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Why Vertebrate Populations Decline Is A Problem For Business

A recent report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), entitled Living Planet 2016, adds to the growing body of data documenting an alarming decline in wildlife abundance around the globe.  In the words of Johan Rockstrom, Executive Director of the Stockholm Resilience Center, this report “synthesizes the mountain of evidence showing the Earth system is under increasing threat” from unsustainable development pressure around the world as the human populationgrows to a forecast high of nearly 10 billion by 2050 (PRB 2016). This graphic from the report summarizes five categories of human impact that imperil wildlife.

Utilizing scientific data on over 14,000 populations of 3,706 vertebrate species (mammals, birds, fishes, amphibians and reptiles) around the world, the Living Planet Index (LPI) calculated a 58% overall decline in the abundance of vertebrate populations in the last 40 years. Abundance refers to the number of individuals of a species found in a particular area.

While many are aware of the decline of large, charismatic animals – lions and elephants, orangutans and gorillas, dolphins and sea turtles – the latest LPI highlights the truly precipitous decline – an 80% reduction – in abundance of freshwater animals, including fish and amphibians, since 1970.

The current LPI includes data from a limited number of species (an estimated 5% of total), and the analysis has its critics. But the trend of rapidly declining abundance has also been detailed in previous Living Planet reports, and the trend is gravely concerning.  A sustainability manager’s mandate is to help an employer thrive in a changing environment.  So, of what concern is the state of wildlife abundance to business?

Ecosystem services are supported by high biodiversity

The measured decline in vertebrate abundance does not occur in a vacuum.  Food webs and other myriad interactions that unite vertebrates to the unknown numbers of insects, fungi, and bacteria in any ecosystem suggest a decline in biodiversity across the spectrum of life on Earth.  This is a problem because the ecosystem services that the Earth provides humanity in general, and businesses specifically, are supported by an abundant, healthy, diverse base of life.  This graphic illustrates those important connections.

(Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity, European Commission, May 2015)

For example, a forest is an ecosystem that provides many critical services to humankind, such as wood for lumber, fuel or fiber, highly organic soil for future farmland, purified freshwater, oxygen, and stormwater management.  However, a forest that provides these services is not simply the collection of plants and thesoil below them. It is a complex, highly interconnected and dynamic ecosystem that is dependent on fungal and bacterial decomposers, birds and insects as pollinators and pest managers, predators to keep herbivore populations from denuding the vegetation, and rich biodiversity of lower level consumers to support those predators.  Without a healthy, biodiverse array of life, a forest will steadily decline and will fail to provide the services on which human communities depend. The implications of a poorly functioning environment to business are significant and real, and thus the opportunity for leadership in this area is clear and pressing.

Business leadership in wildlife, and thus environmental protection

Business relies heavily on the natural resources and ecosystem services. That means the business sector also depends on biodiversity on a global scale. Healthy, abundant wildlife populations are one manifestation of biodiversity and one sign that the environment is capable of providing for business needs.

Companies large and small have an important leadership role in supporting animal populations, on a local, regional, and global scale through their direct and indirect impacts on animal habitat.  These impacts stem from activities such as construction and renovation of facilities, waste management, energy management, pest management, sourcing of raw materials, and shipping of goods.

Sustrana’s online sustainability management system has the tools and expertise to help your organization enact projects that further the long-term goal of preserving ecosystem services through the conservation of wildlife habitat. Our Project Selector resource contains well-documented project outlines that will help your company reduce its environmental footprint in the context of your business goals. We have educational material on important concepts related to environmental, social, and governance sustainability.  Our Action Plan and Issue Value Assessor tools will help you analyze, prioritize, organize, and document projects from concept stage through final implementation. Contact Sustrana today for a free demo of our online platform!


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