People: James Griffiths

19 January 2010 | News story

WBCSD and IUCN have renewed their relationship for another 4 years. We pose three questions to James Griffiths, the WBCSD Managing Director of the Ecosystems Focus Area, about the role of business in conserving biodiversity and his expectations for this new phase of the relationship.

Three questions to James Griffiths about the role of business in conserving biodiversity and his expectations for the WBCSD-IUCN relationship.

1. What are the challenges faced by WBCSD members with regards to biodiversity and ecosystems?

In the course of daily operations, all businesses impact and depend on ecosystems and the essential ecosystem services they provide like flood control, fuel, food or fiber. Yet because ecosystems are largely treated by society and economies as under-valued assets and therefore externalities, most companies have little real understanding of their direct or indirect ecosystem impacts or dependence, let alone the business risk of loss of critical manufacturing inputs like fresh water.

Companies need to respond by proactively measuring, managing and mitigating their ecosystem impacts and dependence. Leading companies can also develop new corporate policies and business solutions to help meet these challenges.

Business must also anticipate changing government policies and regulatory frameworks to address these pressing ecosystem challenges at the global, regional and local levels. New regulatory frameworks need to be designed to “level the playing field” for all ecosystem users and leverage market forces and the capacity of business to be a solution provider. Changing frameworks should clearly define property and tenure rights as the basis for effective stewardship and recognize business as a significant ecosystems manager in its own right.

This is why in 2007/08 WBCSD worked with the World Resources Institute (WRI) to develop the Corporate Ecosystem Review (ESR) – an impacts and dependence assessment guide for companies - and why in 2009 and 2010 we are working again with WRI as well IUCN and a number of member companies to develop and road test a guide to Corporate Ecosystem Valuation. These types of new management planning and decision support tools relating to ecosystems can do two things – improve an individual company’s bottom line by saving costs, sustaining existing or capturing new revenue streams, reducing taxes, revaluing assets, improving internal decision-making and enhancing external performance reporting; and, when used at scale, can enable the business sector to play its part in addressing the world’s ecosystem challenges.

2. At the onset of the International Year of Biodiversity (IYB), what do you feel is the business role in a post 2010 agreement?

Businesses are not parties to international agreements like the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and therefore are quite removed from intergovernmental Biodiversity target setting or initiatives like the IYB.
The CBD provides a platform for governments to set aspirational targets and strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the equitable sharing of biodiversity benefits. This, in turn, influences the regional, national and sub-national environment and ecosystem management policy frameworks within which member companies operate. Because of this, WBCSD sees value in catalyzing great business sector involvement with the global biodiversity agenda via the CBD and also the TEEB initiative during the IYB.

One concrete step is working with IUCN, under our renewed MoU, and Nippon Keidanren, our partner organization in Japan to organize an “International Business and Ecosystem Day” during COP 10 of the CBD next October in Nagoya, Japan. This substantive day-long event, which will be held on Tuesday October 26th just before the start of the High Level segment, has been endorsed by the CBD Secretariat and will be the main business initiative during the COP (Convention of Parties).

The event will focus on informing ministers and government delegations about existing successful business actions for biodiversity conservation and the sustainable use of ecosystem services. More importantly it will also discuss scale-up strategies including voluntary standards and certification, government procurement and “best practice” ecosystem management policies and frameworks that effectively leverage market forces and business’ capacity to help reverse ecosystem degradation and support ecosystem restoration and enhancing service provision.

WBCSD feels that business needs to become a bigger part of the solution to ecosystem degradation, not just considered as part of the problem. With this aspiration in mind, these key messages underpin WBCSD’s work on ecosystems throughout the IYB:

• Ecosystems are everywhere and are everyone’s business;
• Business and ecosystems are inextricably linked; and
• The business case for biodiversity conservation and sustainable ecosystem management can be made

3. What are your expectations for the new phase of the WBCSD’s agreement with IUCN?

The WBCSD – IUCN relationship started well over 10 years ago on an ad hoc basis with two early publications to raise business awareness about biodiversity. Cooperation strengthened during the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) process and following the 2004 World Conservation Forum (WCF) in Bangkok the first MoU between our two organizations was signed.

This first agreement supported the establishment of WBCSD’s Ecosystems Focus Area and generated several joint publications making the case for business action on ecosystems and exploring the role of market mechanism to support biodiversity conservation. By the time of the 2008 Barcelona WCF, Mikkel Kallesoe had been seconded from IUCN to WBCSD to accelerate our work on ecosystems assessment and valuation, and WBCSD and our member companies were actively involved in the WCF as sponsors and as leaders, co-organizers and participants in over 100 events.

I anticipate that the renewed agreement will both deepen and broaden the cooperation between IUCN and WBCSD. New areas for cooperation and advocacy include the role of business in supporting CBD objectives, ecosystems management policy and regulatory frameworks including the utility of market mechanisms, sustainable water management, international climate change policy including REDD plus implementation, biodiversity offsets and corporate ecosystem valuation.

I would also like to see greater interaction between IUCN’s members and WBCSD’s member companies at the operational level, building on IUCN’s existing relationships with companies like Shell, Holcim and Rio Tinto and business organizations like ICMM and IPIECA.

In summary we would like both organizations to play a bridging role between the conservation and business communities around sustainable development – delivering economic growth that is based on ecological balance and social progress.


About James Griffiths

James Griffiths took degrees in psychology, political science and international relations at universities in New Zealand and the US. In 1980 he joined the New Zealand Department of Trade and Industry and spent several years as a business regulator and then trade negotiator to the GATT (pre runner to the WTO). To learn more about business operations, in the mid 1980’s he was seconded from the Government to a large forest products company.

In 1987 James Griffiths started a 5 year diplomatic assignment based in New York as New Zealand Consul and Trade Commissioner responsible for export, tourism and inward investment promotion on the US East Coast and Mid West markets. Upon his return to New Zealand he joined the Trade Development Board. In 1994 James left the public service when he was recruited by the New Zealand Forest Industries Council (NZFIC) to help increase investment in local processing of value added forest products and implement export market development programs. In mid 2002 James was recruited by WBCSD and relocated to Geneva to set up its Sustainable Forest Products Industry (SFPI) project.

When he started at WBCSD, James was also given the “biodiversity” portfolio. This led to involvement in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) process, and the team that prepared the business synthesis report. The release of the MA findings in 2005 and the expanding working links around ecosystems and business with IUCN’s Business Unit and WRI helped make the case for Ecosystems to become a full focus area for WBCSD – alongside Energy & Climate; Development; and the Role of Business – supported by the MoU.

Now his primary responsibilities are to manage the Council’s Ecosystems Focus Area, a multi-sector program of leading member companies addressing the sustainable management and use of ecosystems and services, and the Water Project, while still coordinating the SFPI project. James works with a team of four colleagues and he is part of WBCSD’s Executive Management Team.