Since its launch in 2015, the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) have resonated strongly with business and their influence on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) or sustainability has increased significantly between 2017 and 2020. This is the suggestion cited in the latest KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting released in December 2020.

The SDGs include 17 blueprints that aim to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by gaining critical mass to address global challenges such as inequality, poverty, climate change, and environmental degradation, among others. The KPMG survey indicates that companies, in a relatively short timeframe, have adopted the SDGs as a guide for their sustainability objectives.

In 2017, a minority of both G250 (the world’s top 250 companies) and N100 (mid to large companies from a sample worldwide) connected their business activities to the SDGs in their corporate reporting. Three years later, in 2020, a significant majority of both samples, 69% of the N100 and 72% of the G250, now use the SGDs as their ESG yardstick.

Biodiversity a low priority

This positive trend is overshadowed by the relatively low priority for biodiversity represented by SDG 14 – Life Below Water and SDG 15 – Life on Land. Companies tend to focus on economic growth and climate SDGs but largely ignore biodiversity.

Biodiversity is a broad term that encompasses the length and breadth of life on earth, essentially the whole of nature that is intrinsically linked to humanity.  It includes, among other elements, the food we eat, clean water supplies, landscapes, forests and the ocean. Tourism relies heavily on the preservation of biodiversity in an intimate way.

Sadly, the risk of biodiversity degradation is somewhat lost on the overall sustainability agenda. As Andrew Mitchell, co-founder of Task Force on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD), founder of Global Canopy and CEO of Equilibrium Futures observes in the KPMG report: “Language is at the heart of the problem here and it is why many companies do not think that the big biodiversity opportunity applies to their business. Companies tend to view biodiversity as something that impacts just the agriculture or food sectors – and, therefore, is not relevant to their own operations.

“Yet, more than 22 business sectors critically impact biodiversity assets or are dependent on services from them – including the infrastructure, mining and technology sectors. To assess nature-related risk, companies need to understand the distinction between their dependency on nature to keep operating, versus the impact that their business is having on nature itself, directly or through their supply chains”.

Synergy and collaboration is key

For tourism to survive, the conservation of life on our planet and its inherent ecosystems must take centre stage. There is a direct link between our economic activity and our natural environment with all its flora and fauna.

Mitchell believes that “reporting on biodiversity risk will follow the climate trend – with initial use of the framework being voluntary, followed by disclosure mandates and regulation by governments to protect and replenish nature”.

The message is clear. We cannot build sustainable tourism businesses without synergy and collaboration with, and veneration of, the natural wonders of our world, both simple and complex.

First published on 23 May 2021 here.