We are in the third year of the European Business and Biodiversity Platform (http://ec.europa.eu/environment/biodiversity/business/index_en.html), and had discussions a few months ago about the future of this initiative and a possible next phase. Surprisingly, maybe, was the lack of interest from the private sector to invest in the future of the European platform, and this raises questions.
Why are companies not interested to fund a platform to discuss nature conservation issues, when they were quite happy to be part of the initiative when it was funded by the European Commission? The Commission is currently carrying out a questionnaire survey to find out, but the answer is most likely that being a member of the platform does not provide enough return on investment. The platform was designed some years ago mainly as an awareness activity, but this is no longer enough. Some companies made the point that they would invest in a European platform if it provided them with access to European policy negotiations, but without this, they did not see the value.
Yet, individual companies are concerned about nature conservation and are willing to pay for relevant advice. The IUCN Regional Office for Europe has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the European Aggregates Association(UEPG) to develop a longer-term relationship focused on biodiversity aspects of quarrying and excavation in Europe (see the story on the IUCN web: http://www.iucn.org/news_homepage/all_news_by_theme/business_and_biodiversity_news/?10049/IUCN-and-European-Aggregates-Association-together-to-foster-biodiversity), and several of our European Members have working relationships with individual quarrying and mining companies.
At the global level, IUCN has helped Swiss-based cement and aggregates and concrete company Holcim to develop its Biodiversity Management System (http://www.iucn.org/about/work/programmes/business/our_engagements/bbp_holcim/bms/bms_development/)
If the interest is there, why is it difficult for companies and non-for-profit conservation organisations to agree on a common agenda? The challenge for conservation groups is often to present their case as a business opportunity, as companies are not donors or philanthropic institutions. One of the questions I raised during a debate at the Business and Biodiversity Forum in Stuttgart a few months ago was: “are we speaking the same language”? The company representatives were not convinced! This means that we – the nature conservation groups – need to think more strategically about our messages, our public relations and our relationship management with the private sector.
When a company sees the value of a partnership, the rest will follow. Does that open the door to greenwash? Of course this is a risk! IUCN has a stringent internal process of due diligence to guide the development of a business relationship, but in the end it is a management decision. Our bottom line (as described in the new IUCN business engagement strategy – http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/Rep-2012-001.pdf) is that we want to work with companies that are serious about change and improvement, and that includes companies that have been engaged in or are still doing questionable things.
The main challenge will be to show that real change is happening!