Last reviewed 2 August 2022

We urgently need to find ways to value nature. Laura King considers how to capture the willingness of employees in the implementation of biodiversity strategies.

Last month, the  Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) provided further evidence to back the claim of the 2021 Dasgupta Review that the planet is being put at “extreme risk” from the failure of our economic systems to take account of the true value of nature. IPBES — nature’s equivalent of the IPCC — reported that the current market system, with its focus on short-term profits, has contributed to the nature and climate crises we find ourselves in, as well as a reduction in the wellbeing of people and communities.

Biodiversity — ie the variety of living species on earth — is a fundamental element of nature. In essence, everyone is dependent on a biodiverse world — including companies, and although the level of dependency will vary across different businesses, all businesses are at risk to some degree. As a result, when asked to identify the top 10 most severe risks over the next 10 years, participants in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022 ranked biodiversity loss in the top three.

Biodiversity in nature is also critical to our wellbeing; something that Covid-19 lockdowns brought more starkly into focus. Studies relating to the benefit of nature on human health are numerous, but UK-based studies are now showing that we are also actively appreciative of it.

Why businesses consider biodiversity

As the IPBES report showed, our emotional connection to nature is often not considered in company-level decision-making, with business considerations around biodiversity often focused on financial and reputational implications such as:

  • mitigating against pollution control

  • securing a social “licence to operate”, especially when working in local communities

  • for reporting and disclosure purposes

  • satisfying environmental investment criteria or environmentally-conscientious shareholders.

However, for any company strategy to be effective it relies on key factors to implement it: namely, employees. Here, the importance of nature to our wellbeing should make implementation easy. Although, the lack of actual business transformation on the issue indicates that this is not the case.

Employees at the heart

Part of the issue is undoubtedly a lack of drive at the top of the organisation to implement the measures needed. Although, there are some exceptions, companies with transformative policies are still the exception rather than the rule.

However, where the “why” is understood, a strategy still needs everyone in the organisation — from top to bottom — to be on board. Here, although we may intrinsically value nature, this connection can be hard to transfer into a work environment of performance targets and tacit norms and expectations. Sadly, we all intuitively know the decisions made at work are not necessarily in line with our own beliefs. Instead, people will generally work in accordance with what their manager expects of them and the values that are commonplace within the organisation.

For others who are less concerned about the natural world, there may well be a disconnect and a lack of understanding of why change is important. Biodiversity by its very nature is complex, and so unclear explanations or expectations of what needs to be protected and why can also lead to poor practice.

In both cases, limited corporate commitment, insufficient resources, lack of leadership and a focus purely on policy will exacerbate behaviours.

In reality, for most organisations, embedding biodiversity into the day-to-day will take a number of steps.

  • Building awareness of the “why”.

  • Gaining support for what is being done.

  • Driving change.

Tools for engaging staff with biodiversity

Many organisations will already be doing some work towards raising awareness of biodiversity. For example, biodiversity courses are increasing in popularity and corporate volunteering days will often involve working with nature charities or on local environmental initiatives.

To start to build more awareness, additional tools might include the following.

  • Using internal communication to improve the visibility of the organisation’s commitment.

  • Including biodiversity in any on-boarding training.

  • Organising events and other activities that have biodiversity as their focus. Examples could include World Environment Day (5 June) or the International Day for Biological Biodiversity (22 May).

All of the above will help raise awareness of why biodiversity matters in the context of the business. Further actions to entrench biodiversity-promoting behaviours could include the following.

  • Having someone at the highest level in the organisation responsible for biodiversity commitments — this will ensure that the strategy is supported and pushed forward at board level.

  • Using biodiversity champions to build a network of support across different business units. This will help encourage action at the grassroots level and enable different areas to engage with biodiversity at a level that is relevant to their day-to-day activities. Removing the “ownership” of biodiversity from the core sustainability team can also mean that any actions undertaken are better supported and more relevant.

  • Building biodiversity into individual performance targets and reviews.

  • Making biodiversity a topic for discussion at team meetings — for example, alongside health and safety issues, can environmental or ecological management also be discussed?

  • Offering advanced training. For example, rather than simply providing training in pollution prevention, can training go one step further to include enhancing operations for the environment?

  • Empowering staff to make better decisions. For example, through development training specifically designed to support staff in creating and implementing different processes or ideas.

Targeted communication

It’s also important to note that any communication needs to be tailored to the target audience. For example:

  • a company director might be more interested in how biodiversity can build reputation, develop company goals or secure funding

  • operational staff may be more sensitive to global issues and problems, as well as what is happening at a local level within their own communities.

Summary

  • Biodiversity is critical to business and also holds a huge amount of value to individuals.

  • We do not necessarily act on our beliefs when at work, especially if there are tacit code of conduct in place. Others will not necessarily appreciate the importance of biodiversity and so may not know what needs to be done to protect it.

  • Showing employees that biodiversity is important to business will need to go through several stages, from raising awareness, to driving change. There are a number of tools that businesses can use, such as building biodiversity into performance reviews or setting up biodiversity networks within the organisation.