There’s little point in talking about sustainability if we don’t talk about life on Earth. All living things like plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria form part of what we call “biodiversity” – or, the variety of the different kinds of life (species) you’ll find in a given area. All of these species work together to maintain their ecosystems and survive within them. They create the delicate balance that is needed for life to thrive. Whole ecosystems can collapse if this balance is not maintained.
However, as humans consume more resources, we risk upsetting that delicate balance. Whether it’s pollution, climate change, or population growth, human activities undeniably have an adverse effect on biodiversity. That’s why we, both as individuals and as businesses, have a responsibility to look at our actions and find ways to minimize the negative impact we have.
A refresher course on biodiversity
Reminder of key terms:
Biomes: large areas characterized by their vegetation, soil, wildlife, and climate. The 5 main types of biomes include forest, tundra, desert, aquatic, and grassland.
Biosphere: the entirety of the parts of the Earth where life exists. This includes everything from the deepest trenches in the ocean to the highest mountain peaks.
Ecosystem: a geographic area where plants, animals, other organisms, the weather, adn even the landscape, work together to form a “bubble of life”.
Here’s a short refresher on biodiversity for those who don’t remember much from their biology classes in school.
- Biodiversity is a bewilderingly broad concept, covering literally all life on Earth
- It is the most complex and vital feature of our planet, as it is this myriad of relationships between organisms that make life possible
- There are several levels of biodiversity, including:
- Individual species
- Communities of living things
- Entire ecosystems
- Healthy ecosystems are comprised of this range of animals, plants, microorganisms, and more. It’s these ecosystems that provide the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the medicine we rely on. For example, without plants, we wouldn’t have any oxygen to breathe. Without bees to pollinate flowers, we wouldn’t have any fruit.
The most diverse ecosystems
When looking at biomes and ecosystems, it’s important to remember that not all are created equal. The diversity of living beings within these biomes is not the same – some play host to countless different species, while others have the conditions for life needed by very specific species. A lot of living things are hyper-specialized to live in very specific environments and would not be able to adapt to life in a different biome. For example, aquatic species would be simply unable to survive in a desert biome, while an animal like the apple snail can adapt to life in a swamp, lake, river, or even a ditch.
Tropical rainforests and coral reefs are the most diverse ecosystems on this planet. Coral reefs are home to over 1 million species of animals, as well as 4000 species of reef fish and over 800 species of coral. And they only cover 0.1% of the Earth’s surface (Coral Reef Alliance)! Rainforests, on the other hand, are so diverse that we don’t know exactly how many species currently live in them. Estimates currently sit at anywhere between 3 to 50 million species.
But both of these habitats are now at greater risk than ever before as a result of human activity. Deforestation and forest alteration due to logging, hunting, agricultural expansion, and human settlement are greatly affecting tropical rainforests, with over 1 million species currently facing extinction. What’s more, studies have shown that coral reef-associated biodiversity has dropped by 63% since the 1950s because of changes in water temperature, pollution, climate change, overfishing, and coastal developments.
Why biodiversity should be important to companies
Sometimes, it can feel as though biodiversity and business are completely disconnected. The image of a skyscraper with business people in suits can feel at odds with the David Attenborough-esque documentary shots of humpback whales. But that’s a misconception because the bottom line is that biodiversity is intrinsically linked to economic value across a range of businesses.
Food provisioning, carbon storage, and water and air filtration, to name a few, yield economic value in the form of ecosystem services. These industries alone are worth more than $150 trillion annually – twice the world’s GDP! What’s more, there are 5 primary pressures that are causing steep biodiversity loss – land and sea use, direct over-exploitation of natural resources, climate change, pollution, and the spread of invasive species.
The cost of the decline in ecosystem functionality as a result of this is more than $5 trillion a year in lost natural services. It’s clear that many business activities (particularly those relating to resource extraction and cultivation) greatly contribute to the factors driving biodiversity loss. In fact, the food, energy, infrastructure, and fashion industries are responsible for more than 90% of man-made pressure on biodiversity!
And that’s something that workplace culture around the world is growing more conscious of. According to recent studies, over 70% of employees are concerned about environmental ethics, and 65% claim that they are more likely to choose to work for a company with strong environmental policies (Reuters).
What can companies do to help biodiversity?
As many companies start to set sustainability as a key priority, protecting biodiversity should be an integral part of these practices and policies. Below are a few simple ways to get started:
Introduce a new sustainability policy
A sustainability policy will show your company’s commitment to mitigating its impact on the environment and future generations. Introducing such a policy, with a section dedicated to how your industry and business affect biodiversity, will give you the chance to identify key issues and tackle them head-on. Read more on writing environmental policies here.
Start setting targets and building accountability
Find ways to map biodiversity throughout your value chain to identify exactly where and how you can reduce your impact. Aligning with the Science-Based Targets Network or the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures is an excellent way to get the ball rolling.
Have your C-suite walk the talk
Once you’ve prepared your sustainability policy, have your Board of Directors or C-level leaders sign it. This seemingly small gesture is crucial for showing both internal and external stakeholders that you are serious about creating a sustainable future for your business.
Get employees involved
Whether that’s through an incentive-based gamification system or a community-led initiative, getting employees involved in these key issues is crucial. Not only will their commitment help you achieve goals, but you’ll also see a wave of positive sentiment from across the company as employees increasingly value working for companies with strong environmental goals.
What we’re doing at TravelPerk to help protect biodiversity
At TravelPerk, we work closely with two major biodiversity conservation organizations by helping them finance key projects and initiatives. Through GreenPerk and GreenPerk API, TravelPerk customers are able to offset their business travel-related carbon footprint by investing ~0.9% of the total cost of their trip into a pool of funds that supports these projects. These projects, in turn, are dedicated to protecting biodiversity reserves and wildlife sanctuaries.
Spotlight: Rimba Raya Biodiversity Project
One of the primary projects we work with is the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve Initiative – a for-profit forest carbon initiative in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. A fundamental objective of this project is to protect an entire peat dome against planned conversion to oil palm plantations.
Rimba Raya is located in the Seruyan District of Indonesia, a territory covering approximately 16.5 million hectares of land – almost 10% of which is peatland. This type of physical geography is most often exploited for oil palm and rubber production, which is precisely what the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Project is fighting against.
Oil palm plantations in the district have been expanding rapidly since 2000, with the district government issuing 598,815 hectares of land for this purpose from 2008 to 2014 alone. Deforestation and plans to convert peatland into oil palm plantations have represented the greatest threats to this forest region in the last two decades.
The Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve Initiative works specifically with businesses and government entities to tackle this issue. Some of the many positive initiatives that resulted from such partnerships include the use of the forest for illegal timber removals, prohibiting fishing using unsustainable practices, and preventing changing land uses, among other things.
The organization has also committed to implementing social programs to improve general income and well-being. That includes things like developing agroforestry systems, introducing a clear water program, and improving child education, to name a few.
The Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary is a protected area, covering over 300,000 hectares of land in eastern Cambodia. It is home to more than 100 species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), 75 threatened species, and 46 species listed as Endangered or Rare under Cambodian law. The region is also the ancestral home of the Bunong ethnic group whose culture, community, and identity is founded in this forest. This is a project that we, at TravelPerk, are proud to support.
Cambodia has one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world, which in turn is one of the major causes of carbon dioxide emissions. The Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary holds more than 75 million tonnes of CO2e in the fight against carbon emissions and global warming. Some of the major challenges facing this sanctuary are large-scale deforestation, increasing demand for agricultural land (representing 30% of employment in the region), illegal logging, and animal poaching.
The team behind the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary is employing a number of incredible initiatives to combat these challenges. From directly involving local communities to working with law enforcement for land protection, both a top-down and bottom-up approach are being implemented to enact solutions to these problems.
Direct wildlife protection is another key area of focus for the team, who have helped community members install predator-exclusion devices and protect Cambodia’s endangered national bird, the giant ibis. Through regular monitoring and evaluation, the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary is able to track the success of these interventions and ensure the positive impact of their actions and those of their investors and donors.
Getting involved through TravelPerk
Any TravelPerk user is able to contribute to these incredible projects simply by signing up for our GreenPerk service. Any time you book a trip with TravelPerk, our team of experts calculates your carbon footprint and collects the corresponding funds to offset 100% of your carbon footprint on this trip. All funds are then gathered into a pool, which are then invested in VERRA-certified projects, like the ones above. All users receive transparent reports about the positive impact their investments are having on these projects.
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Learn more about our GreenPerk projects here.