Businesses need more guidance to protect and restore natural world

The Nature of Business report explores the level of businesses’ understanding and action on biodiversity and nature loss

The majority of UK businesses have plans to address their impact on biodiversity and nature loss, but a lack of guidance and sharing of best practice are barriers to progress, a new report reveals.

The Nature of Business report, published by CBI Economics in collaboration with the University of Exeter, presents the findings of a survey of 345 UK businesses with the aim of exploring their level of understanding and action on biodiversity and nature loss.

The survey, conducted in June this year, featured these key findings:

  • The vast majority of business leaders believe firms do have a role to play in addressing their impact on nature
    • Only 14% said their businesses had no role in supporting nature beyond their legal and regulatory requirements.
  • Four out of five (79%) business leaders saw the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on biodiversity and nature as relevant to their company
    • A clear majority indicated that their firm’s activities could also impact biodiversity through pollution (72%), land-use change (63%) and resource extraction (61%).
  • Plans to address biodiversity impact were reported to be in place among 62% of firms
    • This was more likely in big firms (83%) than SMEs (53%), and only 15% of business leaders said plans were already being implemented.
    • In comparison, 74% of business leaders said their firms had Net Zero carbon emissions plans in place, with 23% saying these plans were already underway.
  • A majority of business leaders (51%) believed achieving Net Zero would play a large role in reversing or slowing biodiversity and nature loss
    • Only 10%, however, believed achieving Net Zero would be sufficient action for reversing or slowing down biodiversity and nature loss.
  • In the boardroom, 71% of business leaders reported that biodiversity and nature plans were discussed
    • However, relatively few (18%) said this made a significant impact on investment decisions.

The report looks to help businesses and other stakeholders identify new solutions to environmental problems and enable new business opportunities to be found. Half of business leaders (52%) saw reputational benefits for their firms as a significant opportunity arising from action to support biodiversity, as well as resource efficiency (40%) and the potential for new products or services (35%) as other important business opportunities.

The most significant barriers to developing biodiversity plans, according to around a third of business leaders, were the complexity of the issues (35%) and a lack of understanding (34%), with around the same number also claiming a lack of guidance or best practice sharing (29%) inhibited the creation of plans.

The absence of economic incentives (27%) and government regulation around reporting (24%) were also seen as significant barriers to developing strategies to support biodiversity, with two out of five business leaders saying financial support from government would be a key means to help businesses increase activities that support nature (42%).

A similar share of business leaders (41%) believed government could support firms by providing more business guidance and best practice sharing.

CBI Chief Economist, Rain Newton-Smith, said: “Biodiversity is already firmly on the agenda in boardrooms across the country and will only attract greater attention in the years ahead. Firms are increasingly aware of the importance of protecting nature – both to achieve net zero goals and preserve and restore the variety of animal and plant species across our planet.

“While COP15 should help spur further business engagement on these issues, there is still a gap to be bridged between boardroom awareness and tangible action. That’s largely due to the complexities of firms’ interactions with nature, both locally and globally, through their supply chains.

“As ever more companies seek to understand their impact and dependency on nature, as well as learning how to better manage these risks, there will be huge opportunities for UK business to develop new products and services. This is especially true for consulting, technical services, engineering and resource management, or through developing new processes in agriculture and the circular economy.”

The University of Exeter’s ‘Renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach’ (RENEW) project with the National Trust and CBI will look to develop solutions for the renewal of biodiversity, which will include developing new tools and standards for embedding biodiversity renewal in finance and business activities.

The five-year programme, which has received £10 million in funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), will work to re-shape understanding and action on biodiversity renewal, creating knowledge, and influencing national institutions, communities and individuals while engaging with businesses to enable better biodiversity decision-making.

Professor Lisa Roberts, Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter, said: “We have pledged to commit our resources – intellectual, physical and human – to increase skills and do what it takes to make the UK an international hub for net zero, clean growth and nature recovery.

“This report will inform the University of Exeter’s work to find solutions that will support businesses to reduce their own impact on nature. Along with our RENEW biodiversity renewal project, it is a crucial step in acknowledging the leading role businesses can play in biodiversity and nature restoration.”

View The Nature of Business here

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