The Business Case for Biodiversity

By Shelley Lizzio, Manager: National Biodiversity and Business Network and Michael Adams, National Biodiversity and Business Network

Biodiversity is the foundation of our existence and the prerequisite for doing business. Surprisingly few business realise that around 40% of the global economy is based on biological products or processes. Indeed, businesses, whether they realise it or not, profit directly or indirectly from the variety of ecosystems, species and genetic biodiversity in the extraction and production of raw materials, and in the distribution and marketing of products. The global loss of biodiversity, along with climate change, represents one of the greatest business challenges of our time.

Each year, our planet’s complex land and water systems — a ‘natural living infrastructure’— produce an estimated $72 trillion worth of ‘free’ goods and services essential to a well-functioning global economy. That’s more than four times the size of the US economy. Because these benefits aren’t bartered and sold in the marketplace, their value is exceedingly hard to monetise on corporate or government financial statements. As a result, this value has largely been left unaccounted for in business decisions and market transactions. This is starting to change.
Businesses that seek to remain competitive in today’s market would do well to take cognisance of risks surrounding their impacts and dependencies on biodiversity as well as the opportunities available to businesses that seek to sustainably utilise services and products that stem from our planets biodiversity.

The EWT’s National Biodiversity and Business Network (NBBN), founded in 2013, is at the forefront of this emerging business imperative. The NBBN is a South African-based network of businesses, industries and related stakeholders, including government, NGOs and academic institutions. The aim of the NBBN is to facilitate engagement amongst its members and to support the mainstreaming of biodiversity into business agendas and operations. The NBBN seeks to create public and corporate awareness about biodiversity and its importance, as well as to help companies identify and manage their own impacts on nature. The initiative encourages companies to integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services in all environmental and sustainability management systems and practices.

Over the past two years, the NBBN, in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Affairs, conducted a preliminary baseline assessment of the current approaches and practices of South African businesses to the mainstreaming of biodiversity. The results of this assessment have recently been published in a report entitled: Overview of current approaches and practices of South African businesses to the mainstreaming of biodiversity: a preliminary baseline assessment. To download a full copy of the report please visit

Report Cover

Report Cover

A number of key findings are described in the report. Less than 40% of the companies that were reviewed demonstrated a good understanding of biodiversity and related ecosystem services (these are services we receive from nature such as the production of oxygen).
A similarly low percentage of companies showed an adequate understanding of the economic and social importance of biodiversity, or of the business risks and opportunities around natural capital. Most of the businesses that were reviewed did not consider biodiversity as a part of their core business, with more than 60% of companies displayed an ‘ad-hoc’ corporate approach to biodiversity, with no vision, strategy, specific objectives or targets regarding biodiversity.
In order for businesses to take on board the concepts of biodiversity and natural capital the business case for mainstreaming biodiversity into business needs to be consolidated and clearly articulated. To this end, the NBBN is continually looking to address these and other recommendations and research in collaboration with business, the NGO sector and the South African government.

It is imperative that companies realise that the consequences of biodiversity loss will not just affect those companies with direct reliance on natural resources but will also affect the supply chains and growth objectives of most industry sectors in the developed and developing world.

Biodiversity is our ‘natural capital’ with immense economic significance for South Africa, and therefore, by investing in this capital we are investing in South Africa and its future. Without a strong commitment from the business sector, achieving the global targets set for human well‐being and biodiversity conservation becomes all the more difficult.
The NBBN is supported by and partners with the Department of Environmental Affairs, Nedbank Limited, Hatch Goba, De Beers, Transnet, Pam Golding Properties, Pick n Pay and Woolworths.

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