Reporting on biodiversity with new ‘Biodiversity Impact Screening Tool’


New tool measures impact of day-to-day business operations on biodiversity

Biodiversity loss is one of the major challenges of our time. For businesses, it’s a relatively new topic. How do you improve your impact on biodiversity if, as an organisation, you don't know which dials you can and should turn? The new ‘Biodiversity Impact Screening Tool’ offers a solution and helps companies determine the right targets, interventions, and strategy.

From insight to meaningful actions

Take, for example, the catering department of a large organisation. It’s engaged in an ongoing quest to reduce costs, maintain smaller stocks, offer a varied and attractive range, and reduce its negative impact on sustainability and biodiversity. Taking all these elements into account, how do you put together the optimum menu and offer? What choices can you make as an organisation to reduce your negative impact on biodiversity? And is it even possible to have a positive impact on biodiversity through your catering? From a thousand apples to a thousand oranges - what’s the actual impact of such a choice?

The ‘Biodiversity Impact Screening Tool’ provides an answer to that question. Thijs IJsbrandy of PwC explains: 'Based on readily available data, the tool provides the insights needed to take meaningful action. By making data-driven outcomes available, we provide organisations with practical guidance on how to actually get started.'

Get to work on biodiversity: it’s badly needed. Food, medicines, and industrial resources – almost everything has its origin in biodiversity. It’s for good reason that the United Nations states that forthy per cent of our global economy depends on biological resources. And with around a million plant and animal species facing extinction worldwide, everything is under pressure. This means a new challenge for companies, as well as a responsibility.

Reporting on biodiversity: you can do it now

For a mathematician like Jacques de Swart, constructing a biodiversity tool is 'mouth-watering'. He almost bounces when he talks about it. 'With this tool, we can provide clients with quantitative support. We can tell them ‘This is the best intervention to improve your impact on biodiversity’. From your catering to your car fleet and from capital assets to air travel – with an eye on cost, profit, people and planet, we deliver the best interventions within the various different categories.

'So reporting on biodiversity really is possible,' and for De Swart – a partner within Advisory who was involved in constructing the tool – that's the key message now that it’s been launched. 'Biodiversity is a relatively new topic in the business world. A lot of organisations often find it difficult to get started, partly due to a lack of data, insights, or uniform standards.' De Swart and IJsbrandy experienced those limitations for themselves when they started researching and constructing the tool. According to them developments are now moving at lightning speed and, if you know what you're looking for – and also why – then a whole lot is possible. Vries: 'With our tool, we dispense with a lot of the complicated initial steps, and we offer insights, a baseline for starting reporting, and an action-oriented perspective for targeted action. So reporting on biodiversity has now really become possible.'

‘Biodiversity Impact Screening Tool’: not a 'black box', but transparent and simple to use

For De Swart, simplicity is a key aspect. 'Biodiversity and the impact companies have on it is something abstract. If you're not careful, it becomes a mishmash of links, calculations, data, and tools. We aim to make it as simple as possible: not a ‘black box’, but transparent and simple to use. That’s where we stand out.' His inspiration was Albert Einstein. 'Make everything as simple as possible, but not any simpler than that', said the world's most eminent scientist.

The starting point? The financial administration of a company or organisation. Vries explains: 'We work with the data that every company has, namely financial data. That means we can support every company with the tool.' That financial data is converted to impact using values from big databases such as Exiobase and the ReCiPe method developed by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). Exiobase is a global, multi-regional input-output database that allows you to identify the footprint of individual products quantitatively. ReCiPe uses a life cycle analysis to determine the environmental impact of millions of products – from extraction of the necessary raw materials to waste disposal. The tool then converts this into clear figures per pressure factor and KPIs.

It produces those clear figures by means of a method that builds on the work of Pré Sustainability, a leading sustainability agency that has also validated the Biodiversity Impact Screening Tool.

From financial data to impact

'Those databases help us with the conversion from economic activity to emitted substances,' says De Swart. 'The 'emitted substances' are then converted to five pressure points: land use, water consumption, global warming, terrestrial ecotoxicity, and terrestrial acidification. Needless to say, we tested these pressure factors against the standards of IPBES, the UN biodiversity and ecosystems research panel. That then produces seven categories that have a high impact on the values of pressure factors, such as lease cars, catering, and air travel.'

IJsbrandy explains: 'We really bring data to life for our clients. Selecting pressure factors in the tool reveals which categories have the greatest impact on them. The user can then see exactly which individual products contribute and what the impact of an individual product is. This means that the tool doesn’t just show you a ‘top 5’ but provides you with insights at the product level and in relation to one another, so you can take even more effective action to increase your positive impact. We go from information to interpretation.'

'PwC's Responsible Business Simulator then works well with the new Biodiversity Impact Assessment Tool', says De Swart. 'Then it gets really terrific. Our Business Simulator can make powerful and substantiated calculations based on external uncertainties and intervention packages, and assign a different score to each intervention. In the case of catering, for example, providing avocados may have a more negative impact on pressure factors than providing tomatoes. Knowing that together with the impact on costs and employee preferences makes a weighted choice possible.'

PwC uses the tool itself

These are insights that PwC also needs itself. The firm’s internal sustainability department is therefore the first user of the tool – from economic activity to auditable result. IJsbrandy explains that 'There are tools available on the market that survey a particular part of the chain, but we specifically wanted one that does so for the entire chain, right from start to finish.' That wasn’t entirely straightforward, and there was a major need for insights and user feedback, and for ironing out the initial problems.

'Those insights are important,' says Wineke Haagsma, PwC’s Chief Sustainability Officer. 'We use the tool ourselves for our own organisation so as to get a better grip on the impact of the firm’s choices on biodiversity. Those insights allow us to make more sustainable choices, not only as regards the climate but also nature.'

According to Vries, the insights offered by the tool really appeal to the imagination: 'It's about awareness and it helps you achieve goals. Who would have thought that eating a little bag of nuts at four in the afternoon would affect the 'land use’ pressure factor? Or that it’s not just cars that have a major impact? Our tool helps people realise that.'

Better documentation, more transparency and action perspective

'To be perfectly fair, we're far from finished,' adds De Swart. He frankly admits that 'the tool isn’t perfect yet, but at the moment we aren’t aiming for perfection either.' The team – which includes a biologist, a mathematician, data analysts, and consultants – that spent months working on the tool still see all kinds of challenges and areas for improvement. It’s difficult, for example, to assign a value to the local impact of certain activities. Vries gives an example: 'Whether a product comes from an area at high risk of illegal deforestation or from a habitat of protected species makes quite a difference. And the location of emissions of substances can also have various different impacts, for example on nature reserves.'

The lack of certain data or the difficulty involved in searching for it may be a reason not to launch the tool yet – or to become disheartened. But for Thijs IJsbrandy and Jacques De Swart, that’s not an option. 'We simply have to get started,' says IJsbrandy right away. 'And we want to get started by showing what’s already possible, because that’s a lot!'  De Swart comments: 'For us, this is the start of a journey. It’s a journey that may sometimes be slower than we would like it to be, or it may have more stations on the way, but it’s a journey that we all must embark on together. With this tool, we're taking a step towards better documentation, greater transparency, and an action-oriented perspective. Biodiversity is also a material issue, and it now really deserves a place on the agenda.'

Contact us

Jacques de Swart

Jacques de Swart

Partner, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)62 652 60 58

Alexander Spek

Alexander Spek

Partner, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)62 039 89 82

Thijs IJsbrandij

Thijs IJsbrandij

Manager, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)88 792 19 67

Wineke Ploos van Amstel - Haagsma

Wineke Ploos van Amstel - Haagsma

Chief Sustainability Officer, PwC Netherlands

Tel: +31 (0)65 170 13 44

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