Building a Nature-Positive Future Through Landscape Level Engagement

This impact story was originally published by the Innovation Forum here.

Landscape engagement is critical to creating resilient supply chains and a nature-positive future, and there are tools that can help

Landscape approaches have gained prominence as a critical mechanism for companies to address supply chain risks, especially in agriculture and other industries heavily reliant on natural resources. Taking a landscape approach acknowledges supply chains are embedded within larger ecosystems – and managing them requires a holistic perspective that considers environmental, social and economic factors across entire jurisdictions.

The benefits of a landscape approach are increasingly well known and discussed. From enhancing biodiversity and building climate resilience to strengthening community engagement and enabling investment in natural capital at scale, landscape-based sustainability practices should play a central role in the future of supply chain management.

In the wake of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework – nature’s equivalent to the Paris Agreement on climate – more and more companies are recognising that the climate crisis cannot be addressed unless nature is conserved and restored also. Yes, climate change remains the focus of most corporate sustainability strategies. But the science suggests that net zero is not possible without protecting nature.

Nature ambition 

Just as a significant group of businesses are establishing science-based targets to drive meaningful carbon reduction action, a growing number are taking an equally robust approach to protecting nature. In May 2023, the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN) launched the very first corporate science-based targets for nature which enables companies to take more ambitious and measurable action on both climate and nature in tandem. 

During 2023, a pilot group of 17 companies are setting their first nature targets to address freshwater and land use alongside climate (through the Science Based Targets initiative). “The interplay between nature and climate requires collective, joined-up action to stabilise the climate, preserve freshwater resources, regenerate land, secure a healthy ocean and protect biodiversity,” says Erin Billman, the SBTN’s executive director. “This must be done in line with scientifically defined limits and on a socially equitable basis.”

The guidance issued by SBTN encourages companies to first assess their value chain-wide impacts on nature to produce a list of potential environmental impacts and locations where they need to act. Then, it’s about prioritising where to take action to have the biggest impact, before setting targets, and tracking progress.

“First, it’s about trying to reduce the impact of your supply chain – but it’s also about making a positive contribution to the broader system, to not only mitigate climate and nature impacts, but to become net positive in the long term,” says Sophie Persey, lead at LandScale, an initiative co-led by Rainforest Alliance and Conservation International that was involved in the consultation on the draft SBTN guidance. She points out that everything is connected, and companies can’t just work in siloes. “They need to look beyond the supply chain if we’re going to successfully tackle big systemic issues like climate change, biodiversity loss, water quality and poverty.”

Land-based focus

By setting three science-based land targets – 1) no conversion of natural ecosystems, 2) land footprint reduction, and 3) landscape engagement – the aim of the new SBTN framework is for corporate action to:

  • avoid the loss of nature in land systems by addressing land conversion and the main driver of biodiversity loss;
  • reduce the production pressure of large agricultural areas, whose expansion and ongoing impact has far exceeded the resilient capacity of the natural ecosystems on which we all rely; and
  • improve the ecological and social conditions of the landscapes from which companies source or operate within.

Target 3, focused on engagement, is crucial as it puts corporate efforts in the context of collaborative stakeholder groups at the landscape level. Complementing targets 1 and 2, which focus on avoiding and reduction of impacts, this third target asks companies to engage in either one landscape initiative that is equivalent to a 10% coverage of the company’s estimated land impact area footprint or two initiatives that are in materially relevant landscapes, regardless of size. 

Measuring impact

The SBTN requires companies to carry out a baseline assessment of the status of ecological and social conditions in each landscape. After this, companies must develop an action plan outlining how they will contribute to making a substantial improvement in the region. 

The SBTN includes a list of potential metrics for assessing the ecological and social condition of the landscape. The list, compiled based on availability and usability, is the outcome of a selection from SBTN methods and several commonly used landscape assessment frameworks, including the LandScale Assessment framework.

As the SBTN says, since most landscapes that are material to a company involve a “matrix of different working and natural land cover and use, a landscape-scale engagement helps to determine larger-scale impacts and dependencies among land use types and the stakeholders (including nature) that rely on natural resources or processes”.

This third target is crucial because it helps companies understand the business case for investing to create positive impact beyond their supply chain. And they won’t be able to communicate the return on that investment beyond their value chain unless they have measured the status before and the status afterwards. “Setting a baseline allows you to demonstrate that interventions are having the desired impact, and that a return on investment is being seen in terms of delivering tangible positive impacts on nature and people,” Persey says.

Shared responsibility 

The landscape approach creates a shared responsibility and helps companies to look at the cumulative impact of everything happening in any particular landscape. The approach is not commodity-specific, and by focusing on measuring outcomes – for example, trends in deforestation, and water use – it doesn’t matter which sector you’re focusing on or whether you are government or an NGO or a business. 

Persey highlights how LandScale has been designed to help measure the combined impact of all activities in rural landscapes and give a bigger picture about what’s going on. “It is critical to take a holistic view – looking at all the activities within a landscape and how they influence each other. From there, we can work out who is best placed to address specific challenges, or how different landscape stakeholders can collaborate to achieve an even greater impact.””

LandScale’s framework, which measures ecosystem health, human wellbeing, governance and production, can support companies in establishing a landscape engagement target. If a company is already engaging in a landscape approach, LandScale can be used to conduct an assessment of the baseline status of ecological and social conditions – which is a requirement for validation by SBTN. Their interactive Landscape Explorer can also help a company to identify existing landscape initiatives they can connect with in landscapes that are material to their supply chains. 

“To drive real change on the ground, landscape stakeholders need credible information that they can get behind and use to hold each other accountable,” says Persey.“By carrying out a baseline at a landscape level, and then repeating it to establish whether the action taken is actually delivering the intended outcome, we can target resources where they’ll have real impact and make genuine progress towards the things that really matter.”

This content is supported by LandScale.

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