Business and Biodiversity?

Business and Biodiversity. Two words you don’t often expect to see together. At the ABMI, we understand that functional economies are dependent on functional ecosystems. But, we probably aren’t surprised when we hear the rhetoric that we can’t “afford” to protect the environment when the economy is weak. So, it was heartening for me to discover the existence the Canadian Business and Biodiversity Council (CBBC), and attend their National Workshop in Guelph, Ontario on December 5th.

As stated on their bookmarks (yes, they make bookmarks!), the CBBC is a “government-business-NGO-academia partnership that assists Canadian business in conserving biodiversity in their domestic and global operations”. The workshop truly attracted participants from across the spectrum of sectors, and based on the types of discussions I overheard throughout the day, it succeeded in catalyzing the exchange of ideas.

There were a couple of standout presentations for me. Mr. John Coyne, vice president and general counsel for Unilever Canada, presented his company’s initiative to ensure that 100% of their palm oil – used in hundreds of products from ice cream to shampoo – is obtained from certified sustainable sources by 2015. The conversion of tropical rain forest into palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia is decimating populations of charismatic fauna of rhinoceros and orangutan. Because of Unilever’s size, their decision to pursue this target is apparently having an impact on global palm oil production from grower to user, and reducing the rate of rainforest conversion. The fact that Mr. Coyne attended this workshop shows that biodiversity has hit the boardroom.

The federal government also appears ready to invest in biodiversity infrastructure. My secret suspicion is that they’ve been inspired by the ABMI! Mr. Geoff Munro, Assistant Deputy Minister and Chief Scientist at Natural Resources Canada, introduced FBIP, or the Federal Biodiversity Information Partnership. FBIP will be working to identify the data currently held by various federal ministries and determine how to increase its public accessibility.

In terms of the ABMI’s presence at the workshop: I moderated the breakout session “Climate Change and Biodiversity: Challenges of a Northern Environment” and used the opportunity to introduce the Application Centre’s Climate Change Adaptation Project (coordinated by Amy Nixon).  The ABMI’s “Status of Landbirds report” was a big hit – they were quickly snapped up off the display table. Note to self: create reports with artistically rendered animal photographs. I also had a very productive discussion with the folks at the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario about potentially using the Barcode of Life technology at the ABMI. But, that’s for another post…

For more information, check out the following:

Canadian Business and Biodiversity Council

Federal Biodiversity Information Partnership

Unilever’s Sustainable Sourcing Program

Biodiversity Institute of Ontario