Biodiversity, the variety of plant and animal life in the world, is a fundamental component of ‘natural capital’ that businesses are dependent upon but which often gets overlooked in assessments of their environmental impact, according to a new report by members of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI). 

When businesses are looking to understand and mitigate their environmental impacts, biodiversity needs to be at the forefront of their assessment

Bhaskar Vira

The report also sets out four steps that can be taken to put biodiversity at the forefront of decision-making about environmental impact.

The report argues that the importance of biodiversity is often missed by organisations looking to understand and mitigate their impacts on the natural environment, as it is perceived as one of the benefits of protecting natural assets, rather than an asset that itself generates benefits.

Human society across the globe ultimately depends on goods and services provided and replenished by the natural environment. Today it is widely recognised that average global consumption of this ‘natural capital’ far outstrips its ability to regenerate. Biodiversity plays a fundamental role in ecosystem functioning, and therefore underpins this ability to regenerate and the delivery of all ecosystem benefits, according to the report.

One of the report’s lead authors, Thomas Maddox from Fauna & Flora International, said: “Biodiversity is essential to everyday life. It boosts ecosystem productivity and underpins most of the services that we all use and value on a daily basis. It is frequently listed as one of many concerns in natural capital assessments, alongside greenhouse gas emissions or water consumption; however its importance is often missed by businesses, which means that their impact on biodiversity and their dependency upon it is overlooked.”

The report also sets out four positive steps that can be taken to put biodiversity at the forefront of decision-making about environmental impact:

  • The stock of natural capital should be at the heart of any natural capital assessment
  • Targets with respect to biodiversity should be identified
  • Indicators that provide information on the state of biodiversity that a business is responsible for, or has a commitment to, should be developed
  • The cost of delivering biodiversity targets should be estimated and reported in natural capital accounts to reflect of a company’s liability with regards to maintenance of natural capital assets on which it depends or has impact

Dr Bhaskar Vira, another lead author on the paper from the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge, and Director of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, added: “To move forward the positive steps outlined in the paper must be put at the heart of natural capital. When businesses are looking to understand and mitigate their environmental impacts, biodiversity needs to be at the forefront of their assessment.”

A pdf of the paper is downloadable from http://www.conservation.cam.ac.uk/resource/working-papers-and-reports/report-biodiversity-heart-accounting-natural-capital

The Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI; www.cambridgeconservation.org) is a unique collaboration between ten institutions: BirdLife International, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Cambridge Conservation Forum (CCF), IUCN, Fauna & Flora International (FFI), RSPB, TRAFFIC, Tropical Biology Association (TBA), UNEP-WCMC and the University of Cambridge. Together the CCI partners aim to deliver transformational approaches to understanding and conserving biodiversity and the wealth of natural capital it represents in order to secure a sustainable future for biodiversity and society through an effective partnership of leaders in research, education, policy and practice.


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