CORVALLIS, Ore. – Businesses large and small need to begin the difficult work of assessing and addressing their impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services in order to reduce risk to natural resources in the future, according to a new report from Oregon State University researchers.
Biodiversity and ecosystem services refer to the variety and diversity of plants and animals in the ecosystem and the benefits that nature provides, respectively. They should be part of companies’ strategic planning, said Sally Duncan, director of the OSU Policy Analysis Lab in the School of Public Policy.
“This is an issue of risk management – it has to be part of a strategic plan,” Duncan said. “As one pioneer company leader put it, the greatest risk of all is not doing anything.”
The report, “The New Nature of Business: How Business Pioneers Support Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services,” provides a framework for companies to begin identifying and addressing their potential impacts on the ecosystem.
The report was published this month and is available at www.newnatureofbusiness.org. Partners in the multidisciplinary, international project include Oregon State University and the University of Sydney Business School. Funding comes from the National Science Foundation’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, with additional support from the University of Sydney Business School.
Biodiversity of plants, animals and microorganisms is essential to a properly functioning ecosystem. Ecosystem services are the benefits of such a system, and include goods such as food and fiber or services such as flood control or pest management.
But biodiversity is threatened by environmental degradation due to things such as habitat destruction and climate change. That, in turn, poses challenges for business leaders, who will have to deal with the ramifications, including pressure from consumers to improve business practices.
“There are many, many companies that have started doing important work on water conservation and energy conservation,” Duncan said. “Biodiversity and ecosystem services are much more complicated. They’re very hard to measure and most companies haven’t even thought about it yet.”
Corporate giants Dow Chemical Co., Pfizer Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and smaller organizations such as the Eugene Water and Electric Board, are among the pioneers who are taking steps to address their impacts on biodiversity. Their efforts are highlighted in the report.
Pfizer created a Wildlife Management Team and employees are working to restore and enhance the wildlife on the company’s 2,200-acre manufacturing site in Michigan. Eugene Water and Electric is working with landowners and local government to change land management practices, rather than build a new water treatment plant and charge higher rates.
Researchers developed a decision-making framework to help other companies get started addressing their own impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems services. The hope is that business leaders will use and test the framework and share their experiences on the project website, Duncan said.
“Any change to a big organization is extremely difficult,” Duncan said. “If business leaders see a story on the website that they can relate to, it might seem less scary.”
Developing a tool to measure companies’ impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems services and making that tool available to companies around the world are some of the next steps for the project, she said.