Governments, financial institutions and corporations worldwide are adopting goals of No Net Loss (NNL) or Net Positive Impact (NP) of biodiversity, and using offsetting to achieve them as part of the mitigation hierarchy. In the UK, the government launched a pilot test on biodiversity offsetting in 2012 and will likely soon be adopting the European Commission’s NNL initiative, which is planned for 2015.
The challenges of offsetting biodiversity losses are widely explored within academic literature and international guidelines. However, while international good practice calls for offsets not to make local people worse off, there is a fundamental lack of understanding of what NNL or NPI means with regard to people’s health and wellbeing. Considering people’s health and wellbeing is especially critical for biodiversity offsetting within urban areas - green space within urban locations is rapidly declining so any further loss could be of significant detriment; and offsets for biodiversity loss within urban areas tend to be far away because high pressures on land use make creating new green space difficult. Without understanding the full extent of social, economic and ecological trade-offs involved with biodiversity offsetting, businesses are exposed to risk, potentially making decisions on offsets that appear acceptable for biodiversity yet result in individuals and communities losing access to nature.
This problem is compounded by the silo nature of corporate sustainability strategies. No Net Loss and NPI targets for biodiversity typically sit within a corporate sustainability strategy. Yet within such strategies, there is often complete disconnect between social targets (e.g. making a positive contribution to local communities) and NNL or NPI. Consequently, companies fail to realise how achieving NNL or NPI can generate social and economic benefits. Instead of NNL or NPI being fundamental to sustainable development, they are managed in isolation, only measured in terms of biodiversity and likely to result in short-term gain rather than sustainable development for the longer-term. This is especially important in urban areas where green space can greatly benefit health and wellbeing.
Focusing on urban biodiversity offsets, this research seeks to improve understanding of people’s health and wellbeing outcomes of biodiversity offsetting; of how businesses can better integrate issues of health and wellbeing into offset decision-making; and of interventions that effectively and genuinely achieve NNL or NPI for both communities and biodiversity (for example, a local ‘people-focused’ offset within the urban environment combined with a ‘biodiversity-focused’ offset further away). It will also improve understanding of linkages between biodiversity and social targets within corporate sustainability strategies for these targets not to be treated in silo, but effectively integrated into one environmental sustainability agenda.
This offer is to provide a partnership with the three cornerstones of business - the client (who commissions the development and sets either a NNL or NPI target); the consultant (who assesses the impact of biodiversity loss and recommends the offset design) and the contractor (who builds the development and offset). The partnership will include access to information on urban biodiversity offsets across the UK, and work-shadowing opportunities for the research team to fully understand decision-making by the client, consultant and contractor and how it differs between the three. There will also be opportunities for business – research collaboration throughout the research including, at start-up, joint ‘mapping’ of the intended end-users of the research findings. The aim of the mapping will be to ensure the design of the research is tailored to end-user needs and produces valuable business-friendly outputs (without need for ‘translation’ of technical research findings) whilst being of high academic standard and credibility.