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The Role of Corporations in Protecting Biodiversity | Mainstage

programming sponsor:Walmart Color e1635269642342 - The Role of Corporations in Protecting Biodiversity | Mainstage

Kathleen McLaughlin, Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Walmart, Inc. and President, Walmart Foundation
M. Sanjayan, Chief Executive Officer, Conservation International
Eric Soubeiran, Managing Director, Climate and Nature Fund at Unilever
Justin Worland, Senior Correspondent, TIME Magazine

Climate change is the pressing issue for the 21st century. While there is rising interest because of climate disasters, less attention has been paid to the issue of preserving biodiversity. There is a business case for protecting nature, said Kathleen McLaughlin, Executive Vice President & Chief Sustainability Officer of Walmart, Inc. and President of the Walmart Foundation. More than 50% of the world’s gross domestic product is dependent on nature. We are at a crisis point, continued McLaughlin: nature and interconnected systems need attention, and we must find a way to work within planetary boundaries.

We are all part of nature, said Eric Soubeiran, Managing Director of Unilever Climate & Nature Fund, and brands are part of the life of people. Consumers have a choice so brands have a responsibility to commit to a journey of sustainability. Further, adding more biodiversity into food creates a more varied experience of taste and texture.

A decade ago, companies thought about raw materials only in terms of price, quality, and supply chain security. Now, explained M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International, companies think about impact, climate threats, and biodiversity. There is only a narrow window for the planet to escape the catastrophic effects of climate change so the mission is clear: companies have a role to play in restoring nature.

Justin Worland, Senior Correspondent at TIME Magazine, asked the panelists to describe the work their organizations are doing. McLaughlin described how Walmart is moving beyond compliance to a regenerative outlooking, working to restore, renew, and replenish. The company is engaging suppliers down the chain to commit to certification and conservation, investing in transparency and conservation, and meeting science-based targets to accelerate industry change. Companies need to rethink their portfolio of product and product creation, including more diversity and biodiversity in products, explained Soubeiran. It is no longer enough for companies to stop change to natural systems, they must work for restoration. Looking at the bigger picture, Sanjayan noted that companies are moving away from single commodity certification to look at the landscape more holistically. 

According to the World Economic Forum, more than 50% of the world’s GDP—$44 trillion—is highly or moderately dependent on nature.

Kathleen McLaughlin

We all are nature and, in a way, this aspect can bring super value for business.

Eric Soubeiran

It has been a remarkable few years for climate change and the attention it has received around the world. . . but a key part of that is biodiversity, which oftentimes is left out of the conversation.

Justin Worland

If you’re going to have any chance of getting to where we need to get to, you’ve got to start, at the bottom line, of making sure you’re not harming nature and, frankly, you’re restoring it at a pretty fast clip.

M. Sanjayan

Key takeaways & next steps:

  • Biodiversity is a crucial yet under-considered facet of the climate crisis. Resilient and biodiverse ecosystems are necessary for us as humans and for businesses.
  • The private sector must not only reduce the harms done to natural ecosystems but must also play a large role in restoring them. 
  • Each company, when considering its role in biodiversity conservation, must develop metrics and goals specific to its operations and efforts.