Nature Positive Actions (WWF and WBCSD)

Anna Triponel

July 28, 2023
Our key takeaway: Nature is fundamental to food systems and the food we produce and consume. Due to the interconnectedness between nature and climate change, we cannot tackle the latter without tackling the former and vice versa. Yet nature and biodiversity loss is happening at an unprecedented rate (see our update this week from the Responsible Investor as well as here from the Imperial College Business School). WWF and WBCS has some good news to share! Food producers and retailers have moved significantly on their understanding of this agenda over the last three years. In the words of one company interviewee: “nature has been moved from a nebulous issue in 2020 to one today that’s actionable.” Companies are seeing the importance of nature to their business resilience and climate strategies. Companies are seeing how the international policy and legal landscape is rallying around nature and expecting companies to disclose how they impact nature and how they can mitigate such impacts. Companies are recognising the importance of mapping supply chains and conducting stakeholder engagement, as well as working with peers and partners to tackle the issue. The report issues a call to action: “Everybody on earth needs food, and the way it is produced is critical to addressing the twin crises of climate change and nature loss. As a result, food companies play a critical role in our lives, and the lives of future generations.”

WWF and WBCSD released Nature Positive: How? Starting Now, which compiles insights from interviews with six international food producers and retailers focused on the Nature Positive agenda:

  • Companies’ understanding of the interconnections between nature and climate change is evolving: The report highlights how food companies are better understanding the intersection between nature and climate in 2023 as compared to 2020: “In the space of just three years, our interviewees said they’d seen a revolution in awareness, recognition and pressure for the protection and restoration of nature. This has come particularly from policy-makers and investors, but also as a result of their own organisations’ better understanding of nature as a critical step on the pathway to delivering their climate commitments.” More generally, food companies are understanding that nature is critical to their products: “Global frameworks, better tools and more data make the task of identifying this existential dependency easier in 2023 than in 2020.” Legal and policy developments such as the Global Biodiversity Framework at COP15 and the EU Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD) have also emphasised the importance of nature and “put a floor under stakeholders’ expectations of food companies.” These regulations, along with reporting frameworks such as the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures and emerging guidance on measurement from Science Based Targets for Nature, have “provided an approach and language that are helping companies to understand the way forward.” According to one interviewee, “nature has been moved from a nebulous issue in 2020 to one today that’s actionable.”
  • Challenges companies may face: The report highlights several challenges food companies face in their efforts to tackle biodiversity loss. These include 1) the lack of internal resources such as the “[l]ack of internal bandwidth, skills and investment were all cited, along with the difficulties of embedding ESG factors within the decision-making processes of complex organisations”; 2) the complexity of the topic and taking action, which “may require detailed understanding of habitats and species, eco-system functions, landscapes and seascapes, of actions taken at multiple steps in the value chain”; and 3) the patience required to assess the outcomes from a nature-positive action, with one interviewee stating that “[s]oil health takes a long time to show improvement – three to five years. For a business, that’s long-term.” Despite these challenges, food companies recognise that actions to tackle biodiversity loss is critical not least because of its importance to business resilience: “as food retailers, without thriving eco-systems we wouldn’t have a product to put on the shelf.”
  • What can companies do?: The report highlights how “nature is complicated, but action is critical.” Actions that companies can take now include: 1) Think about the interconnection between nature and other issues the business is tackling, such as climate change or business resilience, to build the internal business case for action on nature; 2) “[Engage] the supply chain right through to the farmers or fishers helps build a picture of the vulnerabilities and opportunities in your own system”; 3) Look at what immediate steps you can take and tackle those first, and focusing efforts on the interconnection between nature and climate can help prioritise action. One interviewee stated: “You don’t have to jump to restoring nature, but look for the opportunities to reduce and avoid impact”, and another stated: “Roadmaps for climate open up space to talk about nature”; and 4) Work with peers and partners to tackle the issues, and “[e]ngage through the value chain to accelerate the system shift and find ways to create and support the incentives to make production more sustainable and resilient.” In short, take action now and remember that the “quest for ‘perfect’ can often be the enemy of the good.”

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