Corporations for Biodiversity: How we define “Biodiversity”

Before we dive into the topic of business and biodiversity on this website, it’s probably worth a short post on how we define the term “biodiversity” in the first place.

Biodiversity simply refers to the variety of life in the world or in a specific habitat or ecosystem. The most common unit of measurement for biodiversity is the species, and there are a lot of them.  So far we’ve identified over 2 million species on Earth, a number that is conservatively estimated to represent about 20% of all species on our planet.  In other words, the Earth really is a little known planet.  At the rate we’re going, it’s estimated that we won’t complete the global census of biodiversity until we’re well into the twenty-third century.  Of course if we ramp up our efforts, then we may be able to complete the census by the end of this century.

But identifying species is just the beginning.  Each species plays a particular role in its habitat, and there are many species interdependencies in any given habitat.  Given that we don’t even know 80% of the species on the planet, it’s safe to say that we’re in our infancy when it comes to understanding and mapping the complex species interactions that make up healthy, functioning ecosystems.  This is one reason why many conservationists prefer the approach of protecting large chunks of land as preserves, rather than tinker with ecosystem dynamics that we don’t fully understand.

While there may be plenty of disagreement on the best way to manage land, when it comes to identifying the biggest threats to biodiversity on this planet, biologists are generally in agreement.  Biologists use the acronym HIPPO to list, in order, the biggest threats to biodiversity:

  • Habitat destruction (this includes climate change)
  • Invasive species
  • Pollution
  • Population growth
  • Over-harvesting / Over-hunting

The impact that most corporations have on biodiversity is concentrated in the areas of habitat destruction and pollution, although some companies also play a significant role in over-harvesting and invasive species.  As for population growth, I don’t think many companies will be touching that hot potato anytime soon so it’s not something that we’ll be covering in this blog.

Putting on our conservation biology hat, the best things that we can do to protect biodiversity on this planet include the following ambitious goals

  • Goal #1: Set aside about half of the earth’s surface (this includes oceans) as a natural reserve, undisturbed by man, following the guidance of renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson.  This “Half-Earth” approach involves protecting large tracts of land in places like the Amazon region, the Congo Basin, and New Guinea, as well as stringing together patches of land in the industrialized world with wildlife corridors and restored habitat, and protecting large amounts of marine waters.  As of 2015, every sovereign nation in the world has some kind of protected-area system in place.  There are a roughly 161,000 reserves on land and 6,500 reserves over marine waters, representing approximately 15% of the Earth’s land area and 7.3% of the Earth’s ocean area.  We have a long way to go, but the protected-area coverage trend is moving in the right direction – it is increasing gradually.
  • Goal #2: Be good stewards of the land outside of natural reserves.  For corporations, this includes goals such as zero carbon emissions, zero waste, 100% renewable energy use, planting/protecting native vegetation, and eliminating invasive species.

I told you these goals were ambitious!  But they aren’t as far out of reach as you might think.  Plus these goals give us a clear vision of our desired destination from a biodiversity perspective.  Of course we also have competing social and economic perspectives to consider, but why not strive for the ideal … you like a challenge right?  Let’s get busy figuring out how to get there.  Some companies are already well on their way, as you’ll see in future posts.

Thanks for reading!

Mark

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Mark Aspelin is the Founder of Corporations for Biodiversity and author of the highly rated book “Profitable Conservation: Business Strategies That Boost Your Bottom Line, Protect Wildlife, and Conserve Biodiversity.”