2023 Nature Benchmark (WBA)

Anna Triponel

April 5, 2024
Our key takeaway: The fate of businesses and the health of our planet are inextricably linked. Yet, despite this interconnectedness, many companies fail to acknowledge the pivotal role that natural ecosystems play in sustaining not only human health and well-being but also the very fabric of their operations. None of the companies assessed by the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) assess their dependencies on nature, a glaring oversight given the profound implications for climate change and human rights. Only 13% have committed to eliminating deforestation, a critical component in mitigating climate change. Furthermore, the intricate relationship between environmental practices, climate goals, and human rights remains largely unaddressed, with less than 2% of companies committing to upholding local communities' environmental rights. The call to action is clear: it's time for companies to recognise their reliance on nature as fundamental to their operations. Addressing nature-related risks is not just about environmental stewardship; it's about respecting human rights, mitigating climate change and securing long-term business resilience. Companies: time to embrace this paradigm shift and put it into practice.

WBA published Nature Benchmark 2023: Insights Report, which assesses the performance of 350 companies in the food and agriculture sector and 30 from the paper and forest product sector to restore and protect nature (March 2024):

  • Companies are not taking sufficient action to protect and restore nature: Food and agriculture companies rely heavily on natural ecosystems for their survival. At the same time, they are the biggest drivers of land use change and nature exploitation. Despite this, the benchmark found that only 2% of the companies assessed currently disclose their environmental impacts and 0% of companies holistically assess and address their dependencies on nature. In addition, only 13% of the companies assessed have made a commitment to zero ecosystem conversion and only 6% have a timebound target to eliminate deforestation. Halting deforestation is necessary to tackle climate change. Therefore, failure to commit to zero deforestation will hinder companies’ efforts to meet their climate targets. Furthermore, while some companies (30%) are reducing their water usage, only 12% are disclosing metrics on discharged pollutants and 2% have set targets to reduce them. 
  • The human rights impacts of nature loss: The benchmark found that companies are failing to make the link between their environment-related and human rights risks and impacts. Less than 2% of the companies assessed commit to respecting local communities’ environmental rights. In addition, only 12% of companies pledge to respect the right to access water, sanitation and hygiene, which “is crucial to people’s well-being and dignity.” The WBA argues that: “[t]his is a missed opportunity, as upholding environmental rights not only benefits communities, but also the ecosystems they are part of and consequently the companies themselves, especially in the Global South.” In addition, while 63% of food companies assign sustainability oversight to their boards, only 1% have boards that can demonstrate relevant expertise on biodiversity or climate. The WBA states that “companies should prioritise developing a sustainability strategy that covers nature, supported by concrete high-level responsibility and accountability for delivering the strategy.” Moreover, few companies (28%) are disclosing how they are implementing their commitments in practice.
  • Recommendations for companies: The report provides tailored recommendations to a range of stakeholders, which are companies, financial institutions, policymakers, and civil society organisations. Specific to companies, they recommend that they: 1) “Prepare to follow the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) recommendations, which provide a clear process for identifying, evaluating and managing nature-related issues”; 2) “Engage with the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) framework and guidance, in preparation to adopt science-based targets for nature”; 3) “Build nature-related expertise by investing in training and capacity building across executive and management teams”; and 4) “Engage with WBA during the company assessment process and the subsequent ‘Community of Practice’ learning sessions.”

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