as marine systems are considered more connected and dynamic, and substantial scientific knowledge gaps exist due to a lack of research and monitoring data for many marine ecosystems. This will make it even more challenging to set baselines for some marine ecosystems, and develop effective restoration programs.
A key recommendation from UNEP-WCMC is that there is a strong business case for avoiding negative impacts on marine biodiversity (i.e., emphasising the earliest stage of the mitigation hierarchy in marine development projects more so than what is currently done on land). Therefore NNL of marine biodiversity should not just be about offsets (i.e., the final stage of the mitigation hierarchy). More of UNEP-WCMC’s recommendations can be found on their website.
This report is very timely given two upcoming symposia on marine NNL. Stay tuned to twitter over the next few weeks for updates from these events:
I have recently joined the ICCS team at the University of Oxford as a NERCKnowledge Exchange Fellow. Through Knowledge Exchange @ ICCS, we will bring cutting edge research to industry, to help businesses measure, evaluate and report on corporate biodiversity performance.
From 2016 to 2019 I will be working closely with Knowledge Exchange @ ICCS business partners (BP, Sainsbury’s and Kering) who are currently developing and implementing their own corporate biodiversity strategies. We will be developing pragmatic solutions that incorporate cutting edge conservation research to help to address the challenges that these businesses face in incorporating biodiversity into their business.
Recently I had the unique opportunity to attend the Valuing Nature Business Impact School in London. The school brought together early career scientists and business representatives, who share a common interest in valuing nature both for its’ intrinsic environmental value and to understand its’ benefits to business, government and broader society.
The school was run by the Valuing Nature Programmeand was held in two contrasting venues: in the heart of London’s business district, and in Windsor Great Park. These settings stimulated some great discussion around how scientists and businesses can work together to effectively value nature, through approaches such as estimating ecosystem services, biodiversity and natural capital. There is a great Storify blog that summarises a lively Twitter discussion during the school.
Having recently commenced a NERC knowledge exchange fellowship working with businesses on their corporate biodiversity strategies, the school was a perfect forum for me to learn from other scientists and businesses working in this field. There are so many things I learnt from the Business Impact School, but here are the top four lessons that resonated with me:
1) Why scientists value nature
In his welcoming speech, Michael Winter articulated why scientists should get involved in valuing nature. He summarised the negative response to valuing nature from parts of the scientific and conservation community, who claim that the scientists working in this area have ‘sold out’ to business. But the reality is that businesses and governments are keenly interested in pursuing ways to understand and value nature, and are pushing ahead with this agenda regardless of scientists’ involvement. By acknowledging this reality, scientists have an opportunity to work with business to develop evidence-based, scientifically rigorous approaches to improve the way that nature is valued by businesses. Why should scientists do this? So that we can factor the environment into effective decision-making in the future!
2) Why businesses value nature
As a conservation scientist who has recently begun working with businesses, it’s been a steep learning curve for me to understand what motivates businesses to value nature in the first place. Some interesting perspectives were shared at the school, and with some further reading I feel I’m starting to get my head around these motivations. At the end of the day businesses need to make a profit and a return for their owners/shareholders. So what financial benefits can businesses gain from working with nature? The World Resources Institute outline the financial incentives for businesses to work with nature as:
Operational – investing in environmental initiatives to support more efficient operations.
Regulatory & legal – demonstrating environmental leadership to influence the development of policies & regulations, that could in turn provide ecosystem services that a business relies on.
Reputational – communicate environmental initiatives for differentiation from competitors, and to connect with staff, shareholders, customers and broader society.
Market & product – brand differentiation, by offering eco-labelled products or more sustainable services to reduce environmental impacts.
Financing – gaining access to favorable loan terms from banks who support businesses engaged with positive environmental initiatives.
3) How can scientists work effectively with businesses to value nature?
One thing that struck me during the school is that many scientists are conducting research that could be really beneficial to businesses. But many scientists are yet to connect with specific individuals in businesses to ensure that their science is applied to address business needs. We discussed this briefly at the school, and that a vital initial step is to identify who are the ‘end users’ of your science in order to begin to work with businesses. Often we need to identify the champions within a business, who are passionate about the environment and your science, who can facilitate your research having a real impact in the business world. So how can scientists identify these businesses and individual champions?
Fortunately, Mark Reed and his colleagues have done a lot of research in this area, and have some great tips on the art of knowledge exchange and how to achieve impact in your research. He also has a great online online course available, which guides scientists through designing their research to achieve impact, identifying the end users of research, and recommending ways to engage with these end users.
4) A top tip for communicating with business
Let’s face it, scientists have a pretty special way of communicating, which is full of technical jargon that often only other scientists can understand. Peter Young, the chair of Valuing Nature’s Business Interest Group, gave a very simple piece of advice for scientists wanting to communicate effectively with business: learn the language of business by looking at their websites. Just mirror their language back to them when explaining your science. Simple!
Thanks Valuing Nature Business Impact School!
I’d like to thank the Valuing Nature Programme for organising the Valuing Nature Business Impact School. This program offered fully funded places to 25 PhD and early career scientists, and was a fantastic learning and networking opportunity for all attendees. This was the first year of the school, and I’m sure there will be many great years of the school to come. For those early career scientists keen to join the next Business Impact School, you should join the Valuing Nature Network!