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5 things businesses should know about nature-based solutions

Nature-based solutions are often promoted as low-risk ways for businesses to reduce their carbon footprint, increase their climate resilience and deliver a wide range of economic and social benefits. But what are they? And how can businesses implement them?

xtonnes has pulled together five things businesses should know to successfully embed nature-based solutions in their reduction strategy.

1/ Nature-based solutions involve working with nature to tackle societal challenges

Nature-based solutions are actions that sustainably manage, protect, or restore natural and/or semi-natural eco-systems, whilst addressing societal challenges (like climate change), providing benefits (like flood protection), and contributing to biodiversity increase.

Nature-based solutions are increasingly being embedded into mitigation and adaptation plans across the world, as biodiversity loss accelerates and the need to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change intensifies.

The first thing people tend to think about when they hear “nature-based solutions” is tree planting. However, there is a wide range of options around the world. xtonnes has selected three examples to showcase the breadth of nature-based solutions:

  • Used for millennia by farmers around the world, azolla fern can sequester carbon from the atmosphere, clean polluted waterways, as well as create regenerative animal feed, green manure, and biofuel. The start-up Azolla Biosystems is working to create a worldwide network of azolla growing operations.

  • Marine permaculture (or ocean farming) increases wild fish stocks, absorbs pollution, reduces local ocean acidification and provides sustainable food supply (seaweed). Ocean Rainforest is developing new technology for growing giant kelp and making ocean farming more cost-efficient.

  • Flash Forest is blending Unmanned Aerial Vehicules (UAV) technology, automation, and ecological science, they reforest post-wildfire affected areas using drones.

2/ Nature-based solutions are a key tool in our arsenal to address the climate and biodiversity crises

Technology-led interventions and infrastructure solutions get a lot of attention and funding. Yet nature-based solutions can play a key role in increasing our climate resilience, reversing biodiversity loss, and helping us adapt to current and future adverse climate change impacts.

The impact of biodiversity loss on our planet, our economy and our communities is significant. According to a recent research, between 1970 and 2018 wildlife populations have declined by an average of 69% (for more on biodiversity loss statistics check out the Living Planet Index). And for those of you who need an economic reasoning: half of the world’s economic output is moderately or highly dependent on nature and its services. Biodiversity loss does not only threaten our health and our ability to live on this planet; it will dismantle our entire economic system as well as increase poverty and inequality.

According to the United Nations, the main drivers for this catastrophic loss are changes in land and sea use, exploitation of natural resources, global heating, pollution and the spread of invasive species.

3/ Nature-based solutions can deliver societal and economic benefits whilst addressing the key drivers of the climate and biodiversity crises

The benefits of nature-based solutions include:

  • Playing a strategic and integral role in fighting climate change. The World Bank estimates that ‘nature-based solutions could provide 37% of the mitigation needed until 2030 to achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement’. Nature-based solutions can contribute to emissions reductions and to natural carbon sequestration and storage.

  • Contributing to biodiversity net gain and halting biodiversity loss. This includes restoring, creating or protecting habitats.

  • Enhancing soil health, reducing soil erosion and improving water quality.

  • Supporting climate-smart, sustainable agricultural practices. This has many benefits from reducing land, air and water pollution, future proofing the farming industry and providing income diversification opportunities for farmers.

  • Increasing local communities’ climate resilience, for example by providing flood protection and by reducing the impacts of the urban heat island effect.

  • Providing health and well-being improvements in urban and rural areas.

  • Contributing to social and climate justice.

4/ The challenge of nature-based solutions is that they have often not presented a clear return on investment for business – however this is rapidly changing

Technological solutions have often been preferred thanks to their clearer return on investment (for example, investing in solar panels makes a lot of sense when you can reduce your energy bills and recoup your investment). Nature-based solutions have been harder and slower to implement due, in part, to:

  • A lack of data on their direct and/or indirect benefits (it is after all easier to measure the benefits of solar panels when you can quantify your energy use and its costs).

  • The absence of a universal methodology on how to quantify and monitor these benefits (a lot of proxy and/or qualitative data tend to be used).

  • Those who invest in nature-based solutions do not always directly reap its benefits, making the case for investment more difficult (the solar panels on your building will reduce your own energy bills. The trees you plant will offer benefits to others, beyond your business).

Thankfully, progress has been made thanks to joint efforts by scientists, academics, not-for-profit organisations, entrepreneurs and start-ups. Databases have been built, evidence-based approached have been standardised and metrics on nature-based solutions’ potential and actual impacts have been verified (check out NatureMetrics). Innovations in this field have also accelerated the implementation of nature-based solutions, by reducing delivery costs and facilitating the creation of robust business cases.

5/ If your business wants to implement nature-based solutions, you can invest, partner, sponsor, or donate

The beauty of nature-based solutions is that regardless of your industry/sector, your business can implement them. Several options are available:

  • You can directly invest in nature-based solutions. For example, by starting an afforestation or reforestation programme on the land you own, or invest in climate resilience and/or green and blue infrastructure on your buildings.

  • You can partner with your suppliers to implement nature-based solutions across your supply chains. This has the added benefit of addressing scope 3 emissions.

  • You can integrate nature-based solutions in your offsetting portfolios and pay a reputable company to invest in nature-based solutions (make sure to follow the Oxford Offsetting Principles for best practice).

  • You can sponsor a start-up or a research programme, or donate money to a charity that is implementing nature-based solutions locally or around the world.

To start the process:

  1. Decide a budget for your nature-based solutions.

  2. Identify nature-based solutions that suit your available budget, your geographic location and your business’ operations. For example, do you already have a charity partner and do they work in this field? Are your suppliers interested in nature-based solutions? Can you achieve several goals by investing in a specific nature-based project?

  3. Research opportunities to partner with other organisations to scale up potential solutions, for example industry peers or local universities.

Top Tip: Remember to always use an evidence-based approach

This means you should be able to quantify, monitor and report on your nature-based projects.

As we develop and improve our carbon action platform, we continue to investigate ways to integrate nature-based solutions in our decarbonisation plans. Check out our other articles to increase your carbon knowledge and gain the skills to start taking action.


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