In a third party report done by the consulting firm Deloitte & Touche, despite developments in the collective consciousness of the private sector, the recent economic downturn is reversing the success and even preventing the implementation of sustainable business models, making the question of biodiversity more immediate. The surging growth in emerging markets, especially China, India and Brazil, place heavy strains on the supply of commodities and non-renewable resources. Also, as the global middle class continues to grow, the populations of developing economies are beginning to demand the same “privileged” lifestyle afforded to the West (World Business Council on Sustainable Development, 2010).
Socially responsible investments (SRI), which are investments made regarding societal and cultural impact, have grown in the past decade. The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment reports that about 3 trillion USD of SRIs in the United States, or 12 per cent of the total assets under professional management, is committed to some form of “socially responsible and sustainable” investment (Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment). Additionally, several international sustainability indices, including the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, have been introduced and in some cases, have outpaced several other non-sustainability-related indices.
Despite all such advances, Deloitte & Touche’s “Sustainability 2011: A difficult coming of age,” reports that consumers’ buying behavior remains largely indifferent to the recent biodiversity political debate. For instance, the rejection of chemical pesticides and promotion of biodiversity-sustainable farming practices that is implicit in a preference for organic goods has still only been adopted by a small subsection of the general public (Deloitte & Touche, 2011). The economic recession has further dampened previous consumer inclination to buy green and ethically sourced products.
Regardless of consumer demand, extractive and agricultural companies have done the most to spearhead private sector efforts in biodiversity management. Rio Tinto, the world’s largest mining company, was among the first companies to include sustainability assessments and is among the few to include an evaluation of the state of biodiversity in these assessments (Business.2010, 2007).
Likewise, major agribusinesses, or businesses directly involved with the production or processing of food, have started evaluating biodiversity risk assessments for 20 to 40 year periods. Unilever, perhaps most famous for their tea brand, Lipton, is one of the largest global tea retailers. In many of its operations in Africa, Unilever has significantly refined its practices to become more biodiversity friendly. For instance, in Tanzania Unliever has concentrated on managing large areas of high conservation value in the Eastern Arc forest: including mapping, monitoring, identifying key locations, and working with villagers to reduce the negative impacts of gathering food, medicine, building poles and firewood from forest (Business.2010, 2007).
Companies such as Rio Tinto and Unilever have introduced policies such as No Net Loss Policy (NNLP) and even Net Positive Impact (NPI). No Net Loss Policy refers to company efforts to balance unavoidable environmental damage (e.g. habitat loss/fragmentation, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, etc.) with replacement items/processes on future projects so that further resource reductions are prevented (University of Florida Levin College of Law).
Net Positive Impact, which is being pursued by RioTinto, focuses on improving the state of biodiversity through its business activities. While studies on the effectiveness of Rio Tinto’s NPI policy are yet to be completed, its methods seem promising and follow the same guidelines as typical Six Sigma (a consulting method that evaluates and refines company processes) approaches (Rio Tinto, 2004).