The UN Global Compact Network Canada hosted its final panel discussion in the environmental webinar series titled Raising Corporate Ambition for Environmental Sustainability: Canada’s Road to COP27 on November 24, with a focus on developing sustainable solutions and navigating biodiversity loss from a business perspective. The panel discussion, moderated by Daria Naglic, Interim Executive Director and Senior Manager, Programmes & Business Relations at the UN Global Compact Network Canada, featured André-Martin Bouchard, Global Director of Earth & Environment at WSP Global; and Paul-Emile McNab, VP of Business Development & Membership Experience at the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB).
In her opening remarks, Daria Naglic noted that the last 15 years had seen the greatest decline in biodiversity ever recorded due to society’s overdependence on natural resources for goods and services. André-Martin Bouchard indicated that there are three critical steps that Canadian businesses can take to counteract this catastrophic loss of biodiversity. To begin, they must recognize that biodiversity in Canada is under just as much threat as it is in other areas of the world. Over half of Canada’s GDP is directly related to biodiversity, which means that any violation against it can have a huge socio-economic impact. The second step is to incorporate biodiversity themes into ESG frameworks and implement governance structures that promote diversity within enterprises. Finally, action plans with specific targets and reporting procedures should be established so that businesses can measure their impact on biodiversity and generate visibility through accountability mechanisms.
According to Paul-Emile McNab, it is essential for Canadian companies to approach building strategies in a holistic manner, with Indigenous communities serving as the cornerstone. Businesses must prioritize—not simply take into consideration—the framework, knowledge, and expertise of Knowledge Keepers, who possess a variety of unique and profound solutions for building stronger and more sustainable economies and communities. Paul-Emile provided the example of the National Indigenous Economic Strategy for Canada, which calls for meaningful engagement of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Elders, experts, entrepreneurs, and community leaders. André-Martin also echoed the importance of integrating Traditional Knowledge at WSP, revealing that a key part of their projects is conducting an engagement process and having professionals who specialize in engagement to understand the communities and territories in which their projects are operating in. This enables WSP to design alternative and optimal methods by identifying community members’ fishing and hunting routes, as well as the areas in which they live and work. Furthermore, WSP collaborates with First Nations specialists to assist project delivery during the building phase, as well as for any scientific fishing excursions and field data surveys, and urges clients to always engage with First Nations communities that may be impacted by their projects.
To close the nature-finance divide, both Paul-Emile and André-Martin stressed the importance of elevating the voices of champions who demonstrate effective leadership and unique solutions that prioritize adaptation. From an Indigenous stewardship standpoint, Paul-Emile stated that outstanding leaders working on inclusive and strategic solutions are not receiving the support they deserve and need additional platforms to bring their solutions to the forefront. Similarly, André-Martin shared that we must give voice to heroes who challenge the current status quo and propose a fresh solution, looking at issues from a new angle. We need champions who design solutions with the understanding that every economic activity has an impact on biodiversity and, as a result, our quality of life.
WSP, according to André-Martin, has a team of biologists, climatologists, anthropologists, Traditional Knowledge Keepers, and community engagement professionals who conduct rigorous evaluations to establish a proper baseline of the areas that may be impacted by a new project’s footprint. They then provide alternatives and optimization techniques to minimize harm against biodiversity and help compensate for interaction with key habitats. New technology and knowledge have made it increasingly viable to implement creative methods to biodiversity management strategies. For example, the mining industry has made significant progress in both the exploratory and design stages, particularly under the leadership of the Canadian Mining Association, with excellent guidelines and standards for mining companies operating at various stages of the life cycle. An interesting project that WSP also undertook was in re-naturalization and clean-up of a smelting and mining operations in a region of Québec, where WSP was able to fully restore nature and wildlife through this project, transforming the twointo a destination for outdoor activities and residential housing.
André-Martin stated that one of the most encouraging trends in biodiversity governance is that there has been a rise in ESG awareness in recent years, with companies aiming to go above and beyond compliance and what is required by regulations in order to improve community relationships and provide better products. Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures is one emerging framework that is a vital piece on biodiversity measures that we should expect more firms to embrace in the next few years. There is also an increase in science-based targets for nature, as well as other critical frameworks that are being accepted by C-suite level and company operations.
Since we’ve moved past the why and into the how, Paul-Emile recommended that we should encourage collaboration with organizations doing significant work to improve local biodiversity, including not only the CCAB but many smaller community organizations around the country. Before we can design effective biodiversity governance frameworks, we must first establish genuine relationships, which is often overlooked yet sets the tone for long-term success. André-Martin also emphasized the importance of communal effort, stating that biodiversity loss cannot be addressed exclusively by governments or single enterprises, but by everyone’s joint efforts. Not only that, but the long-term status quo can also be directly challenged by integrating smaller decisions into strategic planning processes. Steps include evaluating the supply chain from which goods and services are sourced, doing business with ethical suppliers who are certified and care for biodiversity in their practices, and taking operational steps such as converting asphalt surface areas into grasslands for land-intensive projects or installing beehives on office building rooftops.
Paul-Emile concluded the session by emphasizing that we should strive to understand the unique challenges and possibilities that our biodiversity presents and use our knowledge to create significant change through business collaborations. André-Martin stated that since biodiversity is necessary for life to exist on Earth, we must constantly be mindful of its fragility and refrain from taking it for granted.
Written by: Keira Kang (she/her)