Mainstreaming biodiversity: Mitigating risks by conserving nature
Business initiatives for biodiversity
In 2007, one of the world’s top insurance companies, MS&AD Insurance Group and Holdings, Inc., convened a symposium in Japan about how companies can conserve biodiversity. At the time, Japan had just been chosen to host COP10 (the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity) in Nagoya, elevating interested in the country in protecting species and habitats. Participants in the symposium later launched JBIB, the Japan Business Initiative for Biodiversity.
Today, this group of non-state actors has become Japan’s largest and most influential forum on promoting the conservation of natural habitats. JBIB’s 43 member companies come from sectors as diverse as construction, retail, manufacturing, cosmetics and real estate development.
Together, they have been developing and sharing best practices, promoting awareness, and working with the public sector to balance biodiversity with business. The organisation offers a unique model of cross-industry collaboration to mitigate one of the greatest risks facing our planet.
One question, however, that Shiro Fujii, chairman of JBIB and Advisor at MS&AD, is often asked is why an insurance company has been leading this group.
Mainstreaming biodiversity in management
Along with supporting annual symposiums held by MS&AD, study groups, and lectures, JBIB has been actively formulating tools and guidelines to help management adopt more sustainable practices.
“The greatest achievement of all of our activities is a ‘mainstreaming’ of biodiversity in the minds of company managers, making them understand their business impact and dependence on biodiversity,” says Naoki Adachi, executive director of JBIB.
“When we first started, conservation was seen as something outside core strategy, something to be dealt with as part of philanthropy. But now, Japanese companies are increasingly aware of the need to consider these issues in their day-to-day operations.”
Last year, a record number of 38 Japanese companies was awarded the “A List” ranking by CDP, a British nonprofit group formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, for how companies address risks posed by the environmental impact of their activities. Japan now has the highest number of such “A List” companies globally, including many JBIB members.
Tracking the progress companies have made towards conservation, JBIB has been conducting an annual survey of its members over the past decade. Questions include whether the company recognises the extent to which their business depends, benefits, and impacts biodiversity; collaborates with the public sector and local communities on biodiversity; and makes efforts to minimise impact throughout their product life cycles, among other things. The latest results show that for almost all items on this checklist, over 90 per cent say they have reached their targets.
“Those working with JBIB understand correctly the management risks of not doing anything about biodiversity conservation,” says Mr. Fujii. “They are making economically rational choices, thinking about the minuses of not acting now.”
Saving forests, oceans, and urban ecosystems
Actions have followed from such heightened awareness. JBIB members have been engaged in a range of domestic and international projects to reduce or even reverse the negative impact of their businesses on natural habitats.
MS&AD itself has been working over the past 15 years with the Indonesian government to restore wildlife reserve forests and to recover tropical forests on Java Island. During the process, it is helping to stimulate and create a sustainable local economy. Indicators of success include the planting of 400,000 trees, providing employment for 15,000 locals for planting, and significantly increasing the number of bird, butterfly, and ant species in the conserved forests.
Other JBIB members are working towards zero deforestation and the sustainable local farming of paper, palm oil, coffee, and rubber among other high-impact commodities in Indonesia, Mexico and elsewhere. Others are protecting oceans by endorsing sustainable fishing as certified by organisations like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC).
“Some of our retail store members have been successfully introducing MSC and ASC-certified seafood in Japan,” says Mr. Fujii. “These efforts are bringing sustainable options to customers, in line with increasingly ethical attitudes to consumption in Japan.”
JBIB is also contributing actively to nurturing wildlife in urban areas. The group established the standards for a certification which is given to real estate development projects which seek to create green spaces that contribute to biodiversity. So far over 70 projects have received the ABINC (Association for Business Innovation in harmony with Nature and Community) certification including offices in central Tokyo, shopping malls, and factories.
“By law, condominiums, offices, and factories need to have green spaces in Japan. So, we say: if a development is planning to plant trees, why not do so in a biodiverse way,” says Mr. Adachi. “This kind of thinking has spread in recent years. Properties with ABINC gain greater market value while generating spaces in cities in which people and animals can live harmoniously.”
The Covid-19 pandemic, however, has put biodiversity back on the agenda in a dramatic way in the past year.
Scientists and governments have recognised that the risks of viruses jumping from wildlife to people will increase with greater deforestation and loss of natural habitats, threatening more frequent and devastating pandemics in the future. Extensive disruptions of globalised supply chains have also revealed the risks of sourcing from across the planet with little regard to sustainability. Despite the challenges, momentum to rebuild back biodiversity is growing.
“I am essentially optimistic as the Japanese have traditionally viewed living in harmony with nature as a virtue and companies are increasingly aware of the economic necessity of conserving species and habitats,” say Mr. Fujii.