Introducing BS 8583 - Biodiversity. Guidance for businesses on managing the risks and opportunities

On 26 March 2015, BSI hosted an event to raise awareness of BS 8583:2015 Biodiversity — Guidance for businesses on managing the risks and opportunities.

Setting the scene
David Fatscher, BSI Head of Sustainability, opened the event by explaining that standards are a distillation of what good likes like, written by experts, and facilitated by BSI through a proven process of wide stakeholder engagement, consultation and consensus building. He also introduced BS 8583, which provides a systematic approach to establishing a Biodiversity Action Plan for businesses of all sizes. The new standard also offers expert guidance on the risks and opportunities of biodiversity and access to useful case studies and many additional reference sources. 

Realizing the ideal
Dr Julia Baker, a biodiversity specialist at WSP Parsons Brinkerhoff, lecturer at Birkbeck College and research adviser, spoke about realizing the potential of biodiversity. She cautioned that biodiversity remains the poor relation of sustainability initiatives, because other areas are better understood and easier to quantify. She added that it is possible to ‘put numbers’ on biodiversity, but that is only part of the puzzle. “We need to limit loss,” she said, “and compensate for unavoidable loss.” Organizations should first set their biodiversity goals and then think about the right tools to achieve them. BS 8583 can help us navigate the journey.  

Biodiversity management in practice
Pat Laughlin, CEO of the UK Business Council for Sustainable Development, explained that she represented the business perspective on the BS 8583 Committee. The standard, she believes, needs to reach small businesses. She emphasized that everyone can make simple changes but to catalyse action the language must be simplified and biodiversity adoption must demonstrate clear business benefits. She suggested a recognition or award scheme would raise the profile of biodiversity in the business community. She plans to take a simplified guide to biodiversity out to the SME community.

Sophie Mairesse is a Senior Ecologist at Bridgeway Consulting Ltd and chaired the BSI Expert Panel on BS 8583. She asked the room to suggest biodiversity schemes for a 500-people organization which would strengthen tender applications, complement existing climate change initiatives and enhance the company’s reputation. Suggestions included installing a green wall, a green boundary or a green roof with solar panels; or an allotment scheme with the local community. Budgets are a limiting factor, Mairesse said, but should not stop businesses starting with something small that can extend. There is always something that can be done. Organizations should think about the beneficial impact on employees, the community and the supply chain. 

Michael Oxford, from the Association of Local Government Ecologists was chair of the BS 8583 Technical Committee. Legislation and planning regulations, he said, are a stick, while BS 8583 is a carrot to help us fundamentally change our thinking about how land, premises, operations and the supply chain are managed. He said that organizations need to understand what measures can be taken – such as swift nesting boxes, insect hotels and bat boxes – and their implications: bird boxes bring noise and droppings for example. He felt, too, that not enough resource is put into evaluating outcomes, concluding: “Some people think biodiversity is a total pain in the neck. We need to demonstrate our successes and change that attitude.” He believes that the new standard will be very helpful with that journey. 

Q & A
The morning’s speakers then took questions from the floor. One attendee asked if there wasn’t a risk that biodiversity initiatives are seen as ‘greenwash’? Julia Baker acknowledged that risk exists but said that the benefits outweigh it. Another attendee asked “How is BS 8583 a carrot?” Michael Oxford said because it is voluntary and provides guidance on opportunities. A final question was, “What market and business drivers are needed to embed biodiversity?” David Fatscher replied that the case needs to be made to senior managers as to its business benefits. Pat Laughlin added that incentives are really important and she would like to see these in planning mechanisms and things like business rates relief. 

Evaluating biodiversity in the context of natural capital accounting
After lunch Dr Dorothy Maxwell, Director of The Sustainable Business Group, spoke on evaluating biodiversity. She explained that biodiversity is part of natural capital. “Businesses,” she added, “are confused, but want to know their dependencies and the risks they face.” This makes it necessary to translate ‘our language’ into the language of accountants. A very conservative estimate is that it will take $93bn to preserve natural capital and sort out existing degradation – a drop in the ocean in comparison with global GDP. For now though, business on the whole is just ‘dipping its toe in the water’ and clear data is needed to prove the case.

Biodiversity assessment and ecosystem evaluation 
Dr Anne Miller, of Oxford University, spoke as a representative of Wild Oxfordshire and the LWEC (Living With Environmental Change) Ecosystem Task Force. She explained there are 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships in England which are in receipt of substantial EU funding. To leverage this funding we need to use the language and tools that businesses recognize. We need to talk about opportunity and partnership, rather than risk and threat, and engage by listening and embedding the principle of taking nature into how things are done from the outset. 

Alex Saponja, a Senior Sustainability Consultant at Interserve Consulting and the IEMA nominee to the BSI Expert Panel, explained that she delivers transformational business projects. She added that data is not sexy but daring concepts and big visions need foundations. So we need to understand the value of biodiversity to make a change, and tell positive stories, e.g. the reintroduction of beavers has saved the local water company money because beavers help with water purification. She added that IEMA thinks BS 8583 is fantastic news for SMEs as it gives strong guidance to all businesses. 

Q & A
The afternoon’s speakers took further questions from the floor. The first questioner asked if lifecycle assessment is referenced in BS 8583. Alex Saponja said that it is referenced in the standard’s guidance. Another attendee asked if BS 8583 takes you through biodiversity to the point where tangible measures can be put in place. Sophie Mairesse replied that the Plan, Do, Check, Act framework gives a structure for activity but the standard isn’t prescriptive about what to do, although does include a lot of examples. It also highlights risk and opportunities and provides references to tools that will help users take the next step. 

Beyond BS 8583
Sophie Mairesse brought the event to a close. She reflected on the fact that the standard was the result of two years’ painstaking work but is just a starting point. She also noted that ‘lots of things are coming up’. Some thought was being given to biodiversity in cities for instance. Valuation was another area which would help biodiversity reach more people. She also said that individuals need to ‘take biodiversity home’. She called for consistency, simplicity and commitment and in closing wished everyone luck with future implementations.