Science of Protecting Nature: How Technology can Help Understand, Monitor & Preserve Biodiversity
Updated: Sep 21
By Vincent Charpiot, Head of Group Sustainability Business Accelerator, Capgemini
In this article, Vincent Charpiot, Head of Group Sustainability Business Accelerator at Capgemini, shares how technology can help with understanding, monitoring and preserving biodiversity. Capgemini, will also be joining this years World Energy Transition Summit 2023 as well as World Biodiversity Summit 2023.
“Our partnership with World Climate Foundation underscores the indispensable role of technology and business partnerships in scaling sustainable transition worldwide.”
-Cyril Garcia, Head of Global Sustainability Services & Corporate Responsibility
The great reduction in biodiversity over the last 50 years is one of the most important global challenges of our time. Human activity has put nearly one million species at risk of extinction1 since 19702, and the consequences cannot be ignored. More than 75% of food crops rely on animal pollination, but over 40% of known insect species have declined in past decades3.
While most organisations now see the urgent need to mitigate climate change, the gravity of biodiversity loss is not reflected in corporate sustainability strategies. It’s time for companies to take action before it’s too late. They must start leveraging cross-industry collaborations and new technologies to accelerate biodiversity preservation and restoration.
Spotlight on the Biosphere
Rapidly evolving biodiversity-related regulations and standards are driving awareness and increasing pressure on the corporate sector. However, the key message that biodiversity loss is happening now is not quite hitting home. While many executives feel they have a strong understanding of biodiversity and its impact, it is still low on the corporate agenda. For example, Capgemini’s research shows that only 24% of companies have a biodiversity strategy.
The latest report from the Capgemini Research Institute, “Preserving the Fabric of Life: Why Biodiversity Loss is as Urgent as Climate Change,” also reveals that as few as 16% of organisations have completed an assessment of the impact of their supply chain on biodiversity. And when it comes to their own operations, only 20% of organisations have done so.
The report, published this week, focuses on biosphere integrity, closely tied to biodiversity. It is one of nine "planetary boundaries" outlined by a group of internationally renowned scientists in 2009 to safeguard Earth's stability. By 2022, we had breached six of these nine boundaries, including climate change, biodiversity loss and freshwater use.
Loss of biodiversity (or damage to the biosphere) is a key concern because it threatens our very existence. It deprives us of the safeguard that a robust ecosystem offers against the ravages of climate change, disease outbreaks and the ability to feed ourselves.
- Vincent Charpiot, Head of Group Sustainability Business Accelerator, Capgemini
Biodiversity loss will cause the breakdown of our ecosystem’s ability to provide food, clean water, air purification, and pollination of crops, to name a few. We also stand to lose invaluable natural elements with untapped potential as sources of new medicines and biotechnological breakthroughs.
Investments in Biodiversity are Lagging Behind
According to the European Commission, some industries’ supply chains are more dependent on nature than others and may be more at risk of disruption from biodiversity loss. These include agriculture and forestry, food and beverage, and construction and real estate, which are highly dependent on nature and contribute more than €7 trillion to global GDP4. However, they are still behind when it comes to defining a biodiversity strategy. For example, 65% of executives from construction and real estate say biodiversity is important to their company but only 23% of their organisations have a biodiversity strategy, in line with the overall findings across industries.
One reason for this gap could be that it is more difficult to quantify biodiversity loss than climate change. Because biodiversity is caused by many different factors that are interlinked, it can’t be mitigated with one single objective, such as cutting carbon emissions. Measurement and assessment of biodiversity remains more complex, and organisations are largely choosing to focus on the simpler measure of carbon.
And unfortunately, this lack of focus on biodiversity means a lack of biodiversity financing. While some organisations are investing in preservation, conservation and restoration of biodiversity, there is a huge gap between the amount of investment required and that being made. Capgemini’s research reveals that, on average, organisations invest $14.37 million into biodiversity annually, representing 0.17% of annual revenue. In comparison, according to Gartner, marketing budgets comprised 9.1% of annual revenue on average in 20235.
A Focus on Land Preservation
Different sectors have different relationships to biodiversity. For example, the consumer goods and retail sectors depend highly on nature for raw materials. These sectors also have strong impacts on nature due to the complex landscape comprising their supply chains. Their impacts include soil degradation, conversion of natural ecosystems, and waterway pollution. Meanwhile, the pharmaceutical industry has a strong impact on biodiversity due to its high-water consumption, pollution and use of ingredients such as palm oil, which is linked to environmental degradation. It also has a strong dependency on biodiversity for raw materials.
Interestingly, Capgemini’s report found that whatever an organization’s relationship to biodiversity may be, it generally tends to invest more in land than freshwater or ocean habitats. These investments encompass, for example, initiatives to prevent the destruction of forests or projects to plant trees. Some 62% of executives told Capgemini they have implemented land preservation initiatives, while only 37% had launched initiatives to save ocean habitats. And in terms of the concrete actions taken, circular economy initiatives were a clear frontrunner. In Capgemini’s survey, 62% of executives said their organization had implemented circular economy practices, such as recycling and reusing, in an effort to preserve biodiversity.
The Role of Technology in Speeding Up the Fight Against Biodiversity Loss
Technology can cause habitat loss and disrupt natural systems – for example, through mining and extraction of raw materials, or through laying and burying telecommunication lines.
"But it is clear that technological solutions are also critical in advancing biodiversity efforts. A majority of executives (73%) believe that digital technologies can be pivotal in reversing the biodiversity crisis."
- Vincent Charpiot, Head of Group Sustainability Business Accelerator, Capgemini
In fact, we’re already seeing many organisations leveraging AI, synthetic biology and a range of other innovations. The belief is consistent across industries, with leaders in consumer products, energy and telecoms particularly emphatic about using tech to save the planet.
Capgemini’s researchers found that AI is the most common technology investment for biodiversity, followed by 3D printing and robotics. Several organisations are actively investing in technologies like drones, sensors, satellite imagery, and AI to monitor and safeguard biodiversity. These innovations are used for tracking species, detecting environmental changes, and reducing interference with natural ecosystems, for example.
Take Flash Forest, a Canadian tree planting start-up. The company intends to use drone technology to plant one billion trees by 2028. Drones can plant trees 10 times faster than humans, and Flash Forest’s method comes at around a fourth of the cost of other tree restoration efforts6. Another example is NASA, which is collaborating with partners across the globe to monitor biodiversity changes in near-real time by linking satellite data to get on-the-ground measurements7 .
How Organisations Can Accelerate Their Biodiversity Journey
Capgemini’s research intends to give tangible advice for executives looking to make a positive change on biodiversity, now. To do so, Capgemini has identified a number of steps organisations can take to contribute to the preservation and restoration of our natural ecosystems and drive innovation.
1. Give biodiversity a strategic focus on par with climate change
Currently, only a quarter of organisations have a biodiversity strategy, and 53% of executives we surveyed prioritize climate change over biodiversity loss. It's imperative for organisations to recognize that biodiversity and climate change are intricately linked, and to understand how efforts to address one inevitably impact the other.
Companies should align biodiversity goals with carbon targets to ensure a holistic approach to sustainability. The mandate at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in 2022 to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 underscored the urgency of this shift.
2. Foster collaboration to support biodiversity solutions at scale
Over half of the executives surveyed by Capgemini reported ongoing partnerships for biodiversity initiatives. Collaboration with a diverse range of stakeholders, including peer companies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academia, researchers and local communities is essential.
These alliances can drive innovation, knowledge sharing, and the development of impactful biodiversity solutions. Working closely with governments and policymakers is crucial for nature-positive business models.
3. Define clear standards for biodiversity measurement and disclosure
Some 59% of executives find biodiversity measurement challenging. To facilitate effective action, a global, standardized measurement system is needed, akin to the Science-Based Targets Network (SBTN) for carbon emissions.
International initiatives such as the Global Biodiversity Framework require companies and financial institutions to monitor, assess and disclose their biodiversity impacts. And on the way are new regulatory approaches that place more emphasis on biodiversity protection.
4. Invest in technological and data solutions wisely to speed up action on biodiversity loss
Technology plays a pivotal role in combating biodiversity loss, offering tools like AI, machine learning, robotics, drones, and environmental DNA sequencing for tracking and protecting species. We also see promise for generative AI as a tool for research, analysis, monitoring and conservation. However, organisations should be mindful of the environmental footprint of any tech they use.
Investing in technology for biodiversity can also have the added benefit of driving innovation and creating new business opportunities. According to the World Economic Forum, protecting nature and increasing biodiversity could generate business opportunities worth $10 trillion per year and create 400 million jobs by 20308 .
Coming Together to Protect the Natural World
In a world grappling with unprecedented biodiversity challenges, technology emerges as a beacon of hope. Through satellite monitoring, AI, blockchain and citizen engagement, we can transform our approach to conservation. Technology, when harnessed ethically and inclusively, can be a catalyst for global biodiversity conservation efforts.
As we gather to discuss these vital topics at the World Biodiversity Summit, let us collectively commit to harnessing technology for the betterment of our planet, ensuring that future generations inherit a world rich in biodiversity and natural beauty.
Visit Capgemini’s website to access more insights or to download the full report: https://www.capgemini.com/ca-en/
As a leading strategic partner to companies around the world, Capgemini has leveraged technology to enable business transformation for more than 50 years. They address the entire breadth of business needs, from strategy and design to managing operations. To do this, the company draws on deep industry expertise and a command of the fast-evolving fields of cloud, data artificial intelligence, connectivity, software, digital engineering, and platforms.
About the Author
Vincent, senior business executive and global leader based in New York City, currently directs the Capgemini Group Sustainability Accelerator. He focuses on delivering a distinctive Sustainability Services portfolio to help clients address their ESG challenges, leveraging data, engineering and technology for concrete sustainability gains—a core objective of the Group.
Vincent's tenure at Capgemini has been marked by significant roles in the Cloud, Infrastructure, and Cyber Global Business Line, his last role as the CEO for the Americas, following a successful five-year stint as the Global Sales Officer.
1 World Economic Forum, New Nature Economy Report II, 2020.
2 World Wildlife Fund, “What is biodiversity?” accessed June 2023.
3 The World Bank, “Securing Our Future Through Biodiversity,” December 2022.
4 The European Green Deal, “The business case for biodiversity,” May 2020.
5 Gartner, “2023 CMO spend and strategy survey," May 2023.
6 Washington Post, “A few idealistic Canadians are trying to replant the world’s forests with flying machines,” October 2021
7 NASA, “A Global Biodiversity Crisis: How NASA Satellites Help Track Changes to Life on Earth,” May 2023.
8 World Economic Forum, “The Future of Nature and Business Report,”July 2020