SDG #15: Restore ecosystems and preserve biodiversity
Sustainable Development Goals Blog Series
On January 1st, 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development officially came into force. Over the next 15 years, with these 17 goals, countries will combine efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. In this article we aim to familiarize you with SDG 15: Restore ecosystems and preserve biodiversity.
By Robbin-Jan Haar | 30-03-2018
Research done by the WWF resulted in the shocking conclusion that our planet is losing 27 soccer fields of forest every minute, significantly reducing the world’s possibilities to mitigate climate change1. With the world committed to the Paris agreement, life on land is pivotal in changing global warming. At first, facts like these may seem as something that would be a goal of an ecologically focused NGO, but due to the cyclical nature of SDG 15, this SDG relates to, if not facilitates many other SDGs. This makes life on land a SDG worth placing on an organization’s priority list.
For businesses, there are multiple reasons to get engaged with SDG 15, of which two are identified and explained here:
Facilitates other SDGs
Land can be considered the cornerstone of economic growth: we use land to build, for transportation and to grow crops. Without good quality land, there wouldn’t be economic growth – or economy at all, making it impossible to ensure a basic standard of life with decent health or food. For example: plant life accounts for as much as 80% of our diet2, making life on land vital for human survival. This cyclical nature of land makes it the bridge between many other SDGs, like SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation. The amazon rainforest alone evaporates 20 billion tons of water every day, making this forest a key source to prevent drought and desertification, which ultimately affects crops and biodiversity, leading to low agricultural productivity, and vice versa.
Key to survival for many businesses
In 2016 a report by Fairtrade was released warning for the effects of climate change on the coffee production. Coffee, being the second most valuable commodity exported by developing countries (accounting for roughly 19 billion USD in 2015), faces extinction by the end of this century if no significant action to reduce climate change is followed through3. Not only would this have a disastrous effect on coffee companies, but also on the productivity of other companies: employees do not tend to stay very productive from tea alone.
The coffee industry is just one of many examples of industries highly dependent on life on land. In essence, every business that depends on any kind of farming either has to quit or has to adapt to changing circumstances. And with food and agriculture having a global market value of roughly 8 trillion USD4, it might just be worth to have a closer look at SDG 15.
There are two actions that businesses may take in order to contribute to the realization of SDG 15 right away.
1. Sustainable sourcing
If a chain is as strong as its weakest link, then a supply chain is as sustainable as its suppliers. It is therefore that organizations increasingly buy their raw materials or office supplies from sustainable sources. For coffee alone, roughly 20% is sourced according to sustainability standards5 with various labels, seals and trademarks being used and launched.
An increasing amount of companies recognize that 'natural capital' is becoming scarce, which is a limiting factor for their activities. This applies both to access to resources on the one hand and to the need to reduce the environmental burden through production on the other6. Tony’s Chocolonely, for example, developed a ‘beantracker’ system to create more transparency in their supply chain7. With increased transparency, Tony’s Chocolonely is able to see which cocoa farmers have supplied what quantities of beans, enabling them to source their raw materials in a sustainable manner.
Another organization making big efforts to source sustainably, is Unilever. Being one of the largest users of palm oil in the world, Unilever committed to source all their palm oil sustainably by 2019 (and are already right on track)7. As palm oil is one of the main drivers for deforestation, this links to Unilever’s ambition to have zero net deforestation by 2028. One way in which Unilever has brought these two commitments to practice is by cancelling its contracts with one of their palm oil suppliers when their sustainability certification was suspended. Only after progress was shown from the supplier’s side, Unilever proceeded sourcing again from this supplier9.
Another interesting way of sustainable sourcing, is changing the way we source information: for example by using the free search engine Ecosia, which donates 80% of their profits to planting trees. At the moment of writing, Ecosia has already planted more than 23 million trees just through people like you and me using their search engine. Information that fights back deforestation.
2. Embed proper recycling practices
Do you remember the last time you threw that piece of rubbish in the bin while you knew that you should have actually recycled it? If you do (and I do), then definitely keep on reading.
With an average Dutch citizen producing nearly 8.000 kilograms of waste every year10, waste has a serious effect on environmental degradation. Europe is doing very well in terms of landfill, but in the United States, still nearly 70% of all waste is landfilled11, harming water quality, biodiversity and fertility.
Recycling is one way to significantly reduce landfilling and hence, improve life on land. Global shoe and apparel brand Adidas included recycling as part of their supply chain with their 'Make Every Thread Count' programme. Consumers can drop off old shoes and apparel (not just from Adidas), which are later picked up by a specialized company who sorts, distributes and recycles the material12. You could honestly say Adidas gets its kicks from recycling.
Collaboration and guts
For some SDGs the results are immediately tangible, but SDG 15 can be a little tougher for organizations to engage with ánd to show immediate effect. Often, sustainability efforts are associated with the prisoner’s dilemma; it only works when everyone is on board. Yet to make an impact that matters, we shouldn’t let the prisoner’s dilemma keep us from contributing to a better world. To make an impact that matters, we should just start by building a future. Even if started small. Let’s transform our wasteful future into a hopeful future. Let’s make an impact.
Sustainable Development Goals Blog Series
This blog is part of the Sustainable Development Blog Series: a blog series that highlights the 17 SDGs one by one on a biweekly basis. In these blogs you will find more information about each SDG, why it is important for your organisation to contribute to the achievement of it, and specific examples of how you can do that.
For more information about the Sustainable Development Goals and what your organisation can do to contribute, please contact Anne Huibrechtse-Truijens via email@example.com / +31882882071