Biodiversity is Good for Business

BRUSSELS, Belgium, February 23, 2007 (ENS) - The European Union is developing a new initiative on business and biodiversity, Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas told a meeting of PriceWaterhouseCoopers executives Thursday, inviting them to take part in preserving the diversity of life on Earth. Stopping the loss of biodiversity by 2010 is a political priority for the EU, the commissioner said.

"This initiative will be based on voluntary mechanisms," Dimas assured the executives. "It will not be a substitute for full compliance with existing environmental legislation and will aim to promote the engagement of business beyond their legal requirements."


Stavros Dimas of Greece is the European Environment Commissioner (Photo courtesy Office of the Commissioner)
In 2001, the European Union declared the goal of stopping the decline of biodiversity by 2010 - a pan-European objective proclaimed at the EU Götenborg Council.

Currently, the global rate of extinction is at least 100 times the natural rate, and an estimated 34,000 plant and 5,200 animal species face extinction. One in eight of all bird species, one quarter of all mammals and one third of all amphibians are endangered.

Business has a strong vested interest in preserving biodiversity, and the Commission's overall goal is to introduce biodiversity considerations into corporate governance, Dimas said.

"If we can mobilize the resources and expertise of business, then we have a much better chance of meeting our policy objectives," Dimas said.

The commissioner explained that loss of biodiversity is an urgent issue not only because "there is an intrinsic value to nature and because we have a moral duty to act as responsible stewards of the planet," but also because "nature underpins our economies."

"Protecting nature and the interests of business are often presented as being at opposite ends of the spectrum, but the reality is very different," Dimas said.


Construction site at Gateshead, Tyne. Development can be planned to cause the least disturbance to the site's plants and animals. (Photo by Ian Britton courtesy FreeFoto)
Nature provides the life-support system upon which our well-being and our economies depend," he said, explaining that the "ecosystem services" provided by nature include the provision of food, fuel and medicines as well as the regulation of air, water and climate.

"Healthy and resilient ecosystems are our best defense against the impacts of climate change," said Dimas, giving the example of the disaster which struck New Orleans after hurricane Katrina when a majority of the city was flooded. "The natural defences provided by coastal vegetation had been destroyed and as a result the damage was many times worse than it would have been otherwise," Dimas said.

The commissioner said it would be useful to explore how eco-labeling and eco-management schemes could encourage businesses to improve their biodiversity performance and to gain public recognition for their efforts. "The business community is a key partner in meeting the 2010 target and needs to be actively engaged," he said.

Some businesses already are paying heed to the value of conserving biodiversity.

On Monday, Holcim, one of the world's largest suppliers of cement, crushed stone, sand, and gravel, signed a cooperation agreement to work with IUCN-the World Conservation Union on biodiversity issues relevant to the building materials sector.

Active in 70 countries, Holcim employs some 90,000 people and is headquartered in Holderbank, Switzerland.

At IUCN headquarters in Gland, Switzerland, Holcim CEO Markus Akermann and IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre, agreed on four main areas of collaboration:

As a first project the partners will review the quality of biodiversity conservation activities at Holcim sites in Sri Lanka. Ways of facilitating existing quarry rehabilitation planning and implementation will be explored and Holcim Lanka will bring in technical expertise to contribute to the rehabilitation efforts of coral ecosystems.

The use of sustainably produced biomass as an alternative fuel will be considered as a means of providing an additional source of income for communities surrounding Holcim sites.


Holcim CEO Markus Akermann makes a point while IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre listens at the signing of a biodiversity cooperation agreement Monday. (Photo courtesy Holcim)
"The engagement with IUCN is driven by the conviction that biodiversity conservation issues will play an ever more important role in our long-term resource and reserve strategy," said Akermann. "IUCN and its network provide biodiversity expertise and enable Holcim to work more closely with relevant stakeholders across the world."

"IUCN seeks intensified private sector engagement to persuade and enable businesses to reduce their environmental footprint and make a positive contribution to nature conservation," said IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre. "With its global presence and commitment to sustainable development, Holcim is an attractive partner for us."

European regions and local governments too are getting involved in biodiversity conservation.

In Oisterwijk, The Netherlands last week, a two day meeting brought together 200 participants from regional and local authorities in the 27 European Union countries.

The Dutch province of Noord-Brabant organized the conference European Regions as Champions for Biodiversity 2010. The province was the first region to join the Countdown 2010, and many local authorities and other parties in Noord-Brabant and other parts of Europe followed.

Conference delegates decided to develop a "down-to-earth and bottom-up interregional European biodiversity program" to bring about practical cooperation between regions and local authorities across Europe.


The European kingfisher, although widespread, is endangered by massive development and regulations of flowing bodies of water that alters their habitat. (Photo by Fred Hazelhoff courtesy WWF-Canon)
They focused on the interaction between landscape identity and biodiversity, climate change and biodiversity, and support for safeguarding biodiversity hot spots in Eastern Europe.

The host of the conference, Noord-Brabant’s Regional Minister for Environment, Nature and Water Annemarie Moons presented the report on climate change and biodiversity and the role of regions, prepared by European Centre for Nature Conservation.

Conference participants concluded that regions should provide active leadership in combating the negative impact of climate change and in reducing the ecological footprint of regions and local communities.

Young people were involved in the preparation of the conference and presented a video in Oisterwijk.

Together with other youth organizations in Europe, the Dutch National Youth Council explored the meaning and value of biodiversity in Europe in the minds of people. They travelled by train from Den Bosch in The Netherlands to Sofia, Bulgaria, making a video about what they encountered and learned about biodiversity along the way.