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Innovation

New term for business vernacular = biodiversity

Increasingly, executives are looking at species variety and abundance as an opportunity for innovation.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

There's an article in the August edition of the McKinsey Quarterly that explores a burgeoning environmental opportunity (or at least concern) for business executives, biodiversity.

I had to look this term up, myself, because I haven't taken biology in quite a while, but as defined by our friends at Wikipedia, biodiversity is all about variety of species, genes and ecosystems. Generally speaking, the more biodiverse a particular region, the more better, because there are more natural resources. Also, the better the chances a species might be able to adapt to changing conditions.

McKinsey surveyed close to 1,600 executives about this topic during June, and close to 60 percent of those respondents said they believe that biodiversity represents an opportunity for their company. Those opportunities include the sort of self-interested view that by acting to protect biodiversity, their company might be able to boost their corporate reputation. Or the more altruistic notion that new products or business process ideas might evolve from embracing the use of renewable natural resources.

I will note that this response was markedly different from the mood of executives interviewed by McKinsey about the same topic at the end of 2007. At that time, just 29 percent of those surveyed saw the issue as an opportunity. But before you get all excited, I need to point out that biodiversity was No. 10 on a list of 12 issues that McKinsey asked the executives to prioritize. It was behind things like pollution and human rights.

Here are those issued, ranked in order of priority:

  1. Climate change/energy efficiency
  2. Waste/pollution/recycling
  3. Water scarcity/water quality/sanitation
  4. Data privacy/identity theft
  5. Human rights/labor issues
  6. Financial inclusion
  7. Ethical advertising/marketing
  8. Toxic materials
  9. Obesity/malnutrition/hunger
  10. Biodiversity
  11. HIV/AIDS and other global public-health issues
  12. Animal rights

According to the McKinsey research, slightly more than half of companies are doing something about biodiversity. Among those who ranked biodiversity as important (notably, energy companies were common in that group), the ability to create new products or ideas from renewable natural resources was particularly important.

Personally speaking, I link biodiversity very closely with sustainability practices and ideas. It should be the inspiration, for example, for certain materials choices, depending on where a particular facility is located. An example, in my mind, is Dell's use of bamboo as the source for packaging materials in certain regions. Because it is abundant, replenishes quickly and it makes sense to source it. But this approach doesn't make sense everywhere.

My guess is that this whole topic has you running to the dictionary, as I just did to write this post. But I believe biodiversity will become a more common part of corporate vocabularies over the next several years and the companies that work to define it on their own terms most quickly will definitely benefit.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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