Advancing corporate biodiversity accountability

Businesses are beginning to recognise that declines in biodiversity associated with their operations can be bad for business. That is, many businesses, indeed even the World Economic Forum, are starting to view biodiversity loss as a risk to business operations – threatening operational productivity, access to finance, regulatory compliance, and  business reputation. A public signal of businesses acknowledging biodiversity as a material risk is when they make commitments to or account for their influence on biodiversity in sustainability reporting.

In a recently published study in Conservation Biology, Dr Joe Bull and Professor E.J. Milner-Gulland and I, undertook an analysis of the current state of corporate biodiversity accountability. To do this we turned to some of the world’s largest companies – the Global Fortune 500, to better understand their global commitments and actions for biodiversity, as published through their sustainability reports. We assessed the sustainability reports of the top 100 of the 2016 Fortune 500 Global companies (hereafter the Fortune 100), to understand what commitments, activities, and biodiversity performance businesses are publicly disclosing.

Our study offers a global snapshot of the biggest corporations around the world, across multiple sectors of business, and revealed some surprising results:

Fig 1

Businesses mentioning & making commitments for biodiversity

Of the top Fortune 100 companies, 86 have publicly available sustainability reports. We found that almost half (49) of the Fortune 100 companies mentioned ‘biodiversity’, ‘nature’, ‘species’, or ‘ecosystem’ in their sustainability reports. This could be as brief as a single mention in the context of other environmental issues (e.g., climate), through to a dedicated biodiversity chapter, with clear biodiversity commitment(s) and disclosure of biodiversity-related activities.

Whilst this figure of 49 is impressive, when we took a closer look at which companies were making commitments that were specific, measurable & time bound, we found that only 5 of the Fortune 100 did so (Walmart, Hewlett Packard, AXA, Nestlé and Carrefour). For example, Walmart’s commitment: “To conserve one acre of wildlife habitat for every acre of land occupied by Walmart U.S. through 2015“. Beyond Walmart’s commitment, none of the remaining Fortune 100 had adopted quantifiable biodiversity commitments (e.g., no net loss or better), unlike the small but rising number of businesses outside of the Fortune 100.

An absence of clearly defined corporate biodiversity commitments means that it is impossible to measure whether businesses are genuinely making progress in relation to managing their impacts and dependencies on biodiversity, and whether they are contributing to international goals to halt the loss of biodiversity. In comparison, there has been much greater adoption of science-based climate commitments made by companies committing to reduce carbon emissions in line with the Paris Agreement within the next decade.

Twenty-four of the 49 companies that mentioned biodiversity made links with the biodiversity-focused Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs 14 & 15). This is far greater than the 6 companies that acknowledged the Convention on Biological Diversity (the international policy instrument for biodiversity). Although not intended as a reporting framework, the SDGs resonate with the private sector and are already clearly being used to frame their sustainability commitments and activities.

Business actions for biodiversity

The Fortune 100 companies that mentioned biodiversity disclosed a diverse range of activities that they are undertaking for biodiversity. Activities included managing or preventing impacts, protecting and restoring biodiversity, monitoring biodiversity, engaging and connecting people with biodiversity, and investing in biodiversity. These activities and areas of disclosure are far greater than the voluntary areas of biodiversity disclosure recommended by the Global Reporting Initiative.

Forty-nine of the Fortune 100 companies disclosed information about their activities qualitatively, involving short case study narratives or general descriptions in sustainability reports. Only 9 companies provided quantitative performance indicators associated with descriptions. We did not find any companies that reported on quantitative outcomes of their activities for biodiversity (e.g., whether ecosystem condition improved, or species abundance increased), making it difficult to assess whether business actions are achieving positive outcomes for nature.

How can we advance corporate biodiversity accountability?

Our assessment of the 2016 Fortune 100 Global companies has revealed that big businesses are taking notice of biodiversity, but the commitments made, activities undertaken and information disclosed about biodiversity in sustainability reports are incredibly variable. There is clearly room for improvement, and in our paper we show how approaches from conservation science can help advance corporate biodiversity accountability.

Conservation scientists have spent decades developing processes and tools to help public sector organisations effectively measure, evaluate & act on biodiversity performance. This science can help advance corporate biodiversity accountability through helping businesses clarify and deepen their commitments to biodiversity, and take action for biodiversity where most urgent attention is needed:

Fig 2Frameworks (like structured decision making and the mitigation hierarchy), and approaches to indicator development (like Essential Biodiversity Variables and systems to measure state, pressure and response) can help the private sector clarify and measure their commitments to biodiversity. Also, scientific studies can help direct corporate action in conservation priority areas by avoiding impacting the most threatened species and ecosystems, and helping conserve the last of the wilderness areas.

What’s next?

This study represents just the beginning of our applied research into corporate biodiversity accountability. Now that we understand how businesses currently treat biodiversity in their public reporting, we can work in a more targeted way with businesses to help them more rapidly advance their corporate biodiversity accountability. Some critical areas we are already beginning to work with business on include developing science-based corporate biodiversity commitments, and robust and relevant quantitative biodiversity indicators for business. With the “biodiversity policy super-year” of 2020 rapidly approaching, we believe that now is the time for conservation scientists to engage with and support businesses to play a critical role in setting the new agenda for a sustainable future for the planet, with biodiversity at its heart.

Boundary spanning at the science–policy interface: the practitioners’ perspectives

What does it mean to work in the science-policy interface? Recently I teamed up with boundary spanners from across the world to share our perspectives of individual, program & organizational boundary spanning, and explore how this is becoming a distinct & emerging practice. You can read about us and our experience of boundary spanning in our open access paper here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11625-018-0550-9

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The “one” biodiversity indicator to rule them all: an impossible quest?

Blog by Prue Addison, Giulia Carbone and Nadine McCormick (originally posted on the IUCN website)

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Many businesses seek to develop biodiversity indicators to inform business decision-making. However, nature is complex, and serious challenges exist to develop indicators that can cut through this complexity and display clear and simple measures of biodiversity through space and time that are relevant to business needs.

Current approaches to developing biodiversity indicators for businesses typically start with questions like “what single indicator should we use for biodiversity,” “how can a biodiversity indicator be made as simple as possible,” or “what ‘off the shelf’ biodiversity indicators could be adopted to meet business needs”. While these are important questions, we believe a better starting point is to understand the business context for developing and using biodiversity indicators.

More fundamental questions that should be asked first are: “how can I demonstrate what I have achieved in relation to my corporate biodiversity goal and objectives,” “what information is needed at different spatial scales to make management decisions,” “what does my audience need to know about my company’s biodiversity performance”? These questions promote a more fundamental understanding of the business context for developing and using biodiversity indicators.

Good practice in the science community suggests that indicators should always have a purpose, to answer a question that should lead to some change in management. It could be that many of the indicators currently in use are therefore redundant, and companies could redirect valuable resources in terms of time and financing to developing and testing more relevant indicators.

Differentiating between purpose, primary audience and spatial scale of assessment, we have currently identified a wide spectrum of applications of biodiversity indicators. For example, the 19 different applications identified so far range from biodiversity screening in pre-development at a site level for internal operations and environmental managers, to reporting on biodiversity performance of investments to external shareholders and lenders. These applications can and should lead to very different biodiversity indicators being developed to meet business needs.

Several IUCN resolutions passed recently by IUCN Members at the 2016 World Conservation Congress frame the approach of this project. In particular, one group of resolutions focus on best practices and tools recommended for business. It includes a specific resolution on Strengthening corporate biodiversity measurement, valuation and reporting that calls on IUCN to “facilitate Members to join forces and collaborate with businesses to develop a common framework and set of principles on how to measure, value and report on biodiversity in order to improve, standardise and promote corporate biodiversity reporting”.

IUCN and Oxford University have a shared interest in bringing the latest thinking from the conservation community and science to business. We have come together to clarify the variety of applications, where biodiversity indicators are currently used by businesses and may be adopted in the future. Biodiversity indicators will not be developed in the initial phase of the project.

Rather, this project seeks to define the spectrum of applications where businesses use biodiversity indicators and clarify the purpose and intended stakeholders behind them. This first step will be used as the foundation for a recommended process to guide companies and conservation organisations in the development of fit-for-purpose biodiversity indicators where gaps have been identified.

Like many working in this area, we believe that indicators should be developed in a robust way, and to be effective, their interpretation should always be simple. On the other hand, the construction of indicators need not be simple, it depends on the complexity of the system you are trying to understand and/or manage.

Indicator construction is the domain of science and we plan to draw on the experience within the IUCN network and at Oxford University. Having spoken to several companies on this already, we know that they are eager to seek the advice of the applied scientists, who have the processes, tools and data to share.

We hope our focus on how to develop relevant indicators as levers of change will make a unique contribution that can add-value to business. We look forward to working with others   over the coming months to frame a process for business that will strengthen their decision making around biodiversity.

About the authors:  Prue Addison is a Postdoctoral Researcher and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science in the UK.  Giulia Carbone is Deputy Director, and Nadine McCormick a Programme Officer, for IUCN’s Business and Biodiversity Programme, based in Switzerland.  

Decision triggers for evidence-based conservation management of natural systems: Research Papers & PhD opportunity!

Many conservation organisations are striving to undertake evidence-based management to help guide effective management of natural systems. This is where the best available evidence, like ecological research or monitoring data, are used to support management decisions. An important feature of evidence-based management is that it can assist conservation practitioners in making often difficult decisions about when to intervene in a system to prevent undesirable changes.

Decision triggers are one approach that can be useful to help link monitoring data with management decisions. Decision triggers represent a point or zone in the status of a monitored variable indicating when management intervention is required to address undesirable ecosystem changes (Figure 1).

Figure 1_final
Figure 1: Decision triggers (horizontal dashed lines) representing a target for management intervention.

In a collaborative project with Dr Kelly de Bie and Dr Carly Cook, we have been exploring with conservation practitioners from Australia and New Zealand how decision triggers could be applied to support evidence-based management of natural systems. Through a series of three papers we explored (Figure 2):

1) The science behind decision triggers, and why conservation scientists are embracing the concept (see our Biological Conservation paper).

2) Conservation practitioners’ perspectives on the current use and potential future application of decision triggers for protected area management (see our Journal of Applied Ecology paper).

3) Guidance for practitioners to integrate decision triggers within existing conservation planning & management frameworks, and recommended tools to help develop decision triggers (see our final paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology).

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Figure 2. Exploring decision triggers for evidence-based management. Summary of 3 papers.

 

Our studies have found that there is support from both researchers and practitioners for the use of decision triggers in the management of natural systems. However, setting meaningful decision triggers for management remains a daunting task.

In our final paper, we draw on the depth of existing management, evaluation and conservation planning frameworks designed to promote adaptive decision-making processes, to illustrate critical stages to integrate evidence in decision-making, and highlight where development and implementation of decision triggers fits in. Importantly, we also identify a range of methods for setting decision triggers that are suitable for different management contexts (ranging from data-rich and data-poor environments, and decisions involving single vs. multiple management objectives).

We believe that decision triggers can be integrated into existing frameworks, and if applied in practice will help fill a critical gap in evidence-based conservation – helping close the loop between monitoring and management action.

To help continue this great collaborative project, we are offering a fully funded PhD scholarship to work with our team and led by Dr Carly Cook at Monash University. The candidate will undertake an innovative project investigating the development of triggers for management action, to guide decisions about when to intervene in the management of threatened species. Please see Carly Cook’s PhD opportunities page for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How conservation science can help progress corporate biodiversity accounting

Many businesses are beginning to account for their impacts and dependencies on nature, through approaches like natural capital accounting. Whilst accounting approaches are well developed for some aspects of natural capital, other critical aspects like biodiversity are yet to be fully accounted in business decision-making.

Many business leaders recognize the importance of accounting for biodiversity, but are currently grappling with how to distill and act on information about complex and dynamic natural systems that interact with all levels of their business. They are facing challenges like how to effectively measure, evaluate and act on biodiversity performance from site- to corporate-level.

The field of conservation science has emerged as a discipline to address one of the greatest environmental challenges – the continued loss of biodiversity around the globe. This field of research is incredibly diverse and includes approaches to help protect, conserve and even trade nature. Across this spectrum of conservation practice, conservation scientists have been particularly effective at developing processes and tools that help governments and NGOs effectively measure, evaluate and act on biodiversity performance.

There are many tools from conservation science toolbox, that can help address the challenges that businesses are grappling with relating to measuring, evaluating and acting on biodiversity performance, such as:

Screen Shot 2017-10-03 at 12.17.56The conservation science that can address business challenges already exists, but remains a largely untapped resource in Business and Biodiversity discussions.

This week I will be attending the EU Business and Biodiversity conference, where I will be talking to participants about the potential for conservation science approaches to address Business and Biodiversity challenges. I’ll be helping facilitate the session on ‘how to set the ambition level’ for businesses, where I’ll be sharing some insights from conservation science that can help businesses begin to think critically about their ambition for minimizing impacts on biodiversity and contribute to global efforts to conserve biodiversity.

To find out more about the conservation science toolbox that can help address the challenges that businesses are grappling with relating to measuring, evaluating and acting on biodiversity performance, read my latest KE@ICCS Brief Science note.

You can also follow the EU Business and Biodiversity conference conversation from afar on Twitter using the hastags: #BBNC17 #EUbiodiversity.

Insights from conservation practitioners on decision triggers for evidence-based management

Many conservation organisations are striving to undertake evidence-based management to help guide effective management of natural systems. This is where the best available evidence, like ecological research or monitoring data, are used to support management decisions. An important feature of evidence-based management is that it can assist conservation practitioners in making often difficult decisions about when to intervene in a system to prevent undesirable changes.

Decision triggers are one approach that can be useful to help link monitoring data with management decisions. Decision triggers represent a point or zone in the status of a monitored variable indicating when management intervention is required to address undesirable ecosystem changes (Figure 1).

Figure 1_final
Figure 1: Decision triggers (horizontal dashed lines) representing a target for management intervention.

Decision triggers have received increasing attention from the scientific community, who have suggested that they facilitate more proactive and transparent management of ecosystems. However, there has been little consideration of whether practitioners in management organisations support the adoption of, or even use of decision triggers in practice.

In a recent paper in the Journal of Applied Ecology, my co-authors (Carly Cook and Kelly de Bie) and I share the perspectives of conservation practitioners from protected area management organisations in Australia and New Zealand, on the progress towards using of decision triggers for protected area management. I presented this research in a webinar hosted by CIEEM and the Journal of Applied Ecology, which you can check out here:

Conservation practitioners perspectives on decision triggers for evidence-based management
CIEEM webinar link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Sh6vfKkq5U&feature=youtu.be

We are currently developing detailed guidance to provide practitioners with a clear understanding of how to integrate decision triggers within their organisations’ frameworks. This approach will be tested through a series of case studies to illustrate how decision triggers can be applied to managing species, ecosystems and threatening processes. If you would like to find out more about our upcoming research, and a PhD opportunity within this research programme, please contact Carly Cook.

“The future of corporate biodiversity accounting and disclosure” at the Conservation Optimism Summit, 10.00–11.30am, 21 April 2017, London

You are invited to join the interactive panel discussion and Q&A session, where panelist will share current ideas and best-practice, and debate the future direction of business’ contribution to the conservation of biodiversity.

Corporate biodiversity session promotion

Please pass on the session flyer to anyone who may be interested.

Session details and full list of panelists can be found here

Please register to attend the summit here

For more information please contact Prue Addison

 

Monitoring, evaluation and reporting symposium at the AMSA conference

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I’m pleased to announce that the monitoring, evaluation and reporting symposium will be running at the Australian Marine Sciences Association conference in July this year.

This symposium is shaping up to be a great forum to share innovative ideas to progress current approaches to monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the health of the marine environment.

Abigail McQuatters-Gollop will be giving an keynote presentation on lessons learnt from the implementation of the latest marine conservation initiative in the European Union – the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. We also have a range of presentations that have been proposed by Australian marine scientists from government agencies, universities and NGOs.

We are now seeking presenters to submit abstracts in order to share their research, management approaches, or innovative ideas for monitoring, evaluation and reporting of the marine environment. We welcome abstracts for either oral presentations or presentation electronic posters (PEPs) to contribute to this symposium. Abstracts are due on Friday 17th April. Please submit your abstract here: http://www.amsaconference.net/presentations/abstracts/.

We ask that presenters focus on sharing current, new or upcoming ideas that are changing MER in the marine environment to support clear and defensible evidence-based management. Please feel free to contact myself, David Collins or Steffan Howe (contact details below) if you’d like to discuss a potential contribution to this symposium.

Below is an outline of the symposium for your information. I look forward to seeing your abstracts roll in through the online system soon!

Symposium S3 “Monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the health of Australia’s marine environment: innovative ideas to progress current approaches”

Symposium overview: Many organisations have the same aim for, but different approaches to, monitoring, evaluation and reporting on Australia’s marine environment. Many organisations also continue to grapple with scientific issues relating to monitoring and evaluating the marine environment and reporting to different audiences. With increasing pressure for organisations to report on the effectiveness of environmental programs and contribute to state-wide and national environmental assessments, it is vital that marine practitioners share their innovative research and ideas in order to progress a national approach to monitoring, evaluation and reporting.

This symposium will provide a national forum to share innovative research that can help progress approaches to monitoring, evaluation and reporting of marine environmental programs. We welcome presentation and e-poster proposals relating to monitoring (e.g., advances in marine monitoring, and indicator development), evaluation (e.g., developing data standards for online databases, setting condition categories, and decision thresholds), and reporting (e.g., advances in report cards, improvements in information accessibly and novel communication strategies for public engagement).

This symposium will involve presentations and a facilitated group discussion to share innovative ideas and develop avenues for future collaboration. The outcomes of the symposium will be published in the AMSA bulletin, and a manuscript on innovations in monitoring, evaluation and reporting on the marine environment.

This symposium builds on sessions from previous AMSA conferences, which have dealt separately with monitoring, evaluation or reporting on the health of the marine environment. This symposium will be the first at an AMSA conference to bring all three interconnected elements together.

Conveynors: Prue Addison (Australian Institute of Marine Science, prue.addison@gmail.com), David Collins (Environment Protection Authority Victoria, David.Collins@epa.vic.gov.au) and Steffan Howe (Parks Victoria, steffan.howe@parks.vic.gov.au).

Please see the AMSA conference website for full details about all of the themes and symposia planned for the AMSA conference.

Are we missing the boat? The current use of long-term monitoring data in marine protected area management

Long-term biological monitoring data are becoming increasingly available to inform conservation efforts internationally. These data are rich sources of scientific evidence that offer insights into the natural variability of ecosystems and species through time, as well revealing information about the effectiveness of conservation efforts. However, there are many occasions where long-term monitoring data, like other forms of scientific evidence, have been of little use to conservation.

My colleagues and I recently explored how long-term biological monitoring data are used to inform Australian marine protected area (MPA) management. We focussed on long-term monitoring programs from Australian MPAs, as these are some of the world’s longest running monitoring programs, significantly contributing to the scientific understanding of the biological effects of MPA protection. These monitoring programs also represent rich data sources that are available to inform MPA management.

We conducted interviews with MPA managers and scientists from Australian management agencies to document a national perspective of how long-term biological monitoring data are used to inform the evaluation and evidence-based management of Australian MPAs. This research generated a wealth of information is now available in our Journal of Environmental Management paper.

Like terrestrial and marine protected area management agencies around the globe, Australian MPA management agencies commonly use management effectiveness evaluation (MEE) to better understand, learn from and improve conservation efforts. MEE is being used to evaluate management effectiveness of many Australian MPAs, however this process is in its’ infancy with evaluation cycles only having occurred in most cases only a couple of times to date.

The management effectiveness evaluation cycle, designed to enable assessment of the complete management process and facilitate evidence-based management.
The management effectiveness evaluation cycle, designed to enable assessment
of the complete management process and facilitate evidence-based management (adapted from Hockings et al. (2006))

Our research revealed that many long-term biological monitoring programs are used to inform qualitative condition assessments of biological indicators (under the “outcomes” stage of a MEE cycle), where most often published monitoring results are interpreted using expert judgment. That is, available quantitative biological monitoring data are not yet used in any formal quantitative condition assessments for MEE.

We found substantial evidence that long-term monitoring data are informing the evidence-based management of MPAs – contrary to the common criticism that conservation management agencies fail to use scientific evidence to inform management. However, MEE is rarely the only mechanism that facilitates this knowledge transfer to management action.

Our research reveals that in Australian MPAs, the first goal of MEE (to enable environmental accountability and reporting) is being achieved, but the second goal of facilitating evidence-based management is not. “Closing the loop” of MEE to ensure evidence-based management remains a challenge for many management agencies around the globe. We provide recommendations to improve the use of long-term monitoring data in MEE for evidence-based management, such as:

  • Ensuring internal MEE frameworks reflect MEE theory, to determine where breaks in the information chain may be preventing the use of monitoring data in evidence-based management.
  • Implementing quantitative condition assessment of long-term monitoring data to ensure more objective, repeatable and transparent use of monitoring data in MEE.
  • Increase the frequency of evaluation to ensure MEE enables evidence-based management.
  • Invest in targeted long-term monitoring to support outcome assessments.

Making decisions for real: How Structured Decision Making can help

I have been involved with researchers from the University of Melbourne in applying decision theory to a range of protected area management issues faced by Parks Victoria (the managers of Victoria’s terrestrial and marine Protected Areas). In particular we use structured decision making (SDM) to guide managers through a decision process. We believe SDM offers a platform to make more robust, transparent and defensible conservation decisions.

Read about how Structured Decision Making is helping Parks Victoria work though current management issues of it’s Protected Areas
Read about how Structured Decision Making is helping Parks Victoria work though current management issues of it’s Protected Areas

As a part of my PhD research I have applied the principles of SDM and scenario planning to help Parks Victoria explore where to set management thresholds for biological indicators within Victoria’s Marine National Parks. My research is ongoing, but you can read more about it and our other SDM research projects in Decision Point.