Hannah Zimmerman and Tom Idle
Published 1 month ago.
About a 8 minute read.
Image: Google DeepMind
This week at SB’23 San Diego, Context Nature shared guiding principles with which business can bridge nature and finance strategies; and three companies shared lessons learned from enacting their own biodiversity commitments.
Image credit: Adiprayogo Liemena
If we’re to truly transform our economies into nature-positive entities, it’s
going to take everybody working in a business — from legal and HR to financial
and environmental departments — pulling together.
After 25 years working in due diligence and supply chain governance, Ephi
Banaynal dela Cruz, CEO and co-founder of
the recently launched Context Nature, is well
placed to lead one of the opening workshops on the subject at SB’23 San
provocative, two-hour session succeeded in stimulating new thinking and fresh
ideas for how we can get company boards engaged in valuing nature — and not just
for reporting and compliance purposes. Together with her fellow co-founder,
Sylvia Vaquer, dela Cruz offered the
audience appropriate context: The last couple of decades have been dominated by
talk of carbon
(to the detriment of other environmental
have now been exceeded; and the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Risks Report doesn’t talk
about carbon (but collapse of ecosystems and biodiversity loss).
“The risk is growing, and nature has a direct impact on the long-term viability
of businesses,” dela Cruz said.
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The audience agreed, with one delegate noting that not one top business in the
world would be profitable if it were to properly account for nature: “The idea
of putting a price on nature is a new idea for many people. Half of the world’s
GDP is nature dependent. When companies realize that they will no longer be able
to make their products because there is no tree left … that’s terrifying,” they
The risk is growing thanks to tightening regulation, the increased use of
and supply chain disruption. Yes, corporates are increasingly asked to describe
their nature dependencies and how they are managing their relationship with
nature; but dela Cruz suggested that valuing nature should be seen through the
lens of opportunity, too.
“The economic prosperity of organizations will depend on how well they manage
their ecological health,” she said, before Vaquer highlighted numerous examples
of brands that are starting to do exactly that — Nestlé’s newly introduced
climate risk insurance for its coffee
and forest-restoration projects backed by the likes of
and Mars being good cases in point.
But dela Cruz acknowledged that when it comes to accurately valuing
finding ways to be proactive — let alone comply with the overwhelming number of
laws and reporting frameworks — is tough. Putting a value on nature is about
promoting sustainable business practice, as well as protecting human
rights and boosting transparency.
“Right now, it’s about reducing negative impacts,” dela Cruz said. “But
reduction, or doing less harm, is short sighted.”
To support, Context Nature has devised a set of guiding principles to help
reframe the commonalities of drivers for action.
“We need to take a systems approach and account for the interconnectedness of
environmental and social impacts,” she told delegates before walking them
through the principles:
Measuring what matters most
Providing opportunities for upskilling people and offering them a decent living, and
Recognizing the knowledge of Indigenous Peoples in nature management and ensuring their equitable participation.
“Yes, companies need to comply with new legislation. But they really need to
understand their relationship with
dela Cruz added. This means establishing a risk-management system that assesses
a company’s nature dependencies and impacts, and finds ways to remediate and
mitigate impacts before tracking performance via reporting.
“Lots of people start with the idea that they need to report their impacts and
start gathering info for a report. But they need to understand everything else
first,” she asserted.
Pooja Sharma — a lawyer with the
Earth Law Center — closed the workshop by
exploring how businesses can find ways to get past merely transactional
relationships in their supply chain to get to know stakeholders better, find out
what is meaningful to them, and start to reframe compliance as a system of
interconnected risks and opportunities.
“When it comes to corporate governance, most systems are too vague and have no
teeth” to truly embed nature into business, she said. Delegates agreed, with one
decrying the fact that “reporting is being used as proxy for good governance by
Sharma suggests firms develop relational contracts – based on the behavior and
trust of two parties – as one of a series of legal tools that can be used to
embed nature in companies. “Businesses relate through contracts, most of which
are simply transactional, based on fear. But relational contracts can be
supportive, with specified desired outcomes and a clear process for conflict
The business of valuing nature is incredibly complex. But by understanding their
relationship with nature — rather than simply focusing on compliance —
businesses can find opportunities to build long-term resilience and success.
L-R: Al Iannuzzi, Jane Ewing, Jamie Horst and Sarah Douglis
Many companies have fallen into a carbon tunnel-vision mentality and, in doing
so, haven’t yet begun to assess their impact on other aspects of nature. Brands
that take nature-positive pledges are committing to avoid further destruction
and biodiversity loss, as well as to protecting, restoring and regenerating
Moderated by Sarah
Douglis, Strategic Advisor
and Founder at SolTide Consulting, a Wednesday afternoon panel featured Al
Iannuzzi, VP of Sustainability at
The Estée Lauder Companies; Jamie
Horst, Chief Purpose Officer at
Traditional Medicinals; and Jane
Ewing, SVP of Sustainability
at Walmart discussing lessons learned from enacting
their companies’ biodiversity commitments.
No matter the size or industry, the first step for brands considering taking
substantive action on biodiversity is to assess their supply chain to understand
the hotspots of
Using a materiality view through supplier assessments, monitoring trends, and
utilizing the growing suite of
available — such as WWF’s Biodiversity Risk
tool — gives brands insight into
their impact on water, local species of plants and animals, harvesting
practices, and local communities.
With its incredibly wide range of suppliers, Ewing says retail giant Walmart
orders risks by magnitude from simply looking at suppliers with sustainability
certifications, increasing traceability, and sometimes going into a community to
solve an issue.
“Pick some highly vulnerable areas that you source from and look holistically at
the issue from both environmental and social,” she said. “If you are going into
these communities, make sure you are leaving them in a better place than when
you came in.”
Often, this work can’t be done alone. Since there is strength in numbers,
collaboration is key. By working hand in hand with competitors, governments,
NGOs and local communities, the process of adding biodiversity to your brand's
sustainability agenda and making progress can be expedited. Makeup, skincare,
haircare and fragrance giant Estée Lauder Companies has a complex supply chain
that sources thousands of
from around the world; and has found benefit in partnering with brands and
organizations to get the supplier data required to move the needle.
“The power to work together and influence the supply chain is huge,” Iannuzzi
said. “We can make a big difference by banding together.”
If you find an issue in your supply chain, the instinct may be to pull your
business out as quickly as possible — which can negatively impact the local
communities whose livelihoods depends on it. Instead, focus on stakeholder
engagement and try to solve the problem with the suppliers if possible and set
expectations from the beginning. In the case of Traditional Medicinals,
nurturing relationships for years to decades before sending the first purchase
order has helped it gain traction.
“The more that you have a deep sense of trust and transparency between your
organizations, the greater confidence you can have in the integrity of data and
your supply chain,” Horst said. “Think really deeply about how you are
approaching our partners.”
While focusing on
is a new sphere for many, it is now table stakes — not only for the sake of the
planet but also for the sake of businesses and the communities in which they
operate. By assessing your brand's footprint, utilizing the tools available and
working together, we can reverse biodiversity loss and set our sights on
Published Oct 19, 2023 12pm EDT / 9am PDT / 5pm BST / 6pm CEST
Formerly working in the advertising world in Kansas City, Hannah Zimmerman has now married her past experience with her passion for sustainability. When she isn't chasing her four-year-old daughter or helping companies along on their sustainability journey through consulting, reporting, communications and certifications, she is working on her master's in Sustainability through Harvard.
Content creator extraordinaire.