Thank You to David Clarke and “Inside EPA” For the Recent Interview and Article About Corporations and Biodiversity

April 27, 2020 By Mark Aspelin

Thank you to David Clarke for his April 10, 2020 interview and article that was published on April 20, 2020 in Inside EPA on the topic of Corporations and Biodiversity. Below is a copy of David’s article.

April 20, 2020

Interview

Corporations May Face Pressure To Accelerate Conservation Programs

April 10, 2020

Many corporations have been slow to adopt broad conservation programs despite the potential that such efforts could boost earnings, but that could change as stakeholder pressure rises for faster and more-aggressive ecosystem protection, says a top conservation biologist.

Mark Aspelin, CEO of the Profitable Conservation consulting firm and the author of a book describing how corporate programs could benefit both corporate profits and biodiversity, in an exclusive interview with Environment Next, says companies could increasingly face calls from shareholders and others for more-aggressive steps to protect habitats and biodiversity.

Aspelin says that, depending on their type of business and the scope of operations, companies adversely affect biodiversity in various ways — and can take steps to reduce those impacts. The impact points are frequently framed using the acronym HIPPO: habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, human population, and overharvesting.

Mark Aspelin

Mark Aspelin

Pressure for additional conservation measures may arise as a result of the coronavirus spreading health emergencies across the globe, with the United Nations Environment Program posting a statement, “Coronavirus outbreak highlights need to address threats to ecosystems and wildlife.”

With the exception of human population, companies can impact biodiversity in all of the HIPPO areas, most notably through pollution and habitat destruction, which includes climate change. Mining, forestry, oil and gas development, agriculture, and other sectors all have impacts in these two categories, either directly or in their supply chains.

Other sectors have more industry-specific impacts. Shipping and cruise ships, for example, affect invasive species, such as zebra mussels which were brought into the Great Lakes in the 1980s and now have spread to inland lakes in 28 states. Overharvesting is the product of overfishing, which the Environmental Defense Fund has identified as “the most serious threat to our oceans.”

‘Profitable Conservation’

Aspelin began working with corporations in 1998, and in 2018 published his book, “Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies That Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity.” In some cases, companies see opportunity to earn profit by embracing sustainability as their business brand, such as outdoor clothing company Patagonia, non-toxic cleaning products maker Method, green buildings, green roofs, and similar sectors.

In other cases, companies save money through pollution prevention, “design for the environment” approaches, building retrofits, and green infrastructure. Chemical company Union Carbide Corporation, for example, constructed a 110-acre “tertiary treatment wetlands” in Texas to comply with wastewater treatment standards, at a cost of $1.4 million as opposed to $40 million to construct a “gray infrastructure” treatment plant. Union Carbide is a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company, whose chief sustainability officer Mary Draves in an exclusive interview with Environment Next described the corporation’s diverse sustainability priorities, including the circular economy and climate change.

In a municipal project, New York City bought land or used conservation easements covering over 130,000 acres to save the $10 billion cost of building a massive drinking water filtration plant, plus saving at least $100 million annually in operating costs.

“I hope those kinds of stories will play out on a much larger scale,” Aspelin says in the interview. Companies do engage in profitable conservation, but “it’s not mainstream by any stretch.” Corporate responsiveness “varies a lot,” depending on the issue, he notes. Corporations are “very much on board” when it comes to pollution because “it’s a language they speak already,” with an easily identifiable return on investment (ROI) from efficient production processes or from finding markets for their outputs, as with circular economy approaches.

Although habitat conservation is not yet “top of mind” for companies, Aspelin expects it will become a more widespread concern as stakeholder pressures for corporate sustainability become stronger, such as BlackRock CEO Larry Fink’s declaration in January that “climate risk is investment risk” and sustainability will be the $6.8 trillion asset manager’s “new standard” for investing.

Climate Change

Although habitat destruction and biodiversity do not have the same resonance with corporations as pollution prevention, climate change is now getting a lot of corporate attention, and company climate commitments indirectly provide biodiversity benefits because altered climate affects habitat composition and the distribution of species, Aspelin says.

Corporate responsiveness to climate change pressures “is relatively new,” Aspelin notes. “Back in the day,” when he worked with companies “it was up to us to figure out” the primary environmental impacts associated with the companies’ operations, he says.

With Coca Cola, for example, the main environmental impact issue was water, and climate change was not discussed. Regulatory compliance was a major driver, rather than realizing an ROI from investing in conservation, Aspelin says, noting that he worked with a number of sectors, including petrochemicals, oil and gas, railroads, and tourism.

To build awareness of corporate conservation benefits, Aspelin contributed a series of articles about profitable conservation to the E.O Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, which has embraced naturalist E.O. Wilson’s call for protecting half the Earth’s lands and seas for biodiversity and is pursuing a Half-Earth Project to advance that goal.

For now, state, federal, and international policies remain the most effective approaches to force conservation, including through the Endangered Species Act, wetlands conservation, and other approaches that use a regulatory “stick, not a carrot.” On the incentive side are carrots such as solar rebates for businesses, green roof tax incentives that save cities storm water management costs, and municipal incentives to join in circular economy systems. Corporate zero waste goals are also working as a voluntary approach.

While not yet mainstream, corporate efforts to protect habitats are occurring in some settings, such as in the oil-rich Permian Basin’s Pecos River watershed, in Texas, where the conservation group National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) is touting its work with the Agriculture Department and major oil and gas companies to protect fish, wildlife, and their habitats in the area, suggesting the effort could serve as a model for other industries.

NFWF also works with Walmart on its Acres for America program, under which the retailer has committed to purchasing and preserving one acre of wildlife habitat in the United States for every acre of land the company develops, Aspelin notes. From 2005 to 2015, the program protected more than 1 million acres through 61 projects in 33 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and Walmart and NFWF are now in the midst of a 10-year continuation of the program, which NFWF describes as “one of the most important public-private land conservation partnerships in the United States.” While he commends the Walmart programs, Aspelin says it remains “unusual” for companies.

Emerging Pressures

Among emerging pressures on companies is the fact that conservation is a major issue on the environmental agenda this year. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is circulating a “zero draft” calling for urgent steps to protect 30 percent of all ecosystems and for economic sector reforms to reduce by at least 50 percent business and supply chain negative biodiversity impacts. Aspelin suggests that companies with large natural resource impacts would be the most likely to be affected by CBD commitments.

In addition, according to a March 18, 2020, Scientific American article, “Destroyed Habitat Creates the Perfect Conditions for Coronavirus to Emerge,” a number of researchers now believe that humanity’s destruction of biodiversity “creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases like COVID-19” and a new discipline, planetary health, has emerged “that focuses on the increasingly visible connections among the well-being of humans, other living things, and entire ecosystems.”

From a climate perspective, the pandemic’s resulting economic slowdown has produced huge pollution decreases, Aspelin says, but the focus remains on human health. — David Clarke

Thank You GreenBiz Group!

August 18, 2018 By Mark Aspelin

I wanted to send a quick thank you to the GreenBiz Team for featuring an excerpt from my book, Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies That Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity, in today’s “GreenBiz Reads” column that it publishes each Saturday on www.greenbiz.com.

Here is the book excerpt from GreenBiz:

GreenBiz Reads

Can businesses practice profitable conservation?

Mark Aspelin

Saturday, August 18, 2018 – 12:30am

In this book, I focus on a key idea, which I call “profitable conservation,” mean­ing any action that benefits wildlife, biodiversity and business. A long list of actions may meet that criteria; however, as the late, great, personal development guru Jim Rohn used to say, “There are always a half-dozen things that make 80 percent of the difference” for any area of life. In this book, you’ll learn the half-dozen things that businesses can do that make 80 percent of the difference when it comes to benefiting wildlife, biodiversity and the bottom line.

The “half-dozen things” I selected are based on my work experience as a conservation biologist and corporate environmental manager. I’ve also added some insights from the numerous environmental lectures and conferences that I’ve attended over the years, including target audiences that wore tie-dyed and flannel shirts, animal costumes, camouflage and tailored suits. I feel comfort­able in any of those settings and have learned that each of these perspectives represents a valid and important piece of the conservation puzzle.

While each audience may approach things from a different angle, they’re all interested in knowing the answer to the question, “What can we do to help pro­tect biodiversity and the environment?” However, different audiences will take actions that are aligned with their expertise. For example, government agencies will create incentives and regulations to steer efforts in a direction that helps them move forward with their important conservation work; nonprofit organi­zations create conservation strategies and solicit donations from individuals and businesses to fund their important conservation work; corporate-sustainability managers develop a business case and pitch it to senior management to get approval and funding to move forward with their important conservation work.

This book will tackle, head-on, the big question with which corporate man­agers all over the world typically struggle: “What environmental investments are worth pursuing for my organization?”

Of course, the answer to this question is the ever-popular, “It depends.”

The answer depends on a variety of factors including company strategy, pressure from customers and competitors, and the regulatory environment. To help you answer this question for your organization, we’ll look at success stories from a variety of corporations and industries and discuss the key factors that you should consider in determining if a strategy is a good fit for your business.

While biodiversity and wildlife conservation may not be a top-of-mind pri­ority for many companies today, it will become more of a concern in the years to come. Biologists are alerting us to the fact that we’re experienc­ing major losses of wildlife habitat and biodiversity throughout the world, and they’re taking steps to minimize the damage. Corporations, on the other hand, are expanding operations and hoping to grow. It’s just a matter of time before the actions of corporations and biologists collide. Corporations will face increas­ing stakeholder scrutiny and pressure to do their part to protect our planet’s biodiversity and wildlife. This is already happening in some industries, and this trend will continue to increase as we witness the extinction of more species.

As a conservation-biology and corporate-sustainability geek, I’m passion­ate about biodiversity conservation and the role of corporations in protecting biodiversity. Corporations play a critical role in biodiversity conservation. After all, corporations own a significant chunk of the land throughout the world, and their operations and purchasing decisions have direct and indirect impacts on our planet’s biodiversity and limited natural resources.

This book attempts to bridge the gap between the efforts of corporations and the efforts of biologists to protect our planet’s wildlife, biodiversity and natural resources. Fortunately, conservation versus profit is not a zero-sum game where the winner takes all. There are many win-win scenarios, which are good for business (reduced costs, reduced risk and increased profits) and good for biodiversity (healthy species, populations and ecosystems).

I’ll provide a clear action plan on what corporations can do to help protect biodiversity and wildlife as well as guidance on how you can implement those strategies in your organization.This book is divided into three parts:

  • In Part 1, we’ll look at the corporate and biol­ogist perspectives on the topic of biodiversity and natural resource management, including a primer on corporate environmental-man­agement strategies to help you better understand how companies manage natural resource and environmental issues. Then, we’ll put on our conservation-biology hat and see how biologists view the topic of biodiversity conservation and discuss the all-important business case for biodiversity and natural resource conservation.
  • In Part 2, we’ll dive into various profit­able-conservation strategies that corporations can choose, which have the potential to benefit business and biodiversity, along with guidance on how to implement these strategies. Each chapter will close with a list of action items to help you identify your best course of action for that topic.
  • In Part 3, we’ll walk through four case studies that feature businesses from a variety of industries. This will give you a better idea of how other companies approach and practice biodiversity and wildlife conservation. These companies aren’t perfect, but they provide a good representation of the broad spectrum of profitable-conservation approaches that companies are taking to protect wildlife and biodiversity. Then we’ll close with a call to action that applies to each us, as individuals, regardless of what we do for a living.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’ve written this book in a conversa­tional style, which I hope you’ll find easier and more enjoyable than a traditional textbook. To increase the odds that you’ll finish this book, I’ve also decided to keep it short and to the point. I won’t try to impress you with technical jar­gon, complex theories and academic references. Instead, I’ll provide just enough information to help you identify action steps that make sense for your business along with key points that may help you sell your ideas to senior management. If you walk away with one to three ideas with which you’ll experiment in your organization or your own life, then I’ll consider this book to be a fantastic success.

As someone who’s been in the trenches, implementing corporate-sustain­ability and conservation-biology programs and projects, I’ll stick to what I know best: sharing best practices and ideas on how to develop and implement profit­able-conservation strategies for your organization.

Well, enough of my yacking. Let’s dive into the world of profitable conser­vation.

—————————————————

Thanks again GreenBiz Team!

Mark

New Book Launch! Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies that Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity

July 23, 2018 By Mark Aspelin

After chipping away on it for just under two years, I’m happy to announce that I just published a new book!  It’s called Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies That Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity.

I focus on a key idea that I call “profitable conservation,” meaning any action that benefits wildlife, biodiversity, and business.  A long list of actions may meet that criteria; however, as the late, great, personal development guru Jim Rohn used to say, “There are always a half-dozen things that make 80% of the difference” for any area of life.  In this book, I share the half-dozen things that businesses can do that make 80% of the difference when it comes to benefiting wildlife, biodiversity, and the bottom line.

This book tackles, head-on, the big question with which corporate managers all over the world typically struggle: “What environmental investments are worth pursuing for my organization?”

Of course, the answer to this question is the ever-popular, “It depends.”

The answer depends on a variety of factors including company strategy, pressure from customers and competitors, and the regulatory environment. To help you answer this question for your organization, the book includes success stories from a variety of corporations and industries and discusses the key factors that you should consider in determining if a strategy is a good fit for your business.

While biodiversity and wildlife conservation may not be a top-of-mind priority for many companies today, it will become more and more of a concern in the years to come. Biologists are alerting us to the fact that we’re experiencing major losses of wildlife habitat and biodiversity throughout the world, and they’re taking steps to minimize the damage. Corporations, on the other hand, are expanding operations and hoping to grow. It’s just a matter of time before the actions of corporations and biologists collide. Corporations will face increasing stakeholder scrutiny and pressure to do their part to protect our planet’s biodiversity and wildlife. This is already happening in some industries, and this trend will continue to increase as we witness the extinction of more and more species.

Corporations play a critical role in biodiversity conservation. After all, they own a significant chunk of the land throughout the world, and their operations and purchasing decisions have direct and indirect impacts on our planet’s biodiversity and limited natural resources.

Fortunately, conservation versus profit is not a zero-sum game where the winner takes all. There are many win-win scenarios, which are good for business (e.g., reduced costs, reduced risk, and increased profits) and good for biodiversity (e.g., healthy species, populations, and ecosystems).

As someone who’s been in the trenches, implementing corporate-sustainability and conservation-biology programs and projects, I provide a clear action plan on what corporations can do to help protect biodiversity and wildlife as well as guidance on how you can implement those strategies in your organization.

My goal for this book is to have you walk away with a few ideas that you’ll experiment in your organization or your own life – if that happens, then I’ll consider this book to be a fantastic success!

To purchase the book, please click here to be taken to the book page on Amazon.com.

Coming attractions

For our next post, we’ll focus on a topic where having an edge isn’t a good thing: Edge effects, and how it relates to business and biodiversity.

Thanks for reading!

Mark