Mismanagement of natural capital is expected to impose high global economic costs [1
] and to put at risk critical life-support systems that provide the building blocks for companies’ product lines as well as their bottom lines [3
]. Contributions that businesses can make to slow or reverse losses of biodiversity and ecosystem services are potentially enormous [4
]. Companies possess an unparalleled ability to move human, physical and financial capital around the globe; own and manage extensive land and resource holdings in biodiversity-rich regions; manage supply chains that draw from and impact a wide array of natural resources; and make strategic decisions that can influence consumer preferences and shape regional development patterns [6
Appeals for businesses to better incorporate stewardship of biodiversity and ecosystem services into their environmental planning and social responsibility reporting are commonplace [7
]; but the number of locations in need of conservation action far exceeds available resources. It is therefore vital for companies to efficiently quantify biodiversity and ecosystem services on a corporate-wide scale in order to strategically identify where to work and allocate resources; but to date, this task remains a daunting challenge. Companies regularly invest in tools like environmental impact and life-cycle assessments, biodiversity action plans, and environmental management systems [3
]; but guidance on where and when these tools can be best utilized and how they may scale-up to inform corporate-wide planning is sorely lacking [6
Additionally policies and performance standards for mitigating environmental impacts are being strengthened around the world, to not just reduce impacts, but to also achieve stated goals for biodiversity that range from “no net loss” to “net positive impact” [10
]. In the financial sector, major institutions including the International Finance Corporation, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and more than 79 Equator Principles financial institutions are requiring projects that they finance to avoid, minimize, and compensate for biodiversity impacts in accordance with new performance standards [11
]. As these new standards move rapidly from voluntary action into the sphere of compliance, leading companies will increasingly adopt them as a normal way (and cost) of doing business [12
]. Regardless of what ultimately drives a company to improve its environmental performance and conservation outcomes, the first step is to assess the biodiversity sensitivity and the opportunities associated with their portfolio of assets to strategically identify where to work and how to allocate resources.
Companies rely on three major categories of information to identify sensitive sites requiring environmental assessment or action: (1) the existence of protected lands [14
], (2) the number of threatened (animal and plant) species [15
], and (3) the level of anthropogenic activities on the landscape (i.e
., habitat intactness) [16
]. Protected areas (PAs) play a vital role in conserving global biological diversity; are cornerstones of sustainable development strategies; and can generate economic resources [17
]. They represent important stocks of natural, cultural and social capital; therefore, development that negatively impacts these areas comes with heightened concern and potential risk for companies.
A key indicator of ecosystem health is the status of plant and animal populations. When an ecosystem is stressed viability of populations can decline, such that species become threatened, endangered or extinct. Many laws have been enacted to protect species at risk of extinction [19
]. To ensure regulatory compliance, reduce mitigation obligations, and demonstrate environmental stewardship, companies seek to ensure that their activities do not impact rare and sensitive species. We also contend that companies should consider overall species richness of an area to gauge the health of the region [20
] and any heightened risk of development associated with affecting large number of species.
Human influence is also a global driver of ecological processes, on par with climatic and geological forces. Areas subject to high human disturbance generally have less biodiversity [20
], reduced biological integrity [22
], and higher probabilities of species extirpation [23
]. Inversely, highly intact areas often provide the contiguous habitat necessary to support biodiversity and healthy ecosystems [16
]. Companies are therefore going to receive greater public scrutiny and resistance when working in pristine and highly intact regions because of increased concerns of potential impacts from development [16
We identified publicly available global datasets targeting all of these factors, and aggregated them to allow for consistent comparisons among biodiversity value, habitat loss, and protection for sites around the world. We provide, for the first time, relative rankings associated with these biodiversity factors to allow companies the ability to compare their global portfolio across all their sites, a necessary step when making decisions on sustainability investment or mitigating for corporate-wide biodiversity risks [12
]. Previous analyses of biodiversity and habitat risk have largely focused on biomes and ecoregions as units, but their variation in size tend to limit direct comparisons [24
]. Moreover, studies tend to be regionally limited to a subset of the world [26
] or have examined biodiversity, habitat loss and protection separately [20
]. We expand on this earlier work, and synthesize global datasets targeting corporate biodiversity risk (reputational or regulation) and produce five relative metrics of biodiversity sensitivity that can aid a company in global, environmental risk management planning. We then demonstrate how our metrics could be packaged in a web-based mapping tool and used to rank a company’s portfolio of sites or its products in terms of its potential risk to biodiversity or to facilitate corporate sustainability reporting like the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).
We developed five biodiversity metrics to help a company identify their sites where they may encounter the greatest environmental sensitivity in relation to species richness, threatened species, habitat intactness, and habitat protection. Although we view higher scores of all our metrics as areas with greater sensitivity to biodiversity impacts, we recognize that certain industries may not interpret and weight each metric equally. For this reason, we do not recommend one, overall biodiversity sensitivity assessment but rather suggest that business leaders use metric scores separately or in combination as they see best to derive their own tailored evaluation. For example, businesses near a protected area or in locations with high numbers of threatened species are likely to encounter regulatory restrictions that may constrain operations, which would be viewed as a potential risk. However, the potential to contribute funding to a local protected area, or to purchase or donate lands to buffer protection or to provide critical habitat for endangered species may be seen as an opportunity in a given region. These types of investments may provide corporate benefits in obtaining good will within a community and/or gaining the trust of local, environmental regulators.
We suggest that biodiversity metrics, such as the ones that we have developed, should be used in conjunction with other environmental and/or socio-economic data to better ensure a more complete biodiversity risk assessment. For example, we encourage companies to use measures of their direct and indirect footprint in combination with our biodiversity metrics. These may include the size of land used, the amount of resource needed, the amount of waste developed, amount of pollution generated, or the nature and intensity of direct and indirect land use changes. Additionally, companies can incorporate socio-economic indicators into biodiversity assessments, such a poverty, population levels, education levels of potentially impacted populations as these may influence the success of conservation actions by a company.
4.1. Appropriate Use
Like any data, our metrics have the potential for misuse especially when coupled with a mapping application that may foster a misperception that data will support a finer resolution analysis. Although our metrics have a resolution of one km2, the accuracy of the data supporting our biodiversity metrics requires that fine-scale siting decisions should be made with additional analysis and more local (field) data. Our metrics are intended to facilitate comparison between sites and not as definitive description of site level occurrences. We used a one km2 resolution, because it provides flexibility for aggregation of our metrics and decreased many of the artificial boundaries visible at courser resolution. Additionally, at a courser resolution, range map counts underlying our richness and threatened species metrics became inflated. Finally, a one km2 resolution does not support site-level analysis, but rather a relative, site-to-site comparisons and even this comparison should be used to apply relative categorical risks (e.g., high, medium, low) to sites based on natural breaks in the scores since there is relatively no difference in biodiversity sensitivity where scores are clustered close together.
Even though users can overlay metric values for a point location on a map, these values should not be interpreted as the biodiversity value at that specific site on the ground, but rather should be used only for comparison against other sites. For example, our threatened species metric relies on endangered species range maps, which relate to the general, spatial distribution of a species but does not indicate whether suitable habitat exists or whether that species is found specifically within a location. Additionally, we have worked with some companies to assess the validity of our biodiversity metrics by comparing our results to their previous assessments, we recognize the need to further validate the robustness of the metrics by having other companies assess these metrics and/or by doing a full validation analysis. Finally, while our metrics may help guide where companies should prioritize more extensive analysis, such an environmental assessment or biodiversity action plan, it is not recommended that they be used as the tool that would provide the data necessary to conduct these types of assessments.
4.2. Current Global Biodiversity Assessment Applications
Essential for corporations to become even more engaged in planning for biodiversity issues is not only providing them with the necessary data but also giving them the ability to easily use these data. Web-based tools such as Protected Planet [30
], IUCN Red List of Threatened Species [31
], Data Basins [50
], and The Global Biodiversity Information Facility Mapping and Analysis Portal (GBIF_MAPA) [51
] provide a wealth of biodiversity related information but require users to download and analyze these data to assess a potential or current site. While important in assessing a site for biodiversity, some companies have far too many locations to perform this kind of analysis on each of their current or future sites. While many large corporations retain environmental health and safety program with significant biodiversity experience many small to mid-size companies may lack staff with expertise to perform these basic tasks. It will also be critical to not only make the tool easy to use but to make access to the tool and metrics free of charge. Many small to mid-size companies have limited resources and they may forego biodiversity assessments if they divert financial resources.
Based on a recent survey of available biodiversity and ecosystem services tools [52
], only two web-based mapping tools have been identified as global in scale and focusing specifically on synthesizing data provided from some of these previous sources to quickly assess biodiversity: IBAT and Normative Biodiversity Metric (NBM). IBAT provides users with detailed information and site comparisons for user-defined project boundaries based on counts of threatened species and distances to designated biodiversity areas and/or protected areas [52
]. NBM uses a single metric, which combines pristineness and endangered species data to produce a biodiversity score [52
]. NBM then provides users with the ability to digitize project boundaries to obtain scores relative to their current or future land holdings.
We see the need for a publicly-available tool that will provide companies with a quick pre-screening/ranking of all their sites based on potential biodiversity risk. Once sites have been identified as being sensitive to impacting biodiversity, additional regional/local data could be then used to provide a more detailed site assessment. For example, if a company has a portfolio of a hundred global sites providing them with the means to quickly identify sites with highest sensitivity to biodiversity will save them valuable time and resources while placing a priority on these sites.