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CSR: Fostering Responsible Biodiversity Stewardship


By  Raminder Chowdhary

“ I today call on young people of all countries to demand of their elders that the processes that keep us alive on earth should be protected, and to commit themselves to protect the resources of the biosphere so that they can pass on to their descendants the World they themselves would have liked to receive.” -- Federico Mayor, secretary general of UNESCO, at the Biosphere Conference in Paris in September, 1968.

By the 1960s, it was becoming evident that the fossil fuel-driven, rapid industrialization models had caused immense damage to the 'envelope of life' around our planet -- its biodiversity.  It was time to give recognition and 'soft' protection to the remaining regions that harbored an abundance of flora and fauna. The Paris Biosphere Conference laid the foundations for the Man and Biosphere Program (MAB). This was by far the largest initiative ever to conserve aquatic, terrestrial and marine areas of high ecological and biological significance. The MAB now covers over 650 reserves in 120 countries.

The problem:  To a large extent, the program has failed to engage people, communities, local and regional governments, and most of all large economic entities in actively participating and enhancing its impact.  Sustainability and corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives of large corporations have rarely ventured into this space and missed out on an immense opportunity to make a meaningful difference.  It’s never too late and, as always, there are a few shining stars which deserve mention here

The Star Alliance network of airlines carries over 750 million passengers every year on its fleet of more than 5,000 aircraft and 22,000 daily flights.  Are you thinking what I'm thinking – carbon emissions and climate change.  To offset some of its impact, the company set up Biosphere Connections in partnership with UNESCO and MAB, as well as the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Ramsar, to create awareness and support communities and biodiversity around the world. The initiative offers exciting possibilities to use partner airlines websites, publications, in-flight entertainment media, travel and hospitality partners, etc. to communicate and engage.

Danone Waters Deutschland GMBH also partnered with UNESCO and initiated several initiatives to create awareness about Biosphere Reserves and their conservation.  Danone introduced information about reserves in Germany on its product labeling, organized youth activities and camps, and funded more than 10 projects . Honda Germany, Merck and Commerzbank have also entered into similar partnerships to preserve reserves.

In 2008, the Biodiversity in Good Company initiative was founded as a cross-sector collaboration of businesses committed to protecting and sustainably using our planet’s biodiversity. Audi, Mars, Tschibo and many other international companies are members.

For companies with a high level of maturity in working with environmental and ecological issues, the possibilities could be in the field of:

  • Conservation of genetic resources, species and ecosystems

  • Scientific research and monitoring

  • Sustainable development in communities that reside around reserve

For those who are uninitiated or at the early stages of implementing environmental and ecological programs, there are a host of projects that could be considered – such as:

  • Setting up of Biosphere Resource Centres (BRC) in key tourist towns/villages near biosphere reserves. The BRC’s could be modeled as tourist attractions including an audio-visual information centre, café and souvenir shop.

  • Partnering with local organizations and NGOs to initiate and support projects that conserve biodiversity and positively impact other local societal and environmental issues.  Some key areas could be greenhouse gas reduction initiatives, livelihood projects, skill training, man-animal conflict resolution, or livelihoods through value addition to non-timber forest products.

  • Partner with hospitality and travel operators to promote sustainable tourism in ecologically sensitive areas,

  • Involve and engage children and youth from local communities in workshops and conservation initiatives.  Launch an experiential school trips initiative to connect urban youth with the natural wealth of our country.  And many more....

For the practicing sustainability managers and CSR heads, I strongly recommend that you adhere to the following guiding principles:

  • Effective conservation needs collaboration -- think: government, conservation agencies, NGOs and most importantly local communities.

  • Your core objectives should remain – conservation of biodiversity, its sustainable use and equitable sharing.

  • Finally, think beyond GHG reduction initiatives.
Image credit: Flickr/Karen

Raminder Chowdhary:  After 20+ years in managerial roles with MNC's around the World, he founded One Earth Foundation - an NGO focusing on conservation of natural eco-systems & preservation of traditional wisdom. The Foundation is based in Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve in South India. He is a regular speaker on various regional and national forums promoting the need for higher levels of corporate social and environmental participation and responsibility. In 2014 he was awarded the Metro AG Community Silver Star (India) for his efforts. He has initiated and successfully implemented numerous projects in the sectors of traditional wisdom preservation, GHG reducation & removal. special needs groups, soil conservation, large scale forest and lakes clean up campaigns, students for environment initiatives, etc.

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