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Best practices in environmental conservation for entrepreneurs

Understanding how your business impacts biodiversity and nature is important to mitigate those impacts in your value chain

9-minute read

Most Canadian business owners care about the planet and want to contribute to mitigating the climate crisis. A 2021 BDC study found that 84% of entrepreneurs believe it’s their responsibility to protect the environment.

Conservation is an important element of environmental protection. It means carefully protecting natural areas to prevent degradation or destruction. It also includes water and wildlife conservation and fighting climate change, a major risk for ecosystems.

Business owners have important roles to play in conservation including protecting the natural areas close to where we live and work and reducing their emissions to combat climate change.

Amanda Reed is Director of Strategic Partnerships at Nature United, the Canadian affiliate of a global conservation organization that works in almost 80 countries. She says entrepreneurs can make their businesses more sustainable and help combat climate change by pursuing conservation.

“We need to understand how our businesses and communities interact with nature and what impact people and our activities have on it, now and in the future. Nature relies on us, and we rely on nature,” she says.

“When we degrade nature, we release emissions into the air. When we protect nature, we can sequester them.”

Nature relies on us, and we rely on nature.

How can you contribute to conservation efforts? Here’s some advice from Reed.

Observe the mitigation hierarchy

The best way to advance conservation with your business is to operate in a way that limits the harm you do to natural habitats, both locally and globally.

The mitigation hierarchy is a framework that aims to limit the negative impacts of conducting business in or near a natural habitat. The goal is to avoid the negative impact of economic development. When damage cannot be avoided, sites can be restored, or as a last alternative, offsets can be found.

Reed explains: “If you’re a business expanding into a new location, first avoid places that could raise environmental and community conflicts then reduce impacts.”

4 elements of the mitigation hierarchy

1. Avoid

Avoid means taking measures to prevent any negative impacts from occurring. You can consider choosing a different location, design or timing to limit the impact on nature. Avoidance is the most effective way of protecting nature, as it prevents loss or degradation of habitats and species. It also maintains ecosystem functions and services.

Avoidance reduces the need for more costly or challenging mitigation measures later on, such as restoration.

2. Minimize

Minimize means reducing the duration, intensity or extent of impacts that cannot be avoided. For example, a project can minimize its impact by:

  • using less land
  • reducing noise and pollution
  • designing infrastructure to avoid harming wildlife
  • putting in place best practices to prevent erosion and sedimentation

3. Rehabilitate/restore

Rehabilitate means improving degraded ecosystems after an economic activity has taken place. The goal of rehabilitation is to restore basic ecological functions or ecosystem services. It may not necessarily return an area to the original ecosystem that was present before the economic activity.

For example, you can rehabilitate an area by planting trees to stabilize bare soil, restore water quality through introducing plants that filter water, or replant native species to encourage biodiversity.

4. Offset residual impact

Offset means making up for the damage done to an ecosystem in one place protecting or improving ecosystem function in another place.

“Once you’ve avoided the highest risk, minimized the impact, restored what you can,” says Reed. “Then, you can offset the residual impact, for example, by donating to a land trust or protecting similar habitat down the road.”

Protect biodiversity

One of the basic principles of conservation is protecting natural habitats and ecosystems. Reed acknowledges the difficulty of measuring the protection of biodiversity.

“You could show your support through philanthropy, by investing in a non-profit dedicated to this work.” she says.

Commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions

Nature and climate change are deeply interrelated. Climate change leads to biodiversity loss, while nature is important in sequestering carbon. Efforts to reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions in your business can play an important role in protecting ecosystems and biodiversity.

BDC’s Climate Action Centre can help you find everything you need to reduce your business’s carbon footprint.

Businesses should be thinking about their impact on their communities, helping to decrease risks.

Business is a key part of community

Considering the surrounding community is an essential part of running a sustainable company. Especially if your business is making changes to land use or your products alter the quality of the air or nature.

“People are very sensitive to environmental changes. If you’re treading on an area that could cause biodiversity loss, affect species at risk or sensitive water stores or flood plains or marshes that help with water retainment, you need to consider and be answerable to your community,” said Reed.

She also explains that Indigenous rights are becoming increasingly important for conservation efforts.

“We have to do a better job of recognizing Indigenous rights and authority. Anywhere people are doing business on Indigenous territory, it’s their responsibility to consult with the First Nations that have rights in the area and find out how their business plans align with where that population stands on land use.”

When considering your local community, Reed recommends “moving at the speed of trust.”

“It’s important for businesses to be more up-front in their planning when it comes to land use changes. When you collaborate with local communities, you’re sowing the seeds for lasting, sustainable operations that give as much as they take,” says Reed.

Next step

Try the free B Impact Assessment to evaluate the impact your business is having on your community and the environment. Then, compare against your peers from around the world.

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