How to Design and Measure Biodiversity and Nature-Based Strategies and KPIs

What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity (“biological diversity”) describes the variety and health of all life on Earth

In recent years, many leading organizations are broadening their climate and environmental strategy to include biodiversity goals and science-based targets for nature.

Why is biodiversity such a critical part of our world? For one, society (and business) depends on healthy biodiversity.

Biodiversity loss negatively impacts agriculture and food productivity, medicine and drug discovery, natural carbon capture, plant and animal ecosystems, public health, and ultimately, all life on Earth. According to the 2022 UN IPCC report, if we don’t halt climate change before reaching 5°C mean global warming, half of all lifeforms on the planet face extinction

From a business perspective, that can feel a bit overwhelming or daunting. But there are many constructive ways companies can engage and have a positive impact on biodiversity. Here's how:

Biodiversity and nature-based strategies for companies

Like sustainability more broadly, a materiality assessment process with a specific focus or lens on biodiversity and natural systems is a constructive starting point. Does your organization have a high water or wastewater usage footprint? Are there prominent biodiversity themes and impacts at a certain stage of your value chain?

UN SDG Circularity
UN SDG Water & Ocean Biodiversity
UN SDG Nature Biodiversity

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals #8, #14, and #15 are directly linked to biodiversity and natural systems

As a category, biodiversity includes:

  • Wildlife health and species diversity
  • Habitat loss and degredation
  • Over-exploitation of biological resources
  • Pollution
  • Climate change impacts to natural systems
  • Invasive species

Understand and assess your organization's biggest impacts on biodiversity and natural systems across these categories. Your strategy (and KPIs) should be grounded in that understanding.

Keep in mind this process often involves supply chain sustainability mapping and transparency work (and investment) to understand your upstream and downstream impacts.

Biodiversity strategy and nature-based KPIs

Align on your biodiversity ambitions and boundaries

No single company is going to solve climate change or biodiversity loss, but we can have transformative impact - particularly collectively. Think about how your organization's reach and resources can have the biggest impact, and what "success" looks like in biodiversity in the context of your overall sustainability, ESG, and corporate strategy.

For example, food brand Daily Harvest recently partnered with non-profits American Farmland Trust (AFT), and California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF) to help historically underserved farmers adopt organic and regenerative farming practices. Combining micro-grants, technical resources, and market access to Daily Harvest as a customer, the initiative simultaneously aims to achieve biodiversity benefits, diversity benefits, economic development, supply chain improvements, and overall, positive impact on organic food systems.

Although the program was only recently launched in 2022, we admire its ambitions, creativity, collaborative nature, and lens on systemic change, and look forward to tracking the impact.

What are similar opportunities for your brand? What are the pathways and milestones to get there?

Setting biodiversity and nature-based KPIs and metrics

Effective biodiversity and sustainability KPIs should be comprehensive, but not overly complicated. The right KPI strategy should enable clear operational performance measurement and reporting around a company's material nature and biodiversity topics and initiatives, without overburdening teams with too much administrative work, micro-management, non-material indicators, or mission creep.

In most cases, smart biodiversity and nature-based KPI selection goes hand-in-hand with strong environmental performance and brand leadership. Being able to connect your biodiversity strategy and initiatives (and their outcomes) to your business model and value chain - then backing it up with compelling measurement, reporting, and storytelling - is the best way to win executive buy-in and mindshare, while also building sustainable brand leadership with your employees, customers, investors, and other key stakeholders.

Biodiversity KPI Measurement Framework

In our work with sustainability leaders and teams, we typically recommend and work around a 6-step KPI design process:

1. Use materiality to connect the dots between your biodiversity ambitions, stakeholders, KPIs, and business strategy

Your biodiversity strategy and KPIs should reflect your brand, business model, and value chain.

For example, in healthcare, many specific medicines are discovered and derived from natural sources, including aspirin (willow tree bark) and morphine. In fact, some researchers estimate60% or more of all medicine is either a natural product, or based on or synthesized from nature. Biodiversity and nature are critical for drug discovery, disease prevention, wellness, and most other aspects of healthcare. If you're a company in the healthcare industry, this research and thinking should inform your biodiversity strategy and targets.

By comparison, a consumer goods company might focus on its materials, products, packaging, and Scope 3 emissions from its value chain, because those are most material to its sector. Is plastic packaging ending up in oceans and landfills? Is water being inefficiently used or polluted at a certain step of the supply chain? These are the types of questions your biodiversity strategy should answer and solve for.

Materiality Helps ESG KPI Design

A thoughtful, thorough Materiality Assessment process can be a helpful initial step in designing biodiversity KPIs (all of which can be encoded into Brightest's software for easy data collection, performance tracking, and stakeholder communication)

Look at your company's business model, brand, and purpose: biodiversity KPIs should tie back to that foundation, reinforce it, and be a vehicle for positive environmental change and organizational performance improvement. Your materiality market screen should analyze industry benchmarks, peers, and existing biodiversity standards, which will help narrow your universe of KPIs to select from.

For more on this topic, please read our materiality guide here. Or feel free to contact us directly for materiality or biodiversity help or questions.

2. Map your priority biodiversity initiatives to measurable KPIs

Once you’ve established your material biodiversity themes and topics, work with different stakeholders in your organization - finance, operations, supply chain, product - to design a focused set of KPIs to track them.

Beyond emissions measurement, depending on your industry and value chain consider orienting your biodiversity targets and KPIs around metrics and indicators like:

  • Land, ocean, agriculture, or forest area - Is there a specific, material area (in square kilometers, miles, acres, etc.) your organization can commit to protecting, improving, or restoring? A target number of new trees you can plant and conserve?
  • Water intake, consumption, and/or wastewater - What is your organization's baseline water usage and waste water? Have your suppliers established benchmarks and baselines? What targets, initiatives, and projects can you undertake to reduce your value chain's water intensity and impacts?
  • Waste generated from operations - How much waste is generated throughout your operations and value chain? What targets, initiatives, and projects can you undertake to reduce waste across it?
  • Land occupation intensity - How much land or water area do your operations require? What about your value chain? What is the environmental intensity and impact profile within that area, and can the intensity, total area, or both be reduced? (Example: reduce farmer pesticide use by 50% by 2025, or restore 10,000 square kilometers of natural habitat)
  • New projects and capital expenditures - Many organizations in sectors like finance, mining, and real estate have begun incorporating biodiversity assessments into their planning and evaluation process for investments and new projects. How can you integrate biodiversity directly into your company's processes and strategic decision-making?
  • Supply chain and supplier sustainability - What are your supply chain's largest impact areas on biodiversity? How can you work with your suppliers to improve, mitigate, or reverse them?
  • Product re-use, recycling, and end-of-life treatment - What are the biodiversity implications and impacts of your products and services? How can you set targets, create programs, and build partnerships to improve, mitigate, and reverse them?

Make sure to select biodiversity KPIs that are material and relevant. Planting trees - particularly in the right regions with the good care through the right partnerships - is almost always a good early biodiversity tactic and goal to set.

Beyond that, focus on your the most material environmental impacts in your value chain, and develop a biodiversity strategy - and set of targets - to address them. Biodiversity maturity is a journey, but thematically should be central to your overall sustainability strategy.

When biodiversity tactics, initiatives, and KPIs aren't material (and then get communicated publicly) it raises the risk of provoking external criticism for greenwashing or being insincere.

The more your biodiversity initiatives and KPIs are grounded in materiality, material change and credible, data-driven claims, the stronger your overall environmental reputation will be with your stakeholders.

Similarly, rather than trying to appease everyone or solve everything, focus on doing (and measuring) a few specific biodiversity-related initiatives well, then build from there.

3. Engage stakeholders, suppliers, and partners on biodiversity

While you know what's best for your business or brand, often your partners (third party experts, academic researchers, non-profits, NGOs, independent standards organizations, or sustainability measurement firms and systems like Brightest) can provide helpful best practices for setting biodiversity KPIs and performance targets.

This is one of the main reasons we invest so much in supporting cross-organizational collaboration inside our sustainability software. Whether it's internal collaboration, cross-team data gathering, biodiversity training and education, supplier sustainability scorecard engagement, or environmental data from offices and facilities, the theme's always the same: it's always some combination of hard, slow, or an incomplete picture pulling together your environmental data and reporting in a silo.

Positive internal and external relationships are critical for biodiversity impact, measurement, and success. Be sure to listen, collaborate, and engage your partners throughout the measurement and KPI conversation.

4. Align your biodiversity materiality, strategy, and KPIs with product lifecycle analysis (LCAs)

Make sure to consider your products, each input ingredient, your sourcing process, and its related environmental impacts and intensity when designing your biodiversity strategy and KPIs. Your lifecycle scope or lens should include:

  • Raw Material Cultivation, Sourcing, or Extraction
  • Manufacturing & Processing
  • Transportation
  • Retail & E-Commerce
  • Usage
  • End-of-Life & Waste Disposal

All of these have potential biodiversity impacts and implications. What are you biggest ones? How can your the business set KPIs and targets to improve them?

For example, in their initial 501 Jeans LCA, Levi's identified six material LCA themes across the product's lifecycle impact. Each one is then connected to a specific, measureable sustainability or biodiversity KPI.

Levi's LCA Biodiversity KPI Example

Source: Levi's

5. Create the right biodiversity measurement and KPI system

Most sustainability professionals understand the relationship between strategy, actions, impact, data, and outcomes. The challenge is creating a consistent process to efficiently get the data you need to measure results, report on success, and reaffirm business performance and biodiversity impact. The reality is most sustainability teams we know spend way too much time gathering and organizing data. Yes, we need the right data to track our KPIs and create reporting, but we shouldn't spend all our time on that when there's other valuable sustainability work we can be doing.

The more you simplify, centralize, and streamline your sustainability data collection, management, and business intelligence capacity, the more time you'll have to focus on sustainability program implementation, project oversight, cross-company engagement, and improvement, rather than just reporting. Find ways to more efficiently engage partners and suppliers on valuable sustainability and biodiversity data.

In our experience, a system like Brightest can save and automate hours of sustainability data work per week to unblock valuable team time and productivity.

6. Close the loop between biodiversity measurement, reporting, and storytelling

Understanding and communicating your environmental performance and biodiversity impact to stakeholders is one of the most important responsibilities for any sustainability team. Your sustainability reporting strategy and biodiversity KPI approach should be closely tied to your communications strategy: where, when, how, and why are you authentically telling your brand's biodiversity story? All the pieces need to fit together.

There are a lot of potential channels for biodiversity and nature-based storytelling if and when you have the data and results to back it up: internal communications, annual reports, websites, social media, press, sustainability ratings providers - where are you focusing? Does your biodiversity KPI and data approach provide credible proof your organization's achieving the impact its pursuing (or claiming)?

Wherever you are in your sustainability and biodiversity measurement journey, we wish you all the best as you continue making (and measuring) positive impact. If we can be helpful at all (at any step in your process), please get in touch. A central part of our mission here at Brightest is enabling better data-driven decision-making (not to mention actions and communication) for a healthier, safer planet Earth.