In the food sector, biodiversity discussion often focuses on the agricultural sector. This is reasonable since around half of the world's habitable land area is used for agriculture1. Halting biodiversity loss requires changes in the entire food system, through a switch from animal proteins to vegetal, products issued from agroecological practices, and reduced food waste all along the value chain. In such a way, biodiversity actions can be realized, pressures on nature will gradually decrease and measures to regenerate nature will increase.

Regarding sustainability, the focus in corporations currently seems to be strongly on emission reduction targets. However, the topics around biodiversity are increasingly emerging and regulative development, such as the new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) in the EU, have contributed to intensifying the discussion around biodiversity.

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity refers to the diversity within species, between species, and the diversity of habitats on Earth. Natural capital comprises natural assets such as soil, minerals, water, air, and living organisms. All companies are dependent on natural capital in some way. Businesses have impacts on biodiversity, and on the other hand, the loss of biodiversity affects companies operating environment such as supply chain and sourcing of resources.

How can biodiversity be practically addressed, regardless of a company’s position in the food sector value chain?

The food sector can be viewed at least from the perspectives of primary production, processing, distribution, and consumption. Companies in the food sector have different impacts on biodiversity, and their ability to halt biodiversity loss depends on which part of the value chain they operate in and the type of products they are selling.

Due to the land area required by primary production, primary production has a direct impact on biodiversity. For this reason, concrete measures that take biodiversity into account, such as the introduction of sustainable and restorative farming practices, are the most important ones for the upstream value chain. For companies operating in food processing or for example retail, hotel, and restaurant sectors, the impacts of their own operations on biodiversity may not be as visible. However, it is important for companies in all parts of the value chain to recognize their own dependence on natural capital: what raw materials, energy, or other resources do we use and where do they come from? What are the direct impacts of our operations (and upstream value chain) on natural capital? 

Nature conservation is obviously a necessary part of companies' sustainability palette, especially in resource- and land-use-intensive industries. Also, offsetting models can be seen as an interesting method, but their use should come on top of avoidance and reduction actions. Nonetheless, considering the four following aspects —closely linked to the company’s core business — can be useful regardless of which part of the food value chain the company operates in:

1. Measuring Biodiversity Footprint – Recognizing and assessing the most critical biodiversity impacts in own operations and value chain. Footprinting can be done on site, product, or company level depending on relevance for the company. The metrics used can be the different pressures on biodiversity (m² occupied, m² converted, kgCO2eq emitted, kgP-eq released in water, etc.) or aggregated biodiversity metrics such as Mean Species Abundance, that combine pressures into potential impacts on biodiversity in terms of losses of ecosystem integrity. Such results could serve as a basis for designing a strategy and action plan to set reduction targets.

2. Nature-positive Strategy & Business Development – Once a company has identified the biodiversity impacts, it can focus on developing strategies that can contribute to the overarching international goal of nature positive future by 2050. The key question is: what are the main negative impacts that we have to reduce, through which strategy, and what kind of changes, development, and partners are required? What are the positive impacts through conservation or restoration action that we can support? 

3. Finding the value network – Gaining the value chain understanding and developing cooperation in a value network can facilitate the identification and addressing of key biodiversity impacts as well as further promote the scaling of actions and solutions.

4. Seeing biodiversity as the overarching link to all sustainability topics – Biodiversity might seem like a complex topic overall. Therefore, it can be beneficial to take a holistic review of the “sustainability approach”, allowing to identify synergies and trade-offs among actions answering different sustainability challenges. For example, circular economy solutions and emissions reduction measures are strongly linked to biodiversity.

I Care by BearingPoint offers services for biodiversity footprint calculation with various tools (Corporate Biodiversity Footprint, Global Biodiversity Score, Product or Site Biodiversity Footprint) and helps companies design strategies and action plans to work towards a nature-positive future, answering the recommendations of SBTN and TNFD, but also supporting companies in the regulatory CSRD effort. We at BearingPoint aim to support the needs of organizations in assessing and minimizing biodiversity impacts and together develop successful business models to support the achievement of biodiversity and sustainability targets. BearingPoint is also experienced in value network projects that help to identify relevant partnerships and cooperation models to accelerate change. 

 

1)According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO)

Authors:

Kaisa Manninen
Manager, Sustainable Business
BearingPoint Finland

Eliette Verdier
Biodiversity Project Leader
I Care by BearingPoint

Disa Laine
Senior Business Consultant, Sustainable Business
BearingPoint Finland