The international frameworks for businesses on protecting nature and promoting biodiversity have become more clear in the past year. And while many companies feel comfortable tackling climate and emissions targets, the nature guidelines can feel both overwhelming and confusing.
At Bloom 23, GreenBiz’s new nature and biodiversity conference, executive director of the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN), Erin Billman, and James d’Ath, a lead for the Taskforce on Nature-related Disclosures (TNFD), led a session on grasping and implementing these newly released protocols for businesses.
TNFD and SBTN are both non-governmental organizations that seek to establish frameworks and guidelines for communities and businesses seeking to reduce their impacts on the environment. TNFD launched its final version in September with 14 disclosure recommendations that help companies identify their nature related risks, dependencies and impacts. SBTN, started in 2020, builds on the climate-focused Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), helping companies set targets for protecting nature and biodiversity.
Here are five takeaways:
1. TNFD and SBTN serve different functions…
SBTN is more prescriptive than TNFD, Billman said. TNFD is a risk and disclosure structure that provides guidance for companies, while SBTN is less flexible, setting explicit standards for the claims companies can make about their nature preservation efforts.
“We wanted to show that there is more than one way to approach this,” d’Ath said. “Different sectors and different locales will have different ways of looking at things.”
“At the end of the process, the expectation [for SBTN] is that a company will have set and have validated targets that they can then call in claims on.” Billman said.
2. …but companies need both
“It makes no sense to do either/or because then you haven’t understood the problem at hand,” d’Ath said.
The two frameworks, in other words, work in combination. The more stringent SBTN framework points directly to the guidance laid out by TNFD. TNFD could become a mere box-checking exercise if it isn’t bolstered by SBTN’s specific targets and action plans.
“They are distinct but complementary,” she said.
3. Companies need nature assessments in addition to climate targets
Companies that have already set targets for climate and carbon emissions still need to be thinking about their impacts on nature. Interrelated crises of deforestation, reducing land conversion and protecting biodiversity are not addressed by the climate targets. And businesses’ impacts on nature can be very different from (and less quantifiable than) their emissions footprints.
Billman cited a company (which she didn’t name) whose core product generates low emissions, but comes up high on nature impacts — shifting the entire conversation around that product’s lifecycle.
“The reality that I saw is that companies were doing projects that were either incremental, or they were audacious, but not rooted in what science says is needed,” she said. “Doing [a nature] assessment may yield major gaps.”
4. The frameworks try to double dip on data
Both SBTN and TNFD developers knew that they were working on a quick timeline. Nature and biodiversity are collapsing rapidly, and companies need to take action now — not spend precious years collecting data. Certain data can be adapted from the climate-related disclosures many companies already provide, said d’Ath, as well as the information companies collect for other disclosure organizations, such as the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Alliance for Water Stewardship.
The types of data companies will need for SBTN include sales figures; geographical locations of sourcing and operations; operational impacts including water use; state-level indicators such as the level of biodiversity in a given region; and other outcome-based data points.
Companies should start now with data available today.
“As more companies start setting science-based targets, the barriers to data collection will fall because you’ll start seeing more clarity around where the needs are and where technological innovation can help fill those gaps,” Billman said.
5. Sector-specific guidance will come later
SBTN has released guidance for land and fresh water, with oceans to follow and biodiversity after that. Right now the organization is focusing on fleshing out guidelines on those general topics and will tackle sector-specific content later.
“If we went down the road of sector guidance prematurely,” Billman said, “I think we would create fragmentation and unintended consequences.”
For more of our coverage of the nature frameworks, see these stories: