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Biodiversity Net Gain is the next big thing, so what's the business case?

For some time now biodiversity has sat in the shadows while the likes of carbon, waste and water take centre stage in corporate sustainability strategies.  It’s usually at the back somewhere and no wonder, given the challenges biodiversity poses for business.

Why so difficult?

Firstly biodiversity can’t be measured easily. That’s a problem because business works in numbers.  Carbon, waste and other sustainability factors all have metrics that businesses use to set targets and measure progress.  But with no ‘off the shelf’ package to show losses and gains in biodiversity, biodiversity won’t make headline news or grab CEO attention.
Secondly, it’s complicated.  When you talk about carbon, you talk about carbon.  But with biodiversity there’s green infrastructure, ecosystem services, ecology, natural capital and many other jargon-heavy terms that are all basically about the same thing – nature.  Even experts I know get confused. It’s not surprising that biodiversity rarely makes the boardroom.

Thirdly, many people believe that biodiversity costs money and doesn’t generate cash in return. That’s the opposite of carbon or waste for example, where it’s easy to see how your actions can save you money.

This all means that doing more for biodiversity is usually a ‘nice thing to do’ rather than core business.  It depends on companies’ financial success and competes with other ‘good causes’ such as local schools and hospitals.  But things are changing and there’s actually a strong business case for development that supports more biodiversity than was present at the start.

The business case
At Balfour Beatty, our approach to Net Gain follows ‘best practice principles’.  It’s these principles - not just biodiversity – that deliver real business value.   The principles include equity, transparency and stakeholder participation, and mean that we work with local governments, wildlife groups and land owners to support their priorities for nature conservation. These partners have a say in decisions about where and how best to achieve net gain outcomes for biodiversity from a development, since they know what’s best for nature in their patch.  From our inclusive approach, we’ve seen the benefits to the fundamentals of a successful business, including:
  • Better risk management from quantifying losses and gains in biodiversity
  • Improved reputation from building local partnerships
  • Enhanced competitive advantage
  • Proven sustainability leadership and innovation
  • Demonstrating long-lasting contributions to local communities
Transport out ahead
There’s been no edict from central government, yet our transport giants Highways England and Network Rail Infrastructure Projects have already committed to ‘no net loss’ and ‘net gain/positive’ outcomes for biodiversity.  By doing so, they are sending clear messages to their supply chains – get good at biodiversity because our projects are to benefit nature – and to the rest of industry – this is the standard now.  This marks a new era and one that, if based on principles, we believe will generate better development by supporting biodiversity measures that really count.

The next big thing
CIRIA, IEMA and CIEEM are collaborating, with our support, to develop best practice principles for how the UK industry delivers net gain outcomes for biodiversity.  They will then use these principles to produce practical guidance for industry on delivering Net Gain.

A first draft of the principles was informed by responses to the 2013 Green Paper consultation on biodiversity offsetting, and experience gained from Defra’s pilot on offsetting, from Network Rail Infrastructure Projects’ Net Positive work, and from the international community by the Business and Biodiversity Offset Programme.  This draft was refined following engagement with various stakeholders including government organisations, industry and NGOs, and is now being developed further to be launched later this year. 

If you would like further information or to become involved with this work, please contact Michael Small at CIRA on [email protected]  or 0207 549 3300.

Please also register for the IEMA hosted joint webinar ‘Principles for Achieving Net Gain Biodiversity Outcomes from Development’ on 22nd September 2016, which is an ideal opportunity to review the principles and learn more about this milestone achievement for the UK.

Julia Baker, Balfour Beatty Biodiversity Technical Specialist