The debate about environmental responsibility has become more diverse in recent years. This is a welcome change, as environmental responsibility goes beyond emission readings. Fresh ideas also create pressure for companies to keep up with the times. Setting biodiversity goals challenges companies and industries, as they may even contradict emissions goals.
Carbon dioxide emissions have for a long time been the key metric for environmental impact. The legislation and standards set by various industries have steered development towards lower emissions.
“It’s crucial to reduce emissions, there’s no doubt about it. Lower emissions also play a key role in preserving biodiversity. However, it is important to be able to view environmental impacts more broadly, because emissions are by no means the only thing that affect the environment,” says Viivi Kettula, Environmental Manager at Kiilto.
Biodiversity issue new to businesses – important to identify the impacts
According to a report published by WWF Finland and Bain & Company, a significant number of Finnish companies are aware that loss of biodiversity is a major threat to society and business operations. The report nevertheless shows that companies do not know enough on the subject, and do not do enough to slow down biodiversity loss. Companies must make specific adjustments to their operations, but they have to be quick in order to stop biodiversity loss and to gain an advantage in the market. According to the report, only one in three companies has included a section on biodiversity loss in their sustainability strategy.
Kiilto has also noted how difficult the subject is.
“We have discussed biodiversity a lot, and we have included it in our environmental responsibility, Our Promise to the Environment. As to biodiversity goals, setting numerical goals turned out to be very difficult. We need more data. This is why we ended up setting two goals. After updating the promise, we are going to invest in both local emission offset projects and biodiversity conservation and to collaborate with our partners to implement annual environmental projects to maintain biodiversity,” says Kettula.
Kettula emphasises that it is vital to understand that the company’s operations affect biodiversity. It is therefore important to find out exactly what the impacts are.
Collaboration and action required urgently
“To include biodiversity in the promise, we conducted a materiality analysis on the different categories of biodiversity. We used the same tools that were used in the biodiversity survey, in which we also participated, carried out in the chemical industry last spring. The analysis showed that the categories most relevant to our operations are greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and land use. The survey did, however, bring to light the difficulty of measurement, as GHG emissions were the only category for which clear indicators exist. Also in this regard, the area in which we have the best opportunity to make a difference is our supply chain,” Kettula sums up.
Since there is no common approach to many of the environmental and responsibility issues yet, companies and organisations have to create their own ways of handling the matters.
“We need to act now. Companies must be able to react quickly based on the best information available. It takes courage to take the first step, and the plans must be adaptable as we gain more knowledge,” says Kettula.
“Environmental work is closely connected with understanding the impact of the company’s value chain. Many of the related tools are only just being developed, and there is an enormous amount of work to be done. That slows down the progress. Companies need each other and shared ecosystems to address challenges and achieve goals.”
Complicated link between climate and biodiversity
Kettula gives an example of how emissions and biodiversity goals can sometimes appear to be one thing but actually turn out to be another.
“If we use virgin material, such as sand, collecting it from nature will reduce biodiversity. Then again, if we use recycled material for the same purpose, processing it to be suitable for production creates more emissions than using the virgin material.”
To arrive at the most sustainable solution, we need a better understanding of the total impacts. For the necessary research, we need research institutes, umbrella organisations of various industries, and our own research and product development resources.
“We want to play an active role in addressing biodiversity issues together with various parties, but in a way that also takes account of climate matters,” says Kettula.
Environmental issues call for continuous training
According to Kettula, putting the findings into practice is a further complication.
“Different countries and functions may vary greatly in their level of environmental awareness and understanding. Even if there is an environmentally-oriented corporate culture in place, measures taken on the large scale may sometimes seem irrelevant to the daily work carried out by individual employees on the lower levels of the organisation. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the impact of the actions on different levels,” she points out.
“Understanding environmental impacts requires continuous learning. Increased understanding also facilitates the collection and measurement of data and generates new ideas.”