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Business and biodiversity: It’s time to broaden our focus beyond just climate change

Image: Casey Allen/Unsplash

Kevin Hourican
President and Chief Executive Officer, Sysco Corporation
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Climate and Nature

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

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  • More awareness is needed about the impending threat of biodiversity loss.
  • Nature loss has caused a 69% decline in wildlife populations in just the last 50 years.
  • Collective action from global leaders is required to mitigate the threats of biodiversity – and- nature loss.

Globally, we are venturing into uncharted territory regarding climate change. The planning phase of critically assessing and defining how our businesses contribute to environmental damage is behind us, and now is the time to take action.

According to World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2022, climate action failure, extreme weather and biodiversity loss are the top three environmental global threats over the next decade. Many companies recognize the need for climate action and experience the impacts of extreme weather. However, there’s a lack of awareness and understanding about biodiversity loss, which is defined as species extinction and/ or reduction and results in irreversible consequences for the environment, humankind and economic activity and a permanent destruction of natural capital.

The responsibility of real climate action primarily falls on the shoulders of governments and businesses, including enforcing, enacting, or investing in effective climate-change adaptation and mitigation measures. We must rally our networks and apply our extensive resources toward solutions that will significantly preserve ecosystems, protect populations and transition to a carbon-neutral economy.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about nature?

Biodiversity equals natural capital

Biodiversity is inherently intertwined with climate change and has suffered severely from the effects of rising temperatures. It is critical that we broaden our focus to include biodiversity loss in addition to climate change and specifically apply resources towards solutions that promote biodiversity preservation.

Nature loss, a result of shifting weather patterns and one of the leading causes of biodiversity decline, has caused a 69% decrease in wildlife populations in just the last 50 years, according to WWF. Without urgent action, at the current rate of decline, we will face irreversible consequences as a result of species reduction and extinction, which will negatively impact the environment, economy, and humankind.

In fact, we are already bearing witness to a rising humanitarian crisis in the form of food insecurity primarily driven by the effects of climate change and biodiversity loss. According to the New York Times, the United Nations predicts at least 222 million people in 53 countries will face acute food shortages by the end of 2022.

The intersection of biodiversity and sustainable farming

Nature loss deeply affects the agricultural industry for farmers big and small by threatening crop yields and the health of livestock. The solution to the global food crisis lives somewhere at the intersection of biodiversity preservation and sustainable farming.

Sustainable farming is about cultivating products that nourish people while also nurturing the planet. Working together, we can strengthen the global food system. Tangibly, this looks like sourcing products responsibly, diverting or recycling waste, and using innovative solutions to evolve agricultural processes to manage emissions.

It also means keeping an open mind. Agricultural approaches aimed at preserving biodiversity shouldn’t be seen as a competition between traditional and technology driven practices but the combination of both for the benefit of people and the planet.


How is the World Economic Forum promoting responsible models of consumption?

Investing in innovation catalyzes progress

As a leader who has been critically assessing the supply chain of the world’s largest food distributor, I have witnessed firsthand how strategic investments and process modifications can mitigate nature loss and make supply chains more sustainable and resilient against economic and environmental impacts.

At Sysco, we are:

  • Partnering with Cargill & National Fish and Wildlife Fund in 2021 to implement sustainable grazing practices across one million acres in the U.S. Southern Great Plains region, helping ranchers in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, and Colorado tackle the impacts of climate change, improve grasslands, and promote biodiversity.
  • Mapping our global farmed shrimp supply chains, in close partnership with WWF, to the source-farms’ geographic locations while working to address impacts of deforestation and habitat conversion. Our responsible seafood sourcing program helps improve protection for species and habitats worldwide and has secured the livelihoods of more than 100,000 people.
  • Dedicated investments to reduce our scope 1 and 2 emissions by committing to electrify 35% of our U.S. tractor fleet and sourcing 100% renewable electricity for our global operations by 2030.
  • Exploring next-gen solutions such as indoor farming and have expanded our sustainable agriculture program to include the addition of 10 fresh Sysco Brand crops. This program encourages waste reduction, the responsible use of pesticides and nutrients, and conservation of energy and water.
Have you read?

    As leaders consider potential solutions, investing in future technologies now will be what defines the success and longevity of businesses in the long term.

    Playing it safe comes at a cost

    According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Nature Economy Report, roughly $44 trillion in value creation is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services. Environmental crises are all connected through the ecosystem of supply and demand which means if we don’t reform how we approach biodiversity, the interconnected system that forms life as we know it, these issues will inevitably hit where it hurts most—economically.

    While change will take time, we must remain diligent and commit to continuous learning as global risks evolve. Broadening our focus on climate change to be more inclusive of extreme weather, nature loss and biodiversity give us the power to be more strategic about where we allocate our resources to make the most impact.

    We must continue to move forward with urgency and collaborate to remedy the effects of climate change. I am calling on CEOs of major corporations to do their part. We only have one planet; demonstrate through action that you will prioritize taking the strategic and bold choices necessary to mitigate global risks starting now.

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    The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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