Opinion Piece: Scalable Biodiversity Measurement: Inputs vs Outputs?
I’m yet to find a company today that is measuring biodiversity impact across its supply chain credibly and at scale. This is because it’s genuinely a really difficult problem (and is actually itself influenced by several other impact factors).
Currently, I’m seeing two ways that professionals are approaching this problem, by measuring either:
Outputs: e.g., species abundance and diversity, calculating if it increases/ decreases. (This is super resource intensive and is difficult to do cost effectively and at scale. Let alone when it’s not even your organisation but rather a 3rd party supplier.)
Inputs: correlations between activities e.g., this type of fertiliser is known to be good/ bad for biodiversity under certain conditions or growing practices.
My sense is that measuring inputs is more scalable and actually dovetails a lot of the qualitative data inputs that you need for GHG calculations. Particularly if you’re covered by FLAG standards (e.g., you’re in food & beverage, apparel, personal care) and need to measure land use and land management at the level of suppliers.
I’m going to be talking more about our learnings in this space (in the coming months). In the meantime - I’m curious to hear of innovations others are seeing that are workable at scale (meaning not prohibitively costly). Any suggestions? Drop me a message.
Industry Insight: The Responsibilities of the Sustainability Team are Changing, and Fast.
One organisational shift we’re seeing this year in Europe as a result of CSRD: sustainability reporting is increasingly being owned by Finance, as the risk of non-compliance or greenwashing starts to feel similar to the risk of financial statement fraud.
As a result, there's increased pressure on the sustainability team to shift focus to managing sustainability transition and performance. This is a big change in scope for small, 2-3 person sustainability teams traditionally focused on external reporting. The cadence is different (from seasonal to ongoing), the work profile is different (from creating narratives to driving business activity changes), and the tools are different (from all-in-one ESG reporting suites to environmental decision-making platforms).
We’re keen to see:
how this positions sustainability professionals in the organisation (eg more likely on a track to mainstream leadership roles);
whether finance teams stick to the reporting scope or lean in further into sustainability implementation and monitoring.
Policy Pulse: Setting SBTs for Freshwater
Looking after freshwater resources is becoming more and more important for businesses. Increasingly, companies are looking at their water impacts, and this issue had a prominent place on the agenda at Davos. The Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) are the leading standard for corporate nature targets, including setting SBTs for freshwater.
Measuring and setting targets for freshwater impacts is similar to the process of setting climate SBTs, but there are some additional distinct issues at hand.
What are the key issues with water?
Freshwater is a finite resource needed for many human, natural and industrial processes. The need for enough clean water means the key issues for businesses are:
Freshwater usage - how much water is being extracted, and from what sources?
Wastewater discharge - how much water is being returned, and with what additional pollutants?
In both cases, location is incredibly important, as this will affect competing demands for water, levels of water stress, and sensitivity to pollution.
What businesses need to do
SBTN recommends a 3 step framework for freshwater targets:
Assess - find material areas of water impact, using upstream and direct operations data on activities and locations.
Interpret & Prioritise - determine areas to prioritise, based on materiality and stakeholder engagement.
Measure, Set & Disclose - set freshwater ambition levels for each affected water basin area.
Setting an SBT is an involved process, as it requires metered water usage data from direct and upstream sources, as well as consultation with experts on water basin modelling. A simpler approach for businesses getting started is to start collecting water data and performing risk assessments through tools such as WRI’s Aqueduct.
What to expect going forward
There are several other frameworks for measuring water impact that SBTN has highlighted as interoperable with their own: CDP, TNFD, the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS), and CEO Water Mandate. However, given the detail and applicability of the SBTN guidance, it appears that it will become the go-to.
Freshwater is likely to continue to rise up the agenda as a way into wider nature reporting. The data requirements for water are easier to meet than those for land or biodiversity. They are a good way for sustainability teams to get used to key nature considerations - that is, to have a highly local perspective, and to engage with communities and experts.
**Biodiversity Net Gain - where to start? The UK’s approach to improving biodiversity is confirmed to start from 12th February. This requires development sites to improve biodiversity by 10%, either on-site or off-site, or at a push through credits.