The conservation of biological diversity poses a critical challenge to the continued coexistence of industry and the global environment. Now, two years after the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP10) was held in Aichi Prefecture, Japan, what should companies be doing to address this challenge? We posed this question to Naoya Furuta, Senior Project Officer of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s largest environmental organization.
-Have company attitudes toward biodiversity conservation changed since COP10?
The IUCN Japan Project Office was set up inside the Keidanren Committee on Nature Conservation in 2009 to provide support for COP10. Our objective was to make use of IUCN’s global network to publicize conservation activities in Japan to countries around the world and to provide technical advices to Japanese stakeholders from global perspectives. Right now, we are working on efforts to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, a set of actions-drawn up at COP10-that countries around the world need to take to stop biodiversity loss.
Through these activities, I do feel that COP10 helped motivate companies to take a greater interest in biodiversity. The number of companies that include the words “biodiversity conservation” in their management or environmental policies has risen dramatically. It is my understanding that Toyota compiled its own Biodiversity Guidelines in 2008-, before COP10-and its efforts are focused on: (1) Contributions through technology, (2) Collaboration and cooperation with society and (3) Information disclosure.
-Has company behavior also changed?
I think it has. At the time of COP10, the Keidanren Committee on Nature Conservation took a lead role in creating the Japan Business and Biodiversity Partnership to promote private-sector efforts on biodiversity. Its membership includes some 450 companies as well as trade groups, NGOs, and research institutions.
When we sent questionnaires to member companies, we received over 180 sample cases of biodiversity initiatives. A similar survey done earlier, in 2008, came back with mostly tree-planting activities, but responses in the recent survey were widely varied; initiatives included not only tree planting but also forest management, coastline projects, and efforts to protect endangered species.
I think because of COP10, companies now have a deeper understanding of the biodiversity crisis and are taking various actions to address it.
-So corporate initiatives on biodiversity are moving forward in the right direction.
There is no doubt they’re moving in the right direction. In other countries, you just don’t see as many companies as there are in Japan that incorporate the concept of biodiversity into their management policies. It’s something Japanese companies should be proud of.
-I understand that companies need to include “ecosystem services” (functions of ecosystems that provide benefits to humans) in their business activities.
The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, a global project launched based on a proposal by the United Nations, announced in 2005 findings that showed two-thirds of ecosystem services are in a state of degradation and that these trends will continue.
Even within the category of “companies,” there are those that interact directly with ecosystems, such as resource developers and food producers, and those that interact indirectly with ecosystems, such as manufacturers. Japan has a large proportion of manufacturers-Toyota being one of them-so a lot of Japanese companies have an indirect relationship with ecosystems.
-What expectations does the international community have of Japanese companies?
I think there are roughly four categories: financial assistance, technological contribution, operational improvement in main business activities, and people power.
A large component of foreign expectations of Japanese companies is technological development that supports nature conservation. For example, IUCN publishes the Red List of Threatened Species, an inventory of species that are in danger of going extinct. The Red List is currently the most exhaustive, authoritative source of information on the conservation status of organisms worldwide, and IUCN is working in partnership with a number of IT companies to improve the functionality of this database. Another IT company is also helping IUCN to build a database for Marine Protected Areas. I would like to see Japanese technologies continue to be exploited for nature conservation purposes-for example satellite-based monitoring and genome analysis technologies. Of the approximately 1.9 million species that are scientifically known to exist, still only about 50,000 species have been studied. Using Japanese technologies, I think we can improve this situation and more accurately assess the status and trends of organisms on Earth. Having this data will allow us to adapt conservation plans, environmental impact assessments, and development plans. This is the “Barometer of Life” concept.
Fuel-efficient vehicles and SUVs are also helping nature conservation activities. Because of their reliability, Japanese SUVs are commonly used at national parks and other off-road protected areas. I have heard that Toyota do Brasil donated Land Cruisers and other vehicles to a project to protect and propagate the Hyacinth Macaw, an endangered bird. This provision of vehicles is an example of technological contribution.
Vehicles donated by Toyota for the Hyacinth Macaw protection project
-What is your perspective on Toyota’s efforts?
I think it’s fantastic that Toyota, while manufacturing the Prius and other fuel-efficient vehicles to improve its main business, is also supporting environmental conservation on an international level through such efforts as the Toyota Environmental Activities Grant Program and the TogetherGreen program in the U.S.
I hope that Toyota promote programs like these while having the self-awareness that it is a company that’s known all over the world and its actions serve as a standard for Japanese companies.
-The Toyota Costa dos Corais marine protected area in Brazil encompasses a space that extends all the way down to the sea floor.
Currently, around 13% of land is designated as protected areas. By contrast, only around 1% of ocean area is protected. Marine protection lags far behind terrestrial protection on a global level.
The action plan adopted at the Johannesburg summit in 2003 includes the goal to build a global network of marine protected areas by 2012. Target 11 of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets adopted at COP10 is an agreement to set up protected areas covering 10% of marine ecosystems; this is a very ambitious target. So, viewed even from a global standpoint, the Brazilian government’s work and Toyota’s support for protecting coral reefs in Brazil is perfectly in line with conservation priorities.
-In terms of the fourth expectation, people power, I’ve heard that every year over 100 people participate in Toyota’s program to protect loggerhead sea turtle spawning beaches in Japan.
Companies that have a large workforce wield a lot of power when you also include employees’ families and friends. When big companies hold environmental education programs for their employees, you can expect these programs to have a large social impact that spreads outward.
Showing leadership by joining employees and local communities in nature conservation efforts can lead to a mass increase in environmental awareness. This then results in more investment in the development of scientific knowledge and technological assistance-inevitably leading to real conservation.
Protecting endangered species in a remote hotspot
Located in the northeastern Brazilian states of Alagoas and Pernambuco is the world’s second largest (413,000 hectares) protected area for coastal ecosystems: Costa dos Corais. This protected area was established by the Brazilian government in 1997, but since then its ecosystem has been in danger of disappearing. The Toyota do Brasil Foundation, established by Toyota do Brasil in April 2009, began offering its support to protect coral reefs, mangroves, and other flora and fauna, particularly the Amazonian manatee, an endangered aquatic mammal. The Foundation is not only providing financial assistance but is also networking to support the activities of environmental groups, fishermen’s associations, and other local organizations that are working in biodiversity conservation.
Monitoring training for local residents. Toyota plans to work with local Toyota dealerships to expand protected areas in 10 municipalities by 2017.
Creating a beach environment conducive to spawning by loggerhead turtles
Surrounded by the ocean, sand dunes, and hills, Omotehama beach on the Atsumi Peninsula of Aichi Prefecture in Japan is known as a spawning site for loggerhead turtles. Unfortunately, the beach’s ecosystem is now in jeopardy as a result of growing coastal erosion by a decrease in the volume of earth and sand deposited by the Tenryu River.
Since April 2011, employees from the Toyota’s Tahara Plant, located near the Omotehama coast, have joined the efforts of two local NPOs-Omotehama Network and Akabane Juku-to assist in making and planting erosion-prevention hedges made of bamboo and wood thinned from forests. More than 100 employees and employee family members participate in the activity every year. In August, volunteers gather to confirm the effectiveness of the hedges and observe the release of turtles into the ocean.
Watching as loggerhead sea turtles make for the ocean