Biodiversity provides humanity and our economies with the resources needed to thrive. However, the planet is experiencing a great loss of biodiversity due to overfishing, deforestation and pollution. Humans and our planet’s ecosystem are inextricably linked and as our planet warms, the threat to ecosystems is a threat to us. It’s crucial for corporations to make strides to protect biodiversity.
In April, Bloomberg reported that "a third of endemic species on land and half in the sea will become extinct if greenhouse gas emissions are not reined in," and WWF's 2020 Living Planet Index, which measures the population sizes of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles, found a 68 percent decline in animal biodiversity since 1970.
But companies and investors are struggling to understand, articulate and quantify the positive impacts of biodiversity on their businesses, making taking action against biodiversity loss difficult. The UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15), scheduled to take place later this year, will be a notable moment for companies to articulate their efforts in developing comprehensive plans of action and take steps to better steward the environment.
As a global beverage company that relies on water, protecting the healthy biodiverse environment that nurtures water has been at the center of Suntory’s work over the past several decades. The company has worked to preserve the resources that enable our business to thrive. For corporations unsure where to begin on their biodiversity events, here are some guiding tips based on our experience of preserving forests and water, managing bird habitat and communicating our biodiversity efforts.
Focus your biodiversity efforts on where your business operates
Biodiversity touches every business at some level. In order to make lasting, authentic impact, take action in the geographical areas in which you operate, and in a field that is closely tied to your business. In our case, water is an indisputable aspect of our business. In order to keep groundwater sustainable, healthy and clean, biodiversity is crucial.
As far back as 1973, we started working on biodiversity. We realized that we could estimate the health of the overall environment by using birds, as they are an indicator of biodiversity. Their conservation is therefore a crucial piece of ecological wellness and a helpful tool for Suntory.
This was at a time when Japan was experiencing high economic growth and the environment was being neglected. To help protect the important bird species threatened, we established a wild bird sanctuary in our own Suntory Hakushu Distillery in Japan, which is surrounded by rich forests and many clear streams and serves as a relay point of migration for wild birds. Together with external experts, we periodically conduct bird research and preserve the forest to maintain the bird’s habitat, including nest box hanging together with the local community. We later expanded our bird conservation activity by establishing the Suntory Fund for Bird Conservation in 1989 to directly support organizations protecting birds both in Japan and overseas. As of 2020, the Fund has granted a total of $4.87 million to 425 projects.
Short-term targets are valuable, but make sure that your goal-setting reflects the time it takes to make an impact on ecological health, which is measured in decades, not years.
Groundwater health, both in quality and quantity, is also greatly affected by vegetation. Our dedication to the environment therefore expanded to forest management in 2003 with the establishment of Natural Water Sanctuaries, aimed to nurture quality groundwater around our production sites in Japan. Suntory’s Natural Water Sanctuaries supports the sustainability of water, the lifeline of our business. In partnership with various experts and local municipalities, we establish and manage the sanctuaries from which we draw our water to improve the function of forests for recharging water resources. Today, the program has expanded to 21 locations near our production sites with a total of nearly 30,000 acres of forestland nationwide, nurturing double the amount of groundwater we use in our plants in Japan.
Make long-term commitments to ensure true impact
Biodiversity protection can be complex and difficult, and it requires a great deal of time. To truly cause meaningful change to an environment, long-term commitments and a shared vision for the future are necessary. Short-term targets are valuable, but make sure that your goal-setting reflects the time it takes to make an impact on ecological health, which is measured in decades, not years.
The ultimate goal of Natural Water Sanctuaries is to foster soil structure that will cultivate quality groundwater sustainably. To do this, a healthy and rich ecosystem is imperative and requires long-term commitment and investment. To ensure success, Suntory looks 50 to 100 years into the future and therefore has mid-to-long-term agreements — some even lasting as long as 100 years — with local governments and forest owners to maintain the forests near our production sites.
Partner with various experts and stakeholders and take a scientific approach
Because biodiversity is the result of so many intertwined factors, corporations need to seek partners and external experts to achieve their goals. For our water cultivation efforts, we collaborated with more than 40 experts from a wide variety of fields to conduct science-based surveys and research that thoroughly and accurately explained the special characteristics and issues of each location. The results were a unique and science-backed forest maintenance plan for each site.
Based on the plans tailored to each area, Suntory works with local governments and experts to manage forests and increase tree diversity, therefore improving the quality of the soil. Strong microbial activity in soil leads to greater rain filtration and better purification functions. Strong root networks also help prevent erosion. Together, this increases the quality and quantity of the water we use in our products and operations.
As wild birds are said to be a barometer of environment, we also conduct wild bird surveys by specialists in Natural Water Sanctuaries every year to qualitatively and quantitatively grasp the real-world changes in the ecosystem.
Corporations are a crucial partner in protecting biodiversity. They must be actively involved in ongoing and future efforts to ensure that we don’t lose a third of our unique species. To do this, we must start with the understanding that the health of companies is closely tied in with the health of the global ecosystem.