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Beyond ‘bee-washing’: Why biodiversity matters to business

Bee-washing describes the often tokenistic practice where offices keep beehives but fail to address biodiversity issues that will ultimately affect the organisation’s ability to operate

The crane is a symbol of luck and good fortune in many cultures, from Ancient Egypt to the farthest reaches of Asia. Sad for us that up until very recently, it had been over 300 years since any bred on these shores. Yet, in just a couple of years, since the rehabilitation of Bord na Móna’s peatlands began in 2021, they have returned to breed, and chicks have successfully hatched.

They may be merely symbolic of good fortune, but it’s a fitting allegory for how sustainable business practices which prioritise biodiversity will, in the long run, futureproof our economy, one in which agribusiness and food production is so crucial.

According to Aoife Connaughton, strategy and decarbonisation lead, Deloitte, businesses in all sectors, not just agribusiness and food, need to be looking at biodiversity as crucial to their organisation’s survival.

Connaughton helps businesses come up with strategies to address issues around biodiversity, nature and climate change, as well as implementing regulations. She uses the term “bee-washing” to describe the more tokenistic end of the spectrum — many offices are now keeping beehives, but it’s not enough to really address issues that, when they come full circle, will impact the organisation’s ability to operate, for example, a data centre needing water.


“Even in the time that I’ve been working in the area, the difference is really stark,” she says, “The level of water pollution and the impact of that is now starting to bite.”

Biodiversity issues are having real impacts on businesses, hampering their ability to grow, as she points out, “Ireland has exceeded the planetary boundaries; we’ve exceeded what’s possible from a biodiversity point of view and that’s constraining our growth.”

Ultimately, she sees policy and regulation driving change, but on a positive note, sees opportunity for improvement. “Ireland is really good at using its natural resources and we’re really good at branding—if you think of Bord Bia for example — we could be leaders and do genuinely amazing things.”

Thomas Ball, director, sustainable futures, KPMG, warns we are a long way from where we need to be in terms of credible action on the ground. “There is a huge amount of work still to do to move from education and understanding within the private sector to the actual measuring of their impacts and dependencies, and then translating this into science-based action to halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems.”

There is still a steep learning curve for most businesses to fully understand their impacts and dependencies on nature and biodiversity and the inextricable links to climate change. Ball says, “For companies that rely directly on ecosystem services such as freshwater, timber and wood-based products, soil health and pollination for their crops, it is usually less of a leap for them to see a direct line between the degradation of the environment and the risks to their business model.”

For other sectors, such as the service economy, it’s more of a stretch to understand the link. “Encouragingly, there is a growing appetite to learn, and we can see more businesses investing time and resources into fully understanding and measuring where their business is either impacting or being impacted by the loss of nature and biodiversity,” he says.

Investor expectations are playing a more significant role in influencing businesses to take action of climate, nature and wider ESG topics. “Understandably the focus has primarily been on climate-related risks and disclosures and decarbonisation, but we are seeing an increasing emphasis on nature and biodiversity topics such as deforestation and land conversion moving up the agenda, and featuring in decision-making and board rooms,” Ball says. “This is starting to filter down into the development of new products and services, increased scrutiny of impacts within supply chains and increased interest in investing in renewable energy and nature-based solutions.”

With the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) front of mind for most large corporate and commercial semi-State companies, Ball expects, “as CSRD disclosures and transition plans start to be published, and as the EU Nature Restoration Law, due diligence directive and deforestation-free products regulations come fully into force that more and more businesses will increase or redeploy their investments in response.”