The Business Value of Biodiversity
By Alison Taylor, Chief Sustainability Officer, ADM
Biodiversity is integral for economic progress, and private sector actors hold influence and resources that are key to scaling innovative solutions that can help reverse biodiversity decline. As a global leader in the food and agriculture industry, we at ADM recognize that maintaining a thriving environment is essential to an abundant future and to our continued business success. The topic is also important to our peers and customers, as well as to investors, policymakers and consumers. This is understandable as over half the world’s GDP, the equivalent of $44 trillion per year in economic value generation, is either moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services, according to World Economic Forum analysis.
Events on this year’s international policy agenda, such as the UN Food Systems Summit, Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change COP26, are bringing increased attention to the range of natural capital assets that biodiversity provides to the food and agriculture industry, including pest management, pollination, and overall resilience of farm landscapes. This global spotlight is serving to deepen stakeholder understanding of the business value of biodiversity as well as to catalyze action.
Rather than being considered a cost, new research indicates that protecting biodiversity can support the bottom line of companies like ADM. For example, a recent Cambridge University study, made possible by a grant from ADM Cares, concluded that companies could face potential shortages of raw materials, a fall in crop quality, and challenges around security of supply because of an emerging pollination deficit. Conversely, increasing pollinator biodiversity has been seen to increase yields substantially, and heathier ecosystems require fewer chemical inputs, which can be expensive.
Given the intrinsic link between biodiversity and agriculture, it is natural for companies like ADM that play a central role in the global food system to lead on developing strategies for conserving and restoring biodiversity. Although today’s farms are able to achieve higher crop yields with fewer impacts on the environment, it will be necessary to scale production further to ensure food security for a growing global population while safeguarding natural systems and addressing climate change.
One way to do this is through regenerative agriculture, which is an approach that promotes soil health by nurturing microorganisms and insects, improves water retention, and bolsters crop resilience to pests, disease and extreme weather events. Moving away from monocropping and supporting crop rotations and cover cropping are also regenerative practices. Other sustainable agricultural practices with regenerative effects include low or no till cultivation, reducing inputs, and restoration of natural areas that border farmland.
Water quality and soil health are of strategic importance for ADM’s business and for the current and future livelihoods of our suppliers and their surrounding communities. As such, in collaboration with peers, customers, grower groups, NGOs and government partners, we are implementing a range of innovative projects that have the potential to reduce the impact of our supply chain while supporting farmers and protecting the environment. To date, ADM and our partners have deployed sustainable or regenerative practices across more than 13 million acres around the world.
Looking to the future, greater focus is needed on agreeing to a common definition of regenerative agriculture, so that metrics can be determined and impacts can be measured and reported upon transparently. Additionally, it will be necessary to incentivize farmers to ensure they benefit from the transition to more sustainable production. As we act upon our corporate purpose to unlock the power of nature to enrich lives, these areas will be high priority for us at ADM going forward.
Alison Taylor is Chief Sustainability Officer for ADM. She oversees the company’s global sustainability strategy and guides implementation of the company’s Respect for Human Rights policy, policy to Protect Forests, Biodiversity and Communities, Strive 35 environmental stewardship program, and ADM's philanthropic efforts through ADM Cares.