Better together: collaborating for biodiversity and business

What would you think if I told you that conservation is rarely about managing wildlife, but almost always about understanding and managing people?

This might seem an exaggeration, but let’s think about a theme that’s gaining momentum worldwide: business and biodiversity. This evolving discipline brings together conservationists, businesses and the influencers of business (such as governments and financial institutions) to help the private sector protect biodiversity.

Now let’s imagine the profiles of a few people. First, take Scott – a mine manager for a mid-sized, UK-based mining company, who has worked his way up to his current position over the past eight years. Scott spends his weekends hiking and camping outdoors with his kids, which makes him acutely aware of the impacts his company has on nature in other parts of the world, as well as the potential to do things differently. But his company is riding a wave of fluctuating oil prices that batter its bottom line, and Scott himself is conscious that his ideas, if not well received, could jeopardise his chances of promotion.

Sustainability is just one of many issues that mine managers must consider. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.
Sustainability is just one of many issues that mine managers must consider. Credit: Pippa Howard/FFI.

Next, imagine Ana, who manages – or rather managed – a long-term partnership between an environmental charity and a giant in the extractives industry. For six years the partnership had worked successfully to mitigate the environmental impacts of several major mine operations in Brazil and the business was beginning to recognise the reputational benefits of doing so. But a recent shift in management meant that her key contacts in the company were replaced by leadership that did not view sustainability as a priority, putting Ana’s good work indefinitely on hold.

Biodiversity may not be an important concern for employees who face demanding working conditions. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI.
Biodiversity may not be an important concern for employees who face demanding working conditions. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI.

These are two of thousands of possible profiles. What’s clear is that behind any conservation success or failure is a story involving people. A story of misplaced government priorities, of an environmental consultancy struggling to manage a relationship with a profit-driven mining company, of a local NGO that lacks the know-how or resources to effectively guide businesses on best practice environmental management, or of a local community that stood up for its land rights to protect its forests against oil exploration.

Community-based organisations have different strengths and face very different challenges than international NGOs. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI.
Community-based organisations have different strengths and face very different challenges than international NGOs. Credit: Juan Pablo Moreiras/FFI.

As much as we need to ask scientific, technical questions to protect biodiversity, we also have to ask things like: what motivates a mining company’s environmental team? What makes a government tick? What drives industry to make better choices?

Conservation solutions are fundamentally about understanding, managing and supporting people, so it follows that the more people we involve, the better our chances of success.

An excellent example is the emerging global ‘community of practice’ focused on business and biodiversity. Here, practitioners in the business and biodiversity niche will put their heads together to share solutions, generate tools and methodologies, and combine technical expertise and geographic experience.

The community of practice will provide a platform for business and biodiversity practitioners to share experience from different countries and regions. Credit: Evan Bowen Jones/FFI.
The community of practice will provide a platform for business and biodiversity practitioners to share experience from different countries and regions. Credit: Evan Bowen Jones/FFI.

Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and other like-minded conservation NGOs worldwide have developed – or are currently developing – programmes that focus on working with the private sector to bring about positive change for biodiversity.

What makes this approach to sustainable development so promising is that instead of designing projects that only focus on a single sector or issue (for example a specific species or habitat), we are tackling the cross-sectoral challenges that conservation demands. This approach considers not just the fundamentals of ecology, but also human rights and needs, and the governance required to enable and empower those who depend on biodiversity.

The community of practice aims not only to conserve biodiversity, but to benefit the communities and businesses that depend on it. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.
The community of practice aims not only to conserve biodiversity, but to benefit the communities and businesses that depend on it. Credit: Jeremy Holden/FFI.

Bringing together a broad mix of professionals will provide members of this community of practice with access to an incredible wealth of technical know-how and experience far beyond what we have as individual organisations. This pooling of resources will allow us to drive best practice, and to fast-track it in areas of high biodiversity. As a group, we also have the potential to increase the ability of partner organisations and stakeholders to implement business and biodiversity initiatives.

It’s not an easy task to re-think our individual approaches to biodiversity conservation, but with a lot of collaboration, transparency and the conviction to stand by our principles, we have the tools needed to create better outcomes for all.

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