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Business needs to take biodiversity on board

The corporate sector often has a poor reputation where biodiversity conservation is concerned, especially in countries with weakly developed regulation. However, some businesses recognise that working in partnership with conservation NGOs can bring real gains for biodiversity while achieving business goals. Here an example is presented of such a partnership between Rio Tinto and BirdLife International.


The corporate sector often has a poor reputation where biodiversity conservation is concerned. Especially in countries with weakly developed regulation, it has often appeared that businesses are happy to take short-term gains even if these come at tremendous environmental cost.

However, some more far-sighted businesses, often with activities that directly impact the environment, are increasingly recognising that they have a stake in biodiversity conservation. This makes sound business sense: by incorporating biodiversity values into operational and strategic planning, businesses can avoid costly confrontation, improve their licence to operate and achieve meaningful reputational gains. Working in partnership with a conservation NGO can bring real gains for biodiversity while achieving business goals.

Rio Tinto, a multinational mining company, has such a partnership with BirdLife International. This works in a number of ways to address the company’s sustainable development objectives while achieving a range of benefits to bird conservation. The partnership has a particular focus on Important Bird Areas (IBAs) that are close to individual Rio Tinto businesses. For example:

  • In South Africa at Richards Bay, where Rio Tinto mines coastal dune sand, the business helps support the Richards Bay Avitourism Programme. Under this programme, IBAs are highlights within the Zululand Birding Route, managed by BirdLife South Africa. Notably, the programme helps individuals from the local communities to develop both their nature-interpretation and business skills. This has a multiplier effect in building local support for effective conservation and management of the IBAs. Thus, the programme helps communities to achieve sustainable livelihoods that depend on conservation.and builds constructive community relations for Rio Tinto.
  • In Namibia, Rössing Uranium has worked closely with local businesses, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism and a local NGO to safeguard the breeding sites of Damara Tern Sterna damarensis (Near Threatened). The terns’ main breeding site is an IBA on the coast between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, close to Rössing Uranium’s operations.
  • In the USA, a project run by the National Audubon Society (BirdLife in the USA) addresses visitor access, site management and interpretation of a shorebird IBA at Great Salt Lake in Utah. This project builds on the management of an adjacent shorebird reserve purchased (as mitigation for a mine development) by Kennecott Utah Copper, another Rio Tinto business.

These partnerships are achieving benefits that are locally relevant, yet aligned with regional and global conservation frameworks and with wider business objectives.



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Compiled 2004

Recommended Citation:
BirdLife International (2004) Business needs to take biodiversity on board . Presented as part of the BirdLife State of the world's birds website. Available from: http://birdlife.org/datazone/sowb/casestudy/205. Checked: 25/04/2014