What are planetary boundaries? Simply put, they are thresholds that, if crossed, can lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic changes in the functioning of ecosystems and the global environment. And according to the
Stockholm Resilience Centre, we're at risk of permanently crossing that invisible line in several areas. Sounds scary, right?
But here's the good news: if we make efforts to adhere to these boundaries, we can maintain the stability and resilience of our planet's life-support systems. And believe it or not, the private sector can play a crucial role in changing our relationship with nature by shifting to a business model that ensures sustainable development within the planetary boundaries of biosphere integrity.
So what does that mean for your company, and how can you be a part of the solution?
Science-based targets for nature
The Science-Based Targets Network (SBTN) is a ground-breaking effort that plays a crucial role in operationalizing these planetary boundaries at the corporate level, helping businesses to align their activities with the biophysical limits of ecosystems. It allows companies to work together to incorporate concepts of thresholds and boundaries into corporate decision-making, which is essential for the long-term sustainability of both your businesses and the planet.
It also offers cities and businesses a comprehensive and practical framework for aligning nature protection with the greatest available scientific data: the
science-based targets for nature. Covering four fundamental realms of nature - freshwater, land, biodiversity and oceans - the framework helps businesses to create quantitative, measurable, and aspirational goals to ensure that corporate activities are sustainable and sync with promoting healthy ecosystems.
Biodiversity action in five steps
The framework consists of
five steps that businesses can take to achieve effective biodiversity stewardship. Though still under development, many organisations are keenly aware of the framework and are already working with the existing guidance of steps 1-3 while taking actions in anticipation of guidance on steps 4-5.
- Assess. To begin, you gather and/or supplement existing data to estimate your value chain-wide impacts and dependencies on nature, resulting in a list of potential 'issue areas' and value chain locations for target setting.
- Interpret & Prioritize. You then interpret the outputs of Step 1, prioritizing key issues and locations to take action. You will consider actions across different 'spheres of infuence'-from your operations, to the landscapes surrounding your value chain(s).
- Measure, Set & Disclose. You then collect baseline data for prioritized targets and locations. Using the data from this and previous steps, you can set targets aligned with Earth's limits and societal sustainability goals and then disclose these publicly.
- Act. Once targets are set, you utilize SBTN's Action Framework (AR 3 T: Avoid, Reduce, Regenerate, Restore, and Transform) to make a plan and begin to address your contributions toward the unsustainable use and loss of naturekey impacts.
- Track. Finally, you monitor progress toward your targets, and report publicly on this progress, and adapt your approach as necessary.
The first step supports companies in identifying and assessing the most common pressures on nature derived in its own sector and across its value chain. In other words, it looks at the impacts and dependencies of the company in relationship with nature.
In the second step, companies identify the areas they can influence and develop an understanding of locations where biodiversity may be at higher risk and where setting their own targets can be more feasible. The feasibility is determined by several variables, such as strategic interest, or a company's relationship with local providers and other stakeholders (e.g. local communities, indigenous people and local authorities).
For the third step, targets are quantified and set. The SBTN puts a strong emphasis on the protection of priority landscapes, like areas of great biodiversity importance or high ecological value. The landscape approach also figures prominently and provides for a collaborative process that integrates policies and practices for multiple lands uses in a given area.
The fourth step is all about action and implementing projects that will generate a positive impact on the ground for local biodiversity.
Finally, the fifth step involves setting up the right processes for monitoring, reporting, and verification so that companies can be sure that projects are kept on track and aligned with targets and reported and verified according to trusted standards.
The Global Biodiversity Framework sets a new standard
At the close of the United Nations Biodiversity Conference in 2022, one hundred and ninety six nations accepted and adopted the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), setting a clear agenda for real biodiversity action.This has highlighted the need to report, disclose, and act on nature-related issues more than ever before. And for businesses, it means that companies wanting to protect the planet's natural resources - and their long-term viability - need to get on board too.
The GBF provides a comprehensive road map for governments, businesses and other stakeholders to collaborate towards a world where people and nature flourish in harmony. By aligning their strategies with the GBF, businesses can ensure that their actions contribute to achieving global conservation objectives while also demonstrating to investors, consumers and other stakeholders that the company is committed to addressing the biodiversity crisis and promoting sustainable development.
Yet more than just hoping that companies realise the benefits of aligning with nature, the GBF will require transnational companies and financial institutions in signatory countries to assess and disclose their environmental risks, impacts, and reliance throughout their operations, supply chains, and portfolios through target 15. Companies that actively pursue this objective will not only help to ensure a sustainable future for all, but will also create positive value for their businesses by reducing risks, enhancing their reputation and creating new market opportunities.
Bringing it all together
Target 15 of the GBF is intrinsically linked with the science-based targets for nature. Both share the ultimate aim of understanding and assessing in order to conserve and restore ecosystems while ensuring the long-term sustainability of businesses and communities. By adopting the science-based targets for nature, companies can already align their corporate strategies with the objectives of target 15.
By aligning their goals with target 15, companies also send a powerful message to investors, consumers, and other stakeholders that they are committed to addressing the biodiversity crisis and promoting sustainable development. Making this commitment plays a strong role in fostering collaboration among stakeholders and helps them to begin to work together towards achieving the goals of the GBF and driving real, lasting change for both businesses and nature.
How to become a leader in driving biodiversity action
While the science-based targets for nature framework is still under review, many companies around the world are and are already driving real biodiversity action and setting an example for others to follow. These pioneering companies have demonstrated their commitment to sustainability and biodiversity conservation by proactively incorporating the emerging framework into their business strategies and decision-making processes.
Early adopters are not only gaining a competitive advantage becoming global biodiversity frontrunners, but also shaping the future development and refinement of the framework. They provide valuable feedback and insights that contribute to the ongoing review process by the SBTN and are taking an active role in ensuring that the final framework is robust, practical and effective in driving real change. These companies are also instrumental in promoting the uptake of SBTN by other businesses, thus fostering a collaborative, industry-wide approach to addressing the biodiversity crisis.
Start taking action today
The science-based targets for nature enable companies to detect and reduce their environmental impacts while ensuring their long-term growth and prosperity. In a time when consumers and stakeholders are more concerned about environmental issues than ever, companies that prioritise sustainability and biodiversity conservation will stand out on the market and acquire a competitive advantage. On top of that, acting now on biodiversity provides companies with the power to lead by example and demonstrate their commitment to a sustainable future while protecting the viability of their business and inspiring others to follow suit.