There is no net-zero without nature, and organisations need to shift their thinking rapidly towards including nature and biodiversity in their strategic planning, reporting and target setting…
Over the last few years, nature-related risks and our impact on biodiversity have become of increasing concern to governments, legislators, organisations, and citizens. The human race’s reliance on ecosystem services for food and water is paramount to our survival and ability to thrive. Nature loss is a significant threat to businesses as well, not just those that physically rely on ecosystem services for their operations (such as agriculture and mining) but to all businesses in the form of regulatory, financial, and reputational risks arising from societal concern.
Climate change poses a catastrophic threat to these services through its impacts; prolonged draughts, flooding, intense heat stress and wildfires all result in significant changes to an area, meaning local flora, fauna and wildlife are no longer able to survive under the new conditions. In addition, the drivers of climate change; deforestation, soil degradation, land use changes and exploitation of resources contribute to habitat fragmentation and biodiversity loss. According to the World Wildlife Fund and Zoological Society London’s Living Planet Index, wildlife populations across the globe have plunged by an average of 69% over a 48-year period (1970-2018)1. This is a significant loss that will take a concerted effort from all stakeholders to rectify.
Whilst there are significant catastrophic risks related to climate change and nature loss, there are also opportunities that can arise from investing in nature positive solutions.
Emergence of Nature-related Frameworks, Initiatives, Disclosures and Legislation
Many organisations have taken action on climate change, whether driven by legislative reporting requirements, shareholder expectations, or a genuine desire to do the right thing. A number of frameworks, initiatives and disclosure mechanisms now exist to support organisations to take action, such as the Taskforce for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) and CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project). These have historically been focused on understanding climate-related risks to a business, quantifying their carbon emissions, and supporting with setting valid carbon reduction targets to meet net-zero commitments. However, there has been a strong effort to expand their remit to incorporate biodiversity and nature-related impacts, resulting in the establishment of:
Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosure (TNFD) – a risk management and disclosure framework, following the TCFD model, that supports organisations to report and act on nature-related risks and opportunities. Just like TCFD, organisations are encouraged to disclose against the four pillars of governance, strategy, risk management, and metrics and targets, but with a focus on nature-related dependencies, impacts, risks and opportunities.
Science Based Targets for Nature (SBTN) – SBTN launched in June 2023 and aims to support organisations to respond to societal concerns and set targets that halt biodiversity loss whilst also improving businesses performance. SBTN covers five aspects of nature: freshwater, land, biodiversity, ocean, and climate (though climate is covered under SBTi).
CDP Biodiversity and Plastics Questionnaire – in 2022, CDP introduced a biodiversity question set into their Climate Change questionnaire. The questions were designed to understand the level of board oversight on nature in an organisation, whether they have made any public commitments or endorsements and whether they are reported on, assessments of impacts on biodiversity across value chains, and whether any indices are used for monitoring and tracking these impacts. In its first year, 87% of participants responded to the questions with over half having actually taken action on biodiversity2. Following this success, CDP has launched a subset of questions around plastics into the 2023 Water questionnaire. This is aimed at understanding how an organisation contributes to the plastic pollution crisis. The questionnaire will also highlight the financial, commercial, legal and reputational impacts, risks and opportunities an organisation faces due to their contribution to plastic pollution. This understanding will help drive the transformational change required to address the crisis and stop plastics polluting our waterways.
Government legislation has also evolved, with the UK government now stipulating that all planning applications must achieve a minimum Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) of 10%. This means for every development requiring planning permission, there must be a provision to increase the level of biodiversity in that area by at least 10%. This seems achievable for projects based in rural areas where there is a baseline level of biodiversity to measure against, however in city centres this appears to be more difficult and possibly even less worthwhile. This is not necessarily the case though, as there will be wildlife populations in the tree lined streets and even under paving, so the focus will be on how these areas can be improved to encourage this wildlife to flourish. Green roofs and walls, parks and street tree planting will be key for increasing populations of insects and wildlife in city centre locations.
Alongside the emergence of frameworks for nature, new tools and solutions aimed at assessing biodiversity risk have been developed. One such tool is the WWF’s Risk Filter Suite, which allows organisations to assess their water and biodiversity risk in order to inform business strategies, target setting and investment decisions. This will strengthen a business’ resilience as well as prevent further biodiversity loss from inaction. The tool uses industry specific information and location data to calculate an organisation’s impact on biodiversity and water, with outputs including risk maps and country profiles.
Action the Real Estate Industry can take
Real estate industry stakeholders can and should take action to understand and reduce their impact on biodiversity and nature. The BNG requirement is a first step for development projects, however going beyond mandatory legal requirements is key to halting, and even reversing, biodiversity loss. For projects not captured under this legislation, following the BNG guidelines to improve biodiversity would be a beneficial nature-positive action that demonstrates a commitment to avoiding the further loss of essential biodiversity. At the corporate level, incorporating the nature-related frameworks, disclosures and initiatives discussed above into an organisation’s strategy and reporting will be key to understanding nature-related impacts. Conducting risk assessments for nature will enable businesses to understand how they are impacting biodiversity, what they can do to minimise negative impacts, and how they can enhance positive ones.
Once an organisation understands their impact on biodiversity and establishes metrics and targets to reduce this impact, they next need to look at the solutions that will help them achieve this. Nature – Based Solutions (NBS) involve working with nature to address societal challenges, thus providing benefits for both human wellbeing and biodiversity. There are a number of NBS that real estate organisations can utilise in order to meet their targets:
Sustainable Urban Drainage – solutions designed to manage flow of stormwater during heavy precipitation events. SUDs can be installed in development or regeneration projects.
Green Roofs or Walls – vegetation grown on roofs or the side of buildings, can be added to existing infrastructure.
Urban Parks and Green Spaces – repurposing urban space to create parks and green space for public use, which creates purpose for underutilised land.
Street Trees – planting of native or climate resilient trees along streets.
Wetland Creation – larger scale initiative which reclaims land as a wetland in order to filter and store water, manage water levels in flood prone areas and sequester carbon which all in turn creates habitats to support local wildlife populations
NBS have many co-benefits in terms of also responding to climate change, for example SUDs will help mitigate impacts of flooding which is likely to increase in frequency and severity with a warming climate, green roofs will help lower temperatures of buildings and surrounding areas during heatwaves, and trees will help to capture carbon. Co-benefits are not only climate change related but also benefit human health and wellbeing, with trees helping to reduce atmospheric pollution, provide shelter on hot days and improve mental health and wellbeing.
Occupiers of corporate real estate also have a role to play in supporting the industry’s action on biodiversity, with collaborative approaches to nature-positive initiatives and establishing mutual landlord & occupier goals to limit biodiversity loss at the site level presenting great opportunities to make a collective impact.
Call to action
As this article is being written, early hosepipe bans are being implemented across the southeast of England due to water stress from prolonged drought and high temperatures. This has led to an immense demand on our already scarce water resources and highlights the importance of taking action now, as it is desperately needed to prevent further degradation of ecosystem services.
There is no net-zero without nature, and organisations need to shift their thinking rapidly towards including nature and biodiversity in their strategic planning, reporting and target setting. As key custodians of the built environment, corporate real estate owners have a responsibility to consider broader impacts on the natural environment, and the security of its future.