Expert views

Biodiversity conservation is necessary as well as profitable

31 October 2018
Lika Sasaki, and Lorena Jaramillo Castro, UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)

Protecting the natural order can not only provide social and environmental benefits but also can lead to economic gains

In the wake of the sustainability movement, many companies are now striving to change their business models to minimize their ecological footprint. Nevertheless, biodiversity conservation tends not to be among their top priority. This is a dilemma as halting biodiversity loss is a global priority that is directly referenced in United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals 14 and 15 (life below water and life on land), but also in other SDGs.

Today over 4.4 billion people depend on biodiversity (including forestry, agriculture, and fisheries) for their livelihoods. Moreover, the loss of biodiversity can have significant impact on business operations. There is every reason for businesses to play a bigger role in conservation efforts and in supporting local livelihoods. The big question is how companies can be more proactive in incorporating biodiversity conservation in their businesses.


Companies need to realize that and assess how biodiversity loss can be detrimental to their businesses. According to a study by Sustainable Food Trust, biodiversity loss is costing companies over $16 billion in externalities in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland alone.

On a brighter note, safeguarding biodiversity can lead to bigger company earnings and cost savings, enhancing their competitiveness and addressing consumer trends. While the concept of biodiversity conservation being profitable may sound outlandish, current market trends prove this is the case. A 2014 study published by the Global Environment Change found that services and products from nature are valued at as much as $145 trillion per year. There is still more room for expansion: A study from the Development Bank of Latin America shows that biodiversity-related products have a potential annual growth of 19% until 2020.

Moreover, companies must play a role in fostering sustainable consumption and production that favours biodiversity. According to a survey by the Union for Ethical BioTrade (UEBT), 79% of global consumers believe that companies have a moral obligation to have a positive impact on biodiversity.


Once companies realize the importance of biodiversity and define its objectives, they need to strategize on how to adapt their existing practices through assessing priorities, risks, and opportunities. This enables continuous improvement through measuring and mitigating various impacts, and clearly defined responsibilities and creating accountabilities within the company and along its supply chains.

To implement these strategies, guidelines, tools, and capacity-building programmes and funding are needed.

Through its BioTrade Initiative, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has since 1996 been creating guidelines and implementing programmes that link livelihoods, biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, and market opportunities.

The BioTrade Principles and Criteria assure sustainability and enhance competitiveness of companies’ services and products. They are in line with the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and promote conservation of biodiversity through sustainable commercial and investment activities.

Today the principles and criteria are utilized and implemented in 46 countries jointly with partners and serve as the basic guidelines for BioTrade-related tools such as the guidelines for business plan development, management plans and resource assessments for wild collected species, UEBT verification and certification, and access and benefit sharing guidelines.

Assessing a company’s supply chains is also crucial. For example, Natura Cosmetics, a global cosmetics company based in Brazil, developed an ethical sourcing system for its natural ingredients, which was certified by UEBT. Natura assures traceability along the supply chains and shares benefits with local communities. As such Natura achieves its biodiversity objectives, while optimizing efficiency and contributing to livelihoods in sourcing areas.


While business can be a significant driver of biodiversity conservation, government and industry must work together to reverse the current state of biodiversity degradation. This partnership is essential to designing and implementing biodiversity-friendly policies and incentives.

UNCTAD and its BioTrade partners have been promoting enabling policy environments for the development of sustainable biodiversity-based businesses. In tandem, they are building knowledge and capacity for stakeholders including government officials to address policy gaps that limit the development of biodiversity-endorsing activities.

Inclusive approaches also bring together different actors to formulate regulations that incentivize and contribute to safeguarding nature. For example, under the Peruvian BioTrade Programme partners worked to export oil made from sacha inchi, a nut native to the Amazon region, into the European Union (EU) region. They collaborated with policymakers, academia, development agencies and the private sector to jointly submit an application required by the EU Novel Foods Regulation. The case was approved in 2014, a breakthrough achievement for the product that allowed it to be sold in the highly lucrative and sustainable EU market.


Approximately 40% of the world’s economy and 80% of the needs of the poor derive from direct use of biodiversity, according to The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, a global initiative focused on recognizing, demonstrating and capturing the value of nature. Mainstreaming biodiversity into all businesses – including those that are non-biodiversity based – and incentivizing them to incorporate biodiversity-friendly business practices is essential. At the same time, aligning actors including government, civil society and intergovernmental organizations is also needed. Only with the collaboration and cooperation of all the players can we halt biodiversity loss and enhance the business case for biodiversity.

In response to this challenge, a four-year Global BioTrade programme was launched by the BioTrade Initiative in May 2018. Funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO, this programme focuses on coordinating and connecting BioTrade partners at the local, national, and international levels to enhance the collaborative efforts to achieve the biodiversity related goals in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.