Land sustainability, biodiversity – whatever you want to call it – just hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves compared to climate change.
Why? Because it’s hard to measure.
And even though stakeholders, shareholders, and regulators around the world are starting to take notice of land sustainability as a massive risk, and opportunity, we still have a long way to go.
You either fall into one of two categories.
One, you want to do the right thing. Be a responsible and sustainable landowner, contribute to a greener and cleaner earth, which coincidentally will keep stakeholders happy too.
Or two, you operate in a country, such as the UK or EU, starting to impose regulations around biodiversity and the sustainability of land assets.
Either way, you need to know how to actually measure and improve your biodiversity. So, let’s get into it.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure… and that includes biodiversity
I don’t think that anyone will argue the fact that a global unit of measurement makes sustainability commitments much easier to track.
Having metrics to rally around is key to actually creating a plan and reporting on results, at least that the public and regulators will believe.
With a universal measurement, local government can influence construction through planning approvals, hold corporations accountable, levy fines, standardize offsets and more.
But, unlike carbon, which has a standard unit based in math, biodiversity is a bit tricky.
Biodiversity is, simply put, the amount of life in a given ecosystem. But there are millions of species across the planet, and life is constantly changing between regions, so how can we get a standard metric for that?
Ways to measure your land asset’s biodiversity
Measuring biodiversity is a battle of pragmatism vs purpose – or simply put, progress over perfection.
For example, one method to calculate biodiversity is to have an ecologist go out, and count to individual species in a given habitat or land plot. Not exactly time or cost effective, but very accurate.
But to do this at scale isn’t possible, and even still there’s the lack of a global metric that would make reporting on this another nightmare.
However, the UK has introduced the concept of biodiversity net gain (BNG) and an assessment method based around what they call, the biodiversity metric.
According to local government UK, “Biodiversity net gain (BNG) is an approach to development, and/or land management, that aims to leave the natural environment in a measurably better state than it was beforehand.”
This biodiversity metric is essentially a scorecard that takes into account a few data points to determine an overall BNG score based on biodiversity units. You can then take actions to improve the score of your land assets to promote better land sustainability, biodiversity, and achieve any regulatory requirements.
This biodiversity unit takes into account these core things:
- Habitat type: The UK government has broadly classified habitats across land, sea water and freshwater, and gives them an associated biodiversity score.
- Habitat size: Measured by hectares or if it’s a small plot, meters squared.
- Habitat quality: A very good quality meadow should have better biodiversity than a poor-quality meadow
- Strategic importance of a habitat: As determined by local authorities
- The connectivity of a habitat: How does it connect with neighboring habitats, for example, grassland next to a highway vs a meadow would have different connectivity.
This metric isn’t perfect. The calculation makes some broad assumptions, and is being updated constantly per ecological expert guidance, but it is a step in the right direction.
By taking a macro approach, and factoring in certain leading indicators of micro results, we can classify a habitats biodiversity score without needing to count species one by one.
With this scorecard approach, if your company did lessen the biodiversity value of a plot, you could then find nearby low score habitats and transform them into better performing ones, to increase total biodiversity net gain by 10%.
For example, turning modified grassland (pastoral land) into a meadow would only take a few years to mature and would have a large lift in terms of biodiversity net gain.
How to use these biodiversity measurements to make real improvements
Even with the BNG metric, doing this at scale across thousands of hectares or multiple plots throughout a country is difficult.
But with remote sensing technologies, like satellites, you can scan and assess all of your land assets at the press of a button, instead of hiring a team of ecologists and waiting months.
But regulators don’t just want measurements, they want action plans and improvements – and it’s likely that these requirements will become commonplace for all organizations.
That’s where AI comes into play. With the right technology and datasets, an AI powered system can help you to create action plans, identify opportunities, accurately measure progress and report on your SDG commitments.
Want to see this type of AI powered biodiversity tool in action? Contact a specialist today and start hitting your biodiversity goals.