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Business Obligations

In the UK, the framework of national and international legislation places obligations on business to manage the potential effects of their operations on wildlife and habitats.  Under UK legislation, restrictions are imposed on planning and development of sites containing protected species and habitats. English Nature and Countryside Council for Wales are designated with the power to impose Management Schemes on owners of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). In December 2003, a company in Cornwall was fined £ 3,000 and ordered to pay £ 10,000 in costs for damaging an SSSI.  The case sends a strong message to companies about their activities on nationally important wildlife sites. 

“In the global economy, many companies have business relationships overseas, whether through their supply chain or through direct ownership. This means that UK businesses have the potential to make a very significant positive contribution to biodiversity conservation through their investment, purchasing and operating decisions and through their ability to influence. Such strategic approaches to biodiversity can not only avoid potential negative impacts but, in turn, create both strategic and operational benefits for a company". Michael Meacher, Minister of state for the environment, and Lord Browne, Chief Executive, BP plc, July 2002.

There are a number of ways in which UK companies impact on and are affected by biodiversity at a global level.

A UK company may:

  • have overseas operations which have an impact on biodiversity;
  • have an impact on biodiversity through its supply chain and use of raw materials;
  • have an indirect impact on biodiversity, for example, through energy use which contributes to climate change, through its water use and/or releases of waste and by-products to air, land and water.

For UK companies, this presents a complex situation. Companies may find themselves subject to regulations, investor confidence, public opinion and pressure from NGOs within the UK market, while operating in countries with a different regulatory framework and different priorities. In the absence of consistent international laws and regulations, companies are adopting voluntary initiatives to set their own standards. These initiatives are generally through partnerships with NGOs such as Earthwatch, and through sectoral partnerships.

Some specific challenges and considerations for UK companies with global impact on biodiversity include:

  • How to design a company biodiversity action plan (BAP) which:
  • is relevant to and understood by local businesses;
  • is translated with consistency into site level biodiversity action plans;
  • is evaluated at local level and fed back to group level;
  • has international targets and indicators; and
  • is fully integrated into the company’s operations internationally.
  • How to manage internal and external stakeholders internationally.
  • How to work with existing suppliers and find new suppliers in order to reduce the company’s biodiversity impact through its supply chain.
  • How to define the responsibility of a company, as oppose to NGOs or the Government, in the stewardship of biodiversity i.e. beyond the scope of a company’s immediate business impacts.

The strategic role and the scope of responsibility of the corporate sector in biodiversity conservation at a global level is very much in debate between governments, companies and NGOs. However, there are a number of resources which can help companies to understand and manage their biodiversity impacts internationally.

Business & Biodiversity: a Guide for UK-based companies operating Internationally has been produced by Earthwatch Europe. The publication provides an overview of key considerations and challenges for UK-based companies with operations or links overseas:

  • explains the international framework of conventions, laws and regulations relating to biodiversity
  • is illustrated by case studies from a wide range of UK-based companies.

Business & Biodiversity: The Handbook for Corporate Action has been published by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and Earthwatch Europe. The Handbook builds on the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity and covers:

  • the business case for biodiversity
  • advice on how companies can identify and prioritise biodiversity issues of particular importance to the corporate sector, and
  • guidance on biodiversity management strategies.

The UK Clearing House Mechanism (CHM) has been set up as a point of exchange between the UK and other Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The CHM supports the UK Biodiversity action plan by providing:

  • A clearing House for the UK's implementation through Biodiversity Action Plans;
  • A clearing House for access to biological data through the National Biodiversity Network (NBN).

The Global Biodiversity Forum aims to provide a mechanism to foster analysis and critical dialogue among a wide range of stakeholders on key ecological, economic, social and institutional issues related to biodiversity.

Photo Credit: Peter Wakely/ English Nature

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