What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity refers to the variety of living organisms that inhabit the Earth, from microorganisms to plants and animals. Biodiversity encompasses the variety of ecosystems that these organisms live in, from forests to oceans to deserts. The diversity of life on Earth provides us with essential services such as clean air and water, pollination, nutrient cycling, and carbon storage. Biodiversity also plays a crucial role in human well-being, from cultural and recreational activities to economic benefits such as food and medicine and economy; 55% of the world GDP relies on services given by biodiversity.

Biodiversity is also a vital component of the Earth’s natural systems, providing the foundation for the planet’s ecological functioning. Ecosystems with higher biodiversity are more resilient and better able to adapt to environmental changes, such as those brought about by climate change. Biodiversity loss can lead to significant ecological consequences, such as the loss of critical habitat and the disruption of ecosystem services.

What is biodiversity footprint?

The biodiversity footprint is a measure of the pressure of human activities on biodiversity. It takes into account both direct and indirect impacts, such as habitat destruction, pollution, and resource use. The biodiversity footprint can be measured at different scales, from individual actions to entire countries or industries. By measuring the biodiversity footprint, we can understand the extent of our impact on biodiversity and take steps to reduce it.

The biodiversity footprint is a complex concept that takes into account many different factors of pressure. Some of the factors that contribute to the biodiversity footprint include:

  • Habitat destruction: The destruction of natural habitats, such as forests or wetlands, can have a significant impact on biodiversity. Habitat destruction can lead to the loss of species populations and a reduction in genetic diversity.
  • Pollution: Pollution can have a significant impact on biodiversity, particularly in aquatic ecosystems. Pollution can cause changes in water quality, which can have a profound impact on the organisms that live in those ecosystems.
  • Resource use: The use of resources, such as water or timber, can have an impact on biodiversity. Unsustainable resource use can lead to the depletion of resources and the destruction of habitats.
  • Climate change: Climate change is a significant threat to biodiversity, with rising temperatures and changing weather patterns having a profound impact on ecosystems and the species that inhabit them.

One way to measure biodiversity footprint is through the concept of ecological overshoot. Ecological overshoot occurs when human activities exceed the Earth’s carrying capacity, which is the ability of the planet to provide resources and absorb waste. Ecological overshoot is often measured in terms of the number of Earths that would be required to sustain human consumption patterns if everyone lived like a resident of a particular country. For example, if everyone on the planet lived like a resident of the United States, we would need 5.4 Earths to sustain our consumption patterns.

Another way to measure biodiversity footprint is through life cycle assessment. Life cycle assessment is a method that evaluates the environmental impacts of a product or service throughout its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction to disposal. Life cycle assessment can be used to calculate the impact of a product or service on biodiversity by taking into account the direct and indirect impacts of its production, use, and disposal.

The NEC metric is holistic, it takes into account activities’ impacts on climate, biodiversity and resources. The methodology is based on a life cycle assessment and considers impact on biodiversity at different steps of the activities but also on different categories of impact. For each economic activity, each step of production and each impact on biodiversity the methodology uses existing qualitative and quantitative metrics to capture the full impact on biodiversity. For example, it measures the impact of infrastructures on space fragmentation for transportation, the impact of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in terms of soils pollution and the distinction of fishing techniques according to the engendered species thanks to labels. NEC is based on quantitative and qualitative metrics to have a the most precise and scientific vision of an economic activity on biodiversity. (If you want to have more information about what metrics do NEC uses to create it’s score, please don’t hesitate to download our methodology).

How to evaluate the biodiversity footprint of your business?

Businesses can evaluate their biodiversity footprint by conducting a biodiversity impact assessment. This assessment takes into account the activities of the business, such as resource use, waste generation, and land use, and their pressure on biodiversity. The assessment can identify areas of the business where changes can be made to reduce the biodiversity footprint.

The assessment can be conducted by a team of experts in biodiversity and environmental management, and may involve collecting data on biodiversity indicators such as species diversity, ecosystem services, and habitat quality. Once the assessment is complete, you can use the data to calculate your biodiversity footprint, which measures the impact of your business activities on biodiversity. There are different tools and methodologies available to calculate the biodiversity footprint, such as the Biodiversity Impact Metric (BIM) and the Natural Capital Protocol. By understanding your business’s biodiversity footprint, you can identify areas for improvement and implement measures to reduce your impact on biodiversity.

The biodiversity impact assessment typically involves four stages:

  1. Scoping: This stage involves identifying the scope of the assessment, such as the activities of the business that will be included in the assessment.
  2. Impact identification: This stage involves identifying the impacts of the business activities on biodiversity, such as the destruction of habitats or the depletion of resources.
  3. Impact assessment: This stage involves assessing the magnitude and significance of the impacts identified in stage two.
  4. Mitigation: This stage involves identifying measures to reduce the impacts identified in the previous stages.

Businesses can also engage with stakeholders, such as local communities and conservation organizations, to better understand the impact of their activities on biodiversity and identify opportunities for collaboration to reduce their pressure on nature. There are various metrics and tools available to measure a business’s biodiversity footprint.

How to reduce your biodiversity footprint?

There are several ways that companies can reduce their biodiversity footprint, it all depends on the nature of impacts the company has on biodiversity. Before all, at a larger scale what can’t be measured can’t be managed, but biodiversity is complex to encapsulate in a simple number or metric as stakes are fundamentally different from an industry to another (discover how, at NEC, we manage to score activities in regards to their environmental impact) Therefore, comparing and engaging economic actors in the same trajectory of pressure reduction is a real challenge. But things are moving in the right direction: for example, at COP15 in Montreal in December 2022, we witnessed international actors taking action and drawing a global trajectory for reducing impacts on biodiversity. 195 States have committed to taking “urgent measures” to protect 30% of the planet, restore 30% of ecosystems and double the resources earmarked for nature protection by 2030. The NEC metric can also help actors identify the main biodiversity impacts of their activity and have a comparison with other actors of the same economic sector.

At the company level, the preservation of biodiversity and its regeneration must be managed at the highest levels and must be implemented in a global sustainable strategy. One approach is to implement sustainable practices in their operations, such as reducing energy and water consumption, minimizing waste generation, and using renewable resources. Another approach is to adopt biodiversity-friendly practices, such as habitat restoration or conservation efforts, to compensate for any negative impacts on biodiversity. By taking these steps, companies can reduce their biodiversity footprint and contribute to the conservation of biodiversity, while also improving their sustainability performance and reputation. They need to really take into consideration the environment as a whole and capture their impact on nature not only on climate.

Biodiversity is crucial to our planet’s health and well-being, and the loss of biodiversity due to human activities is a significant concern. By understanding the concept of biodiversity footprint and evaluating our impact on biodiversity, we can take steps to reduce pressure on it. From sustainable business practices to individual actions, we all have a role to play in protecting and preserving the diversity of life on Earth.

Written by Sophie Barnabé