The nature of business

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Martin Harper's blog

I’ve been the RSPB’s Conservation Director since May 2011. As I settle into the job, I’ll be blogging on all the big conservation topics and providing an inside view of our conservation projects. I hope you enjoy reading it and feel inspired to join in t

The nature of business

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Recent talk about ‘responsible capitalism’ has tended to focus on issues of equity and social justice. Yet business also has a responsibility to the environment. 

This week, I want to explore where business can step up to do more for nature.

Many multinationals, and some large domestic businesses, have global reach.  They connect people with nature in many different ways – through their supply chains and products in particular.  Their brands shape popular values and some of them reach billions of people every day.  Companies influence governments, both in relation to particular decisions and legislation and policy.  They emit a high proportion of greenhouse gases, consume resources and control or influence how large areas of land are managed. 

It's easy to assume that 'advocacy' and 'influencing decision-makers' starts and ends with politicians and government departments. But big businesses have an equally large influence our lives - and probably an even greater influence on the environment.  So focusing your influencing efforts on the policy sphere means that you are only doing (at best) 50% of the job.

If we want to achieve long-term success, we cannot simply rely on governments to do the right thing.  We need companies to align with our conservation goals, and not only those of shareholders.

The RSPB works with private companies all the time: we advise thousands of family farms about nature friendly farming every year; we have helped reshape the way that water companies manage their estates for water and for wildlife; we influence hundreds of development decisions; we continue to enter into a number of partnerships to support conservation management (especially on our nature reserves); and we do benefit from corporate sponsorship such as the much enjoyed Black Grouse whisky.

But we can and should do more.  We want business to reduce the environmental impact of their operations and advocate change within their own sector.  Practicing and preaching sustainability should be key features of any responsible business.

And irresponsible businesses that seek to weaken environmental regulations should be exposed as self-serving and not acting in the public interest.  I hope that, in the run up to important decisions about planning reform and the Habitats Regulations, UK Government ministers remember that fact.

What role do you think that businesses have in saving the planet?  And what do you think the RSPB should do about it?

It would be great to hear your views.

Comments
  • Yes a good blog Martin and agree with redkite completely,there is a limit to what RSPB can do and influencing public opinion is probably the biggest factor and then businesses take note of the weight of opinion.

  • Absolutely right Martin, an excellent blog. The RSPB should involve itself more with working with responsible and quality businesses, Having worked on the Wytch Farm Oilf Field development in Purbeck in the 1980s, BP showed that with proper planning, surveying and some financial outlay, a major development in the national interest, in a very highly rated wildlife area is feasible and that natiure need not be harmed. The problem is, in these situations, good quality and responsible businesses are needed and they are a bit thin on the ground. I strongly suspect the issues raised by some businesses about "nature getting in their way" are just "smoke screens" for basically not wishing to take the time and trouble and in some cases, to make some limited financial outlay, to do the right thing for nature protection. Are Mr Osborne and his colleagues in the good quality, responsible business category or are they in the "nature gets in the way" camp? I think the answer is fairly obvious, but with the RSPB working more closely with quality businesses it can only help to develop a greater sense of responsibility among them towards nature protection.