measuring biodiversity footprint

Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä have developed a method for corporations to calculate their biodiversity footprint. The pilot project focused on S Group’s biodiversity footprint. The outcome of the study will be a method freely available to all companies and organizations for the assessment of their impact on nature.

Halting biodiversity loss requires companies to minimize their negative impact on biodiversity, i.e. their biodiversity footprint. So far, however, biodiversity footprint assessment tools have been in short supply. A joint project of the University of Jyväskylä, a Finnish co-operative retailer S Group, and the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra has now developed a method that points the way forward for the business sector in this respect. This is the first time that a major retail group’s biodiversity footprint has been assessed.

The interim report of the project published now indicates that food and fuels account for most of S Group’s biodiversity footprint, with most of the footprint falling on regions beyond Finland’s borders. Utility goods account for a significantly smaller portion—a few percent—of the biodiversity footprint.

“Companies already routinely calculate their carbon footprints. This project demonstrates that they can also calculate their biodiversity footprint. A company like S Group, with operations in several different sectors, played a key role in the method’s development,” says Janne Kotiaho, Professor of Ecology at the University of Jyväskylä.

“You have to tackle climate and biodiversity challenges hand in hand. As opposed to climate efforts, biodiversity impacts are very local. The report shows a need for increasingly strong cooperation between businesses and partners operating within the same geographic area. Companies must also start building new kinds of cooperation networks to reduce their negative impact on nature,” says Nina Elomaa, Senior Vice President, Sustainability, at S Group.

“You cannot manage something that you can’t measure. Stopping biodiversity loss requires a functional method for calculating biodiversity footprints. Any company that intends to make a serious effort to manage its biodiversity impact needs a method of this kind. We can take some national pride in Finland being at the forefront of this global development work,” says Lasse Miettinen, Director of Sustainability Solutions at Sitra.

The theme is topical, given that nations around the world agreed on new international targets for halting biodiversity loss at the Montreal Biodiversity Conference in December. The global biodiversity framework agreed on also stated that, in the future, large and transnational companies should disclose their negative impact on biodiversity.

Biodiversity footprint maps impact on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems

A large part of the negative environmental impact attributable to Finnish consumption is generated across the globe, beyond Finland’s borders through complex supply chains. According to the calculation model based on financial accounting and Finland’s international trade, more than 90 percent of S Group’s global biodiversity footprint falls on regions outside Finland.

S Group aims to reduce its biodiversity impact through its climate work and by promoting more sustainable consumption and a planetary health diet. Concrete actions include policies related to raw materials and sourcing that aims to protect fish populations, for example, or ensure that no purchases are made from areas sensitive in terms of forest loss.

How S Group’s biodiversity footprint was assessed

The biodiversity footprint of S Group’s value chain and own operations was assessed with a method devised by the University of Jyväskylä School of Resource Wisdom – JYU.Wisdom.

The indicator of the biodiversity footprint is the share of the world’s species at risk of extinction, i.e. the Potentially Disappeared Fraction (PDF) of species. The indicator collects the PDF of various species under a single unit of measurement, similar to carbon footprint assessments, and enables the international comparison of different corporations’ biodiversity footprints.

The method’s further development continues.