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We welcomed speakers from a range of organisations - Capitals Coalition, Clinton Devon Estates, Natural England, NFU, One Blue Marble, Spirax-Sarco Engineering, Wessex Water and WWF - to share what nature positivity means for them and their advice on getting started.
Brian McBride, president of the CBI, began by noting the significant focus businesses have had on climate change and net zero in recent years, and suggested that climate and nature should be considered two sides of the same coin. After all, nature can be a primary defence mechanism against the impact of climate change on people, places and businesses.
Similarly, David Willock, head of ESG finance and structuring at Lloyds Banking Group, shared that the environment underpins everything from long-term economic value to the social impact of economic transactions. There is a chance for businesses to collaborate academically and economically to prioritise nature within their strategies.
Brian continued that nature loss presents a material risk to businesses as we currently rely on natural systems for half of our economic output. This shows the need for a resilient, diverse environment that underpins everything from water and food to energy. In his keynote speech, Alan Law, deputy chief executive of Natural England shared that environmental conservation practice is evolving beyond isolated examples to a more holistic approach.
We heard about the myriad benefits of prioritising nature from the speakers. As well as achieving nature-based targets, progressive businesses can benefit from taking a visible lead in their sector. Colin Skellett, CEO of Wessex Water explained how spending on nature can create business opportunities and stressed how important this is to people coming into the business, so it helps with recruitment and retention.
Professor Brett Day from the University of Exeter Business School noted the reputational advantages and increased brand recognition that come from presenting your business as an advocate for the natural environment, and said that organisations should look to invest in nature-based targets to give themselves an edge in their industry.
Within the business and conservation sectors, there are calls for wholesale environmental protection that follows a national standard. During the conference, 69% of the audience voted for the need to have clear and consistent regulations to plan around. Alan noted the importance of applying regulations locally and including them within local development plans. Current ambitions may look positive, but if nature isn’t locked into planning and the decisions businesses make then there will be limited positive results.
While there is often a tendency for businesses to think short-term, Alan highlighted that delaying nature-based strategies will cost businesses more in the long-term. Colin reinforced this through noting the recent droughts in Europe. If progress isn’t made now, businesses will become overwhelmed both financially and logistically.
With businesses in different degrees of readiness to tackle biodiversity loss, Brett highlighted the need for good, strong regulation. He added that now is the time for businesses to prepare or fail.
The role of the government was one of the most consistent themes of the day. Deregulation is often considered an attractive option for businesses, but the panellists said businesses want consistent standards that enable them to plan ahead. Alan added that businesses would benefit from regulation applied in a manner that is flexible, proportionate and responsive.
Similarly, Brett reinforced the need for brave government targets and said businesses must step up and state their need for good regulation. Regulation that allows for innovation is essential to engage more businesses with nature-based targets; one-size here doesn’t fit all.
William Baldwin-Cantello, director of nature-based solutions at WWF, hopes that businesses will engage in consultations to help shape future nature regulation. For example, currently in place is the market-led, science-based Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures framework. This enables companies to integrate nature positivity into their decision making. Progress will only come when companies make the choice to put this first, as regulation can only take us so far.
Read our second article on How nature strategies can work for your business
08 November 2022
Publications 24 NOVEMBER 2022