More than 500 companies to be ranked on nature impacts by WBA

The investor-backed initiative hopes new offering will act as an accountability mechanism on nature

The World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) is working on developing a benchmark tool covering companies with the biggest impact on nature, RI has learnt.

Gerbrand Haverkamp, Executive Director of the WBA, explained that the Nature Benchmark will help companies understand what is expected of them in terms of managing their impact and in turn adapt their strategies. It will also allow stakeholders – from investors and regulators to local communities – to have an accountability mechanism on nature.

Haverkamp hopes investors will use it for ESG screening purposes, paired with engagement with companies, and to develop investable products.

“We believe nature deserves a dedicated benchmark,” he told RI.

Although not confirmed, he said that the benchmark will be likely particularly looking at companies within the forestry, agricultural, and tourism industries as they have a “disproportionately large impact on the natural ecosystem”. He added the WBA has a list of 1,200 potential target companies. However, this will be trimmed to between 500-1000. 

The WBA was launched in 2018 by founding members Aviva, the United Nations Foundation, and Index Initiative, with the aim of helping businesses do more to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Since then it has created a series of tools. Most recently, RI reported that Starbucks has come under fire for its issuance of sustainability bonds while also scoring zero on the WBA’s Human Rights Benchmark.

This latest benchmark is still in its initial scoping phase and is an expansion of a previous idea to create one on the circular economy. Currently, Haverkamp said the WBA is trying to determine the keystone features of companies with a large impact on nature. “Establishing that footprint is quite complicated, because you need to think about the footprint on land, the footprint of the ocean, the use of water, the use of materials,” he said.

Moving forward, the plan is to have an initial framework ready by the end of this year or early next year, so that the WBA can provide a first baseline assessment on where companies stand in 2022. 

However, what will be crucial to the level of detail of the above will be on where other initiatives, for example, the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure and Science Based Targets Network are in their development. “The Benchmark’s methodology will seek to align to those targets; we don't like to be a standard setter organisation, so ideally we build on disclosure standards that others provide.”

“For us it's really important that we come to a shared framework with these organisations, and that as indicators and disclosure requirements become fleshed out we can build them into the benchmark”, he explained.

Alongside a Nature Benchmark, the WBA will be launching its Gender, Oil & Gas, and Food & Agriculture benchmarks throughout 2021, as well as a Just Transition assessment of 180 companies in high-emitting sectors. 

Meanwhile, in other biodiversity related news, half of the 2,130 clients surveyed around the world by the Chief Investment Office of Deutsche Bank’s International Private Bank recognised the need to incorporate biodiversity into their investment decision-making due to its likely role in exacerbating ocean depletion and land degradation, and accelerating climate change. However, the loss of biodiversity was highlighted by just 11% of respondents as the most important environmental factor, “dwarfed by climate change”.

Biodiversity is also rising up the agenda of policy makers. Today the UK’s Environment Secretary, George Eustice, will make a speech outlining plans to protect and restore nature, tackle the climate and biodiversity crises, and help deliver Net Zero by 2050.

In particular, Eustice is expected to announce that the Government will be amending the Environment Bill to require an additional legally binding target for species for 2030. “This is a huge step forward, and a world leading measure in the year of COP15 and COP26 as we build back greener from the pandemic. We hope that this will be the Net Zero equivalent for nature, spurring action of the scale required to address the biodiversity crisis,” he is set to say.