Do you enjoy going camping? Reading a good book? That ice-cream you recently had? Whether you appreciate it or not, you cannot deny the important role our earth’s natural habitats have in our daily lives.
We depend on terrestrial ecosystems and forests as an essential source of materials, food, product ingredients and also for livelihoods. The Sustainable Development Goal 15 on ‘life on earth’ is all about protecting, restoring and promoting the sustainable use of all terrestrial ecosystems so that we can have a better future.
Why SDG 15 is important
The world has lost over 12 million hectares of forest every year from 2000 to 2010. Expansion of commercial agriculture, especially large-scale farming, has largely caused this significant loss of forest cover. Nevertheless, damaging the environment, particularly forests, comes at great costs.
Here is an illustration of the chain effect:
- When forests get lost through deforestation, biodiversity is also lost, leading to low crop productivity and value.
- When forest cover is affected, climate change effects increase – deforestation accounts for nearly 15% of worldwide emissions – which enhances desertification, a problem that already negatively affects over 1 billion people around the world.
SDG 15 Key targets
Due to the importance of this SDG goal, it has some tough targets that include:
- Ensure the sustainable use, restoration and conservation of inland and terrestrial freshwater systems, particularly forests, mountains, drylands, and wetlands, according to the obligations set out in international agreements.
- Promote sustainable management of forests, stop deforestation, considerably increase reforestation and afforestation globally as well as repair degraded forests.
- Ensure the effective conservation of ecosystems around mountains, including their rich biodiversity, to improve their ability to offer the essential benefits necessary for real sustainable development.
- Fight desertification, restore damaged soil and land, including land ravaged by floods, drought and desertification.
- Take crucial action so as to reduce dilapidation of natural habitats, stop biodiversity loss and prevent and protect threatened species against extinction.
- Promote equitable and fair sharing of benefits that arise from the use of any genetic resources as well as promoting suitable access to these resources, as globally agreed.
- Take swift action to put an end to poaching and subsequent trafficking of all protected species and also address the supply and demand of prohibited wildlife products.
- Introduce new measures to reduce significantly or prevent the unwanted introduction of foreign invasive species on water and land ecosystems and eradicate or control the main species.
- Integrate biodiversity and ecosystem values into local and national planning, poverty reduction plan, and development processes.
- Significantly increase and mobilise financial resource to ensure the sustainable use and conservation of ecosystems and biodiversity.
- Mobilise essential resources from every available resource at all financial levels to finance truly sustainable management of forests, and offer sufficient incentives to the developing nations to use such management, particularly for reforestation and conservation.
- Improve universal support for all efforts to fight trafficking and poaching of all protecting species, by enhancing the ability of local affected communities to seek sustainable employment opportunities.
So far, we have only managed to safeguard about 14% of coastal marine and terrestrial areas, but that is not enough. The main challenge of this particular SDG is to enhance our efforts and to take conservation more seriously.
Impact on SDG 15 on businesses
One place where businesses can begin to work on these targets mentioned above is the supply chain. Simply ask the following questions, in regards to your main source of materials:
- Where do you get your materials? Regardless of whether you’re a general consumer or a retailer.
- How do your suppliers source the materials?
- What can you say about your suppliers and their way of conducting business?
Through answering these questions, you will have a better view of the supply chain, which will reveal where any negative environmental effects are and the necessary steps taken.
An example of a company that exemplifies this is Unilever, which strives always to source palm oil sustainably. This commonly used element is present in a wide range of productions from shampoo and soap to margarine and ice-cream and is infamous for being associated with deforestation.
Unilever achieved its target of only sourcing from sustainable palm oil sources and is now seeking to have total traceability to certified sustainable sources. Thus, this means any prospective Unilever supplier, which is among the biggest consumer goods companies globally, must ensure that their environmental practices are up to date. Most importantly, suppliers should realise that Unilever’s efforts are just part of the broader approach by organisations to contribute to Sustainable Development Goals.
Companies across the world can take one united approach towards changing industry practices and standards. In 2010, CGF or Consumer Goods Forum agreed on a resolution against deforestation to attain zero total deforestation by 2020. In line with this goal, the CGF released the first ever sourcing guidelines for palm oil to help retail and consumer goods companies to design green policies and assist in meeting the zero deforestation target.
Business can even do the one thing they are good at and place a monetary value on our environment. Leading the industry in this regard is Puma, with their recently established Environmental Profit and Loss Account that seeks to measure the environmental effects of their supply chain and operations financially.
Puma’s parent organisation, Kering, has also established a broad EP&L to cover the whole group of companies. Their green business commitment is visible in their unique open-sourcing methodology that allows more businesses to trace their carbon footprint easily.
Conserving the environment is an important task for all
It should not go unobserved that meeting the targets of this particular SDG will assist in addressing others. For instance, deforestation reduces biodiversity and clean water accessibility (SDG 6), and in the developing nations it may mean fewer opportunities for indigenous people, women, and rural communities (SDG 5 and 8).
Thus, protecting the forests, preventing desertification and conserving biodiversity are crucial goals. It is no longer enough for businesses just to think of the environmental effects arising from their operations. Businesses must instead act and grow in a unified manner that recognises the pressure points and connects across supply chains and industries to sustain the natural habitats and effect widespread positive change.