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The Next Economy
‘Get Nature Positive’ Responds to Urgent Biodiversity Crisis, Offers Guidance for UK-Based Companies

The UK has lost almost half its wildlife and plant species since the Industrial Revolution. The new campaign, from the Council for Sustainable Business, specifically addresses nature-focused challenges and solutions for businesses.

Coming out of COP26, the pressure is on governments to pick up the pace on climate commitments so that meaningful and measurable carbon reductions are made across all sectors and all industries around the globe. What often gets lost in the climate conversation, however, is the importance of protecting and restoring the natural world, as well. In the United Kingdom, which has lost almost half its wildlife and plant species since the Industrial Revolution, one of the initiatives intended to move the needle on this front is the "Get Nature Positive" campaign, which specifically addresses nature-focused challenges and solutions.

“There’s been a lot of talk and work around carbon targets. But, beyond forest degradation, we hear much less about the impacts of business on nature and the importance of restoring it,” says Justin Francis, co-founder and CEO of Responsible Travel and biodiversity lead for the Council for Sustainable Business (CSB). “To tackle climate heating, we need to reduce carbon and restore healthy biodiversity. It can’t be one or the other.”

Get Nature Positive was developed by the CSB — a group of business leaders appointed by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), who are committed to developing successful businesses while also enhancing nature. The CSB was established in 2018 to help the government deliver on its commitment to achieve nature positivity by 2030 as part of its 25-year environmental plan. The campaign currently consists of an online handbook highlighting case studies across sectors on how businesses are becoming nature positive, as well as climate actions and solutions currently in place across Great Britain.

“We are determined to tackle the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, and our landmark Environment Bill is putting the environment at the heart of all government policy-making for generations to come. But to achieve our goals, we need to work hand-in-hand with business; and this brilliant handbook provides the tools it needs to go nature positive,” noted Lord Zac Goldsmith, Minister for the Pacific and the Environment; and Minister Rebecca Pow, Domestic Environment and Nature Recovery Minister, in a press release about the handbook.

So far, more than 70 high-profile companies — including GSK, Landsec, Burberry and Sainsbury’s — have signed on to support Get Nature Positive. The campaign is not a legally binding commitment, but it is a public declaration.

“As a business as well as individuals, we work to create awareness of looking after our beautiful world, nature, the environment and the planet as a whole,” said Karen Simmonds, founder of another signatory, Travel Matters. “We look to work with and support initiatives and campaigns working with professionals, consultants and businesses who teach and educate us on how we can make a positive difference to the planet and people.”

In a world awash with climate and sustainability commitments, pledges and declarations, it is worth asking if another one adds to the noise or actually adds value. In addition to the initiative’s focus on nature, Francis argues it’s the cross-industry emphasis that sets Get Nature Positive apart.

“No business is an island; and no industry is, either. We’re all connected — and our impacts, too,” he said. “So, while I understand the drive for sector-specific commitments, cross-industry knowledge and coordination, I think, is vital to success.”

The handbook currently has information related to the water, tourism, fashion, buildings and infrastructure, food retail, and finance sectors; and the CSB is in the process of compiling and developing information on agriculture, environmental services and renewable energy. Each section of the handbook details the specific challenges related to each sector, actions being used to address those challenges (and steps for replication), and case studies of these actions in progress — offering valuable insight for both UK-based businesses and those seeking nature-based solutions beyond the borders.

Though the Get Nature Positive initiative has this information compiled for each sector, the handbook doesn’t clearly link actions across sectors, which would more clearly emphasize the importance of cross-industry awareness, alignment and collaboration. For example, the section on food retail offers insight on how to tackle food waste in partnership with suppliers, which would also be helpful for those working in the tourism industry. The tourism section details information on how to change food sourcing and reduce food waste, but it doesn’t link to or make use of the guidance compiled on supplier partnerships.

This is a lost opportunity with the current iteration of the handbook, yet founding signatories indicate this is only a starting point on nature-related issues that must be addressed immediately.

“We do not claim that the impacts or solutions we’ve presented — with help from a wide range of experts from NGOs, academia, government and business — are exhaustive or perfect, or that we have all the definitions and ‘nature positive’ metrics that we need,” noted Liv Garfield, CEO of the CSB and CEO of Severn Trent, in the press release for the handbook.

For a country ranked in the bottom 10 percent for biodiversity, waiting for perfection is not an option: “The campaign doesn’t have all the answers, but it’s saying, ‘here’s what we know now and what we can do now,’” Francis said. “We need to get moving, pool our knowledge, and improve as we go. What we can’t do is carry on as we are.”