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Working with Companies

Why Companies Should Protect Nature

For decades, The Nature Conservancy has recognized that the private sector has an important role to play in advancing our conservation mission. Businesses around the globe can, and do, have significant impacts on our climate and on the lands and waters that people and nature rely upon for survival. That’s why we are applying our science, reach, expertise in conservation planning, and on-the-ground experience to help businesses make better decisions, understand the value of nature, and ultimately protect it. talked to Peter Malik, Managing Director of Corporate Engagements, about our work with companies and why this work is essential to our overall conservation mission. Why do you think it’s important for conservation organizations to engage with corporations?

Peter Malik: The Nature Conservancy’s mission is to protect lands and waters for nature and for people. In order to protect the planet for future generations, I believe we must engage all relevant stakeholders -- and this includes companies. Around the globe, the demand for goods and services, from agricultural commodities to new cars, is growing dramatically. How those demands are met will have a profound effect on the future of the natural world. Companies are some of the biggest actors in the world, and if we fail to engage the private sector as part of the solution, we will limit our ability to accomplish our conservation mission. How would you respond to critics who say conservation organizations should not work with corporations?

Peter Malik: We just can’t afford not to work with companies. The impact the private sector has on our planet is too great to ignore, and if companies want to improve their practices and help protect nature, then we should work with them to help make that possible.
When we work together, we can learn a different way of looking at scientific challenges, and we can get impact at scale. We can get conservation at scale. We get coastlines protected and restored, we get lands protected and we get biodiversity protected at scale. By working with companies, we can accomplish the same goals we’ve been working towards for the last 60 years, but with different tools. What is the Conservancy’s approach to engaging the private sector?

Peter Malik: To protect some of the most important places on earth, we are working with companies large and small across all sectors of industry — from helping to change business practices and policies, to raising awareness of conservation issues, to raising funds to support important new science and conservation projects. Is working with companies a new approach for the Conservancy? If so, why the shift?

Peter Malik: The Conservancy has always recognized the importance of working with companies. The evolution of the Conservancy’s philanthropic dialogue with the private sector to one which also includes practices is a natural evolution of our overall strategy. In fact, we engage companies in four fundamental ways: philanthropy, marketing, policy and practices. As new and bigger challenges arrive, we need to deploy all these tools to achieve conservation outcomes at appropriate scale.

"We need to create a 'new norm' so that protecting the natural systems that sustain all life isn’t an afterthought; it’s a fundamental part of the way we do business. "

— Peter Malik, Conservancy Managing Director of Corporate Engagements How do you decide which corporations are appropriate to engage and which ones are not?

Peter Malik: We apply strict guidelines and a rigorous due-diligence approach to identify which relationships best align with our mission.  There must be clear conservation benefits with lasting, measurable outcomes and a direct connection to our mission.   

The chief and only reason, really, that we engage with a company from the practices perspective is to help change a company’s business practices, the way they make decisions, and change the culture of the decision-making of the company in question.

In many cases, we seek to work with companies that are having a major impact on the environment – but only if they’re serious about addressing that impact (and yes, we have turned some down).  To determine that, we review a number of factors:  

  • past activities of the company,
  • sustainability goals and progress,
  • transparency, and
  • commitment and the leadership of its CEO and other senior managers to our mutual objectives.

The changes required to protect nature and preserve the services nature provides to people, such as clean water and a stable climate, won’t come from government and non-profits alone or from individuals by themselves; it must come from all sectors of society, including businesses.

We must factor nature into everything we do – and that starts with where the products we use and rely upon each day come from. Through collaboration, we want to show how the private sector can take a leadership role to change the way business is done. We need to create a “new norm” so that protecting the natural systems that sustain all life isn’t an afterthought; it’s a fundamental part of the way we do business. Over the course of your career, have you seen any major shifts in thinking within companies as it relates to sustainability and the environment?

Peter Malik: I've seen a massive shift in company behavior and the way companies see sustainability. It used to seem like a company would say "Let's have an office of sustainability,” or, “Let's go to a few conferences, and let's put on the annual report that we print it out on some recycled paper."

Now, when I’m talking to a CEO or chief sustainability officer, there's no doubt that sustainability and the environment is something important and that can’t be ignored. In fact, more and more companies see nature as a critically important and economically valuable input into every-day decision making. It is both a driver of economic value and an important risk mitigator.

CEOs and companies really understand that the world is changing. They understand that their resources are finite. They understand that the future is less linear and that conservation and sustainability need to be a key part of their business strategy. So companies get it now for sure.
What one thing would you like to see corporations take away from their engagement with conservation organizations?

 Peter Malik: Well, I hope that a company never really leaves. I hope that an engagement with us is just the beginning of a sustainability journey which will go beyond the lifetime of me and my team.

I'd like them to think that they've spent the engagement doing something new, doing something which really challenges them, doing something where we have added value as an organization, most likely value based on science which is actually integrated into their decision-making. I'd like the company to think that they make better decisions now, with our input.

I hope that they really come to see the value of nature to their business, so that they continue to invest in conservation and in protection of the natural systems that sustain all life. And make nature a strategic priority.

Peter Malik

Peter Malik is The Nature Conservancy’s managing director of corporate engagements, leading development of the Conservancy’s worldwide corporate engagement strategy. oversees all corporate strategies, including The Conservancy’s work with multi-national companies to improve business practices through specific projects designed to develop tools to demonstrate the tangible business returns of incorporating sustainability and the value of nature into a company’s operations and supply chains. 

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