Helping businesses engage in biodiversity and wildlife conservation in ways that are profitable for their business
Welcome to Profitable Conservation! In this blog, I’ll bring business and biodiversity together by sharing best practices in “Profitable Conservation” – a term that I used to describe actions that are profitable from the perspectives of business, biodiversity, and wildlife. I’ll be covering a wide variety of biodiversity-related topics, with a focus on the role that businesses can play in protecting our planet’s wildlife and biodiversity.
Many corporate environmental managers struggle with the question “What environmental investments are worth pursuing for MY organization.” Of course the answer to that question is the ever popular, “it depends.” It depends on a variety of factors such as the company strategy, pressure from customers and competitors, the regulatory environment, and so on. To help you answer that question for your organization, we’ll look at a wide variety of corporations and industries and highlight best practices that have resulted in significant, positive, and quantifiable results for biodiversity, wildlife, and the bottom line.
This blog is intended for a broad audience within the narrow niche. You may be a corporate manager who is responsible for implementing sustainability initiatives, or you may be a member of a non-profit organization, government agency, or academic institution that is interested in partnering with corporations to support your efforts to protect wildlife and biodiversity. The ideas that I’ll share will be useful no matter what side of the fence you’re on. My hope is that you’ll find a few ideas to experiment with in your own organization.
The tension between corporate expansion and biodiversity conservation will become bigger and bigger in the years to come. After all, corporations own a significant chunk of the land throughout the world, their operations and purchasing decisions have a direct impact on our planet’s biodiversity and natural resources, and corporations benefit from many of the services provided, free of charge, by healthy ecosystems. In the meantime, we’re facing the prospect of major losses to biodiversity and wildlife throughout the world. It’s just a matter of time before corporations face significant stakeholder pressure to be do their part to conserve biodiversity and wildlife.
While most companies want to be responsible corporate citizens, they want to do it in ways that will yield positive impacts for society, the environment, AND the bottom line. Corporations typically treat environmental problems as business issues, with the expectation that environmental investments will yield positive returns or reduce risk for the organization. So my goal is to speak the languages of both business and science in my articles, and present the business case for a wide variety of initiatives that benefit business, biodiversity, and wildlife. I’ll do this through the following methods:
- Sharing best practices that companies have implemented in a wide variety of industries and countries to protect wildlife and biodiversity.
- Summarizing the latest scientific research on biodiversity-related topics that are actionable and relevant to corporations.
- Providing company case studies that include details on how the featured company tackles the issue of biodiversity and wildlife conservation, which will include any available return on investment data that are available.
- Conducting interviews with business managers, biodiversity thought-leaders, and conservation professionals from a wide variety of organizations to highlight future trends that you can expect to see in biodiversity and wildlife conservation.
Before we get started, I suppose we should start with a few housekeeping issues. For starters, how do we define the term “biodiversity”, and who the heck is writing this blog?
How we define “Biodiversity”
Biodiversity simply refers to the variety of life in the world or in a specific habitat or ecosystem. The most common unit of measurement for biodiversity is the species, and there are a lot of them. So far we’ve identified over 2 million species on Earth, a number that is conservatively estimated to represent about 20% of all species on our planet. In other words, the Earth really is a little known planet. At the rate we’re going, it’s estimated that we won’t complete the global census of biodiversity until we’re well into the twenty-third century. Of course if we ramp up our efforts, then we may be able to complete the census by the end of this century.
But identifying species is just the beginning. Each species plays a particular role in its habitat, and there are many species interdependencies in any given habitat. Given that we don’t even know 80% of the species on the planet, it’s safe to say that we’re in our infancy when it comes to understanding and mapping the complex species interactions that make up healthy, functioning ecosystems. This is one reason why many conservationists prefer the approach of protecting large chunks of land as preserves, rather than tinker with ecosystem dynamics that we don’t fully understand.
While there may be plenty of disagreement on the best way to manage land, when it comes to identifying the biggest threats to biodiversity on this planet, biologists are generally in agreement. Biologists use the acronym HIPPO to list, in order, the biggest threats to biodiversity:
- Habitat destruction (this includes climate change)
- Invasive species
- Population growth
- Over-harvesting / Over-hunting
The impact that most corporations have on biodiversity is concentrated in the areas of habitat destruction and pollution, although some companies also play a significant role in over-harvesting and invasive species. As for population growth, I don’t think many companies will be touching that hot potato anytime soon so it’s not something that we’ll be covering in this blog.
Putting on our conservation biology hat, the best things that we can do to protect biodiversity on this planet include the following ambitious goals
Goal #1: Set aside about half of the earth’s surface (this includes oceans) as a natural reserve, undisturbed by man, following the guidance of renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson. This would involve protecting large tracts of land in places like the Amazon region, the Congo Basin, and New Guinea, as well as stringing together patches of land in the industrialized world with wildlife corridors and restored habitat, and protecting large amounts of marine waters. As of 2015, every sovereign nation in the world has some kind of protected-area system in place. There are a roughly 161,000 reserves on land and 6,500 reserves over marine waters, representing approximately 15% of the Earth’s land area and 2.8% of the Earth’s ocean area. We have a long way to go, but the protected-area coverage trend is moving in the right direction – it is increasing gradually.
Goal #2: Be good stewards of the land outside of natural reserves. For corporations, this includes goals such as zero carbon emissions, zero waste, 100% renewable energy use, planting/protecting native vegetation, and eliminating invasive species
I told you these goals were ambitious! But they aren’t as far out of reach as you might think. Plus these goals give us a clear vision of our desired destination from a biodiversity perspective. Of course we also have competing social and economic perspectives to consider, but why not strive for the ideal … you like a challenge right? Let’s get busy figuring out how to get there. Some companies are already well on their way, as you’ll see in future posts.
Who is the author of this Blog?
That would be me, Mark Aspelin. I’m the author of a book called “Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies that Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity”. I’ve spent the past 20 years working on a wide variety of projects in the areas of Corporate Sustainability, Conservation Biology, Environmental Planning, IT, Process Improvement, and Business Intelligence & Analytics. This has included work experience in a wide variety of organizations and industries … places like The Coca-Cola Company (Environmental Programs Manager), The Nature Conservancy (Conservation Biologist), The International Crane Foundation (Aviculturist and Conservation Biologist), Intel Corporation (Business Process Reengineering Specialist), Fidelity Investments (Senior Operations Project Manager), KPMG (Consultant – Environmental Management Practice), Sandia National Laboratories (Senior Project Manager – Environmental Planning and International Security), DaVita Medical Group (IT Project Manager), Molina Healthcare (Senior Project Manager), Optum (Senior Program/Project Manager), and environmental consulting work with transportation planning and environmental management consulting firms.
As for my educational background, I have a B.S. in Biology from The University of Notre Dame, M.S. in Biology from Creighton University, and an MBA with concentrations in Natural Resource & Environmental Management and Operations Management from The University of Texas at Austin. I’m also a Certified Project Management Professional (since 2005) and I received certification in Corporate Sustainability Reporting from GRI in 2012.
I’ve also traveled … a lot. So far I’ve been to 100 countries and all 50 U.S. States, many of them on business.
In other words, I’ve been around the block a few times in the world of biodiversity conservation and corporate sustainability and I hope that you’ll find that I have a few ideas and insights that prove to be useful for your own organization.
Whew! Now that we have our introductions out of the way, let’s dive into the world of Profitable Conservation. I think you’ll discover a few surprises and valuable ideas along our journey.
If you have topics that you would like to see me cover in the future, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading!