Sustainability in agriculture businesses

Biodiversity and nature play an important role in farming and the agriculture sector, as they provide crucial services that society and businesses rely upon. However, nature and biodiversity are in decline, with food, land and ocean use endangering 73% of threatened and near-threatened species. As such, the agriculture sector must act to conserve biodiversity and ensure its resilience into the future whilst supporting the broad UK policy ambitions for the conservation and restoration of nature. In this blogpost, Dr Stephanie Hime, FIEMA, Managing Director of Little Blue Research and Ryan Twyford, GRADIEMA, Consultant at Little Blue Research will explore the sustainability journey of businesses in the agriculture sector, diving deeper into the crucial role that nature and biodiversity play in supporting them to achieve their sustainability goals.

“Over the past two years, numerous initiatives and frameworks have emerged to address the growing awareness of nature loss and the role of business as a major contributor. These efforts aim to halt global nature loss and promote a transition towards a nature-positive approach. Nature positive is described as “A high level goal and concept describing a future state of nature (e.g. biodiversity, nature’s contributions to people) which is greater than the current state” by the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN).

The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF), agreed upon during the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 2023, set out 23 global targets to protect and conserve biodiversity by 2030. This includes two key targets to effectively conserve and manage at least 30% of the world’s lands, inland waters, coastal areas and oceans, and to complete or have underway the restoration of at least 30% of degraded terrestrial, inland waters, and coastal and marine ecosystems.

In line with the GBF’s objectives, the agriculture sector, due to its intertwined relationship with nature and close links to product supply chains, will need to engage with a series of complex frameworks that are still under development. Amongst these, the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure’s (TNFD) Nature-Related Risk & Opportunity Management and Disclosure Framework, set for release in September 2023, and the Science Based Target Network’s Science Based Targets for Nature, released in May 2023, are two of the most prevalent.

As part of the implementation of each of these frameworks, it is expected that farmers and the agriculture sector will be under greater pressure from government and business to understand their impacts and dependencies on nature and provide this information to different stakeholders.

Driving agricultural resilience to preserve ecosystem services

According to the most recent UK State of Nature report, 41% of species in the UK have declined since the 1970s, with agricultural production being recognised as a major contributor, with 72% of the country’s land currently dedicated to farming. This decline in nature will lead to a loss in ecosystem services that the agriculture sector relies on, including pollination, pest and disease control, soil health, and erosion control. A decline in ecosystem services is likely to have severe consequences for the British agricultural landscape, for example, the loss of pollination ecosystem services is expected to lead to a decline of 13% of the sector’s total value.

Under the umbrella of the GBF, a number of targets are directly applicable to agriculture, and many more are likely to affect the agriculture sector indirectly. The most relevant targets for agriculture include:

  • Target 7: Reduce pollution risks and the negative impact of pollution from all sources (including agrochemical usage)
  • Target 10: Ensure that areas under agriculture are managed sustainably
  • Target 11: Restore, maintain and enhance nature’s contributions to people, including ecosystem functions and services
  • Target 16: Halve global food waste

Although these targets are established globally, the UK government has made a commitment at a national level to these targets and as such they are expected to drive policies regarding the agriculture sector’s transition, resilience to climate change and alignment with nature-positive ambitions.

The UK has already put in place new incentives to provide opportunities for farmers in England to encourage farmers to adopt sustainable, nature positive practices. Examples include: one-off payments, as part of various schemes including the Environmental, Land, Management (ELM) scheme, to improve water and air quality, landscape restoration and tree and hedgerow planting, and setting out new opportunities for farmers based on ‘private nature markets’, “markets that enable private investment in nature, through creating units or credits that can be bought and sold”. The development of nature markets driven by the November launch of Biodiversity Net Gain requirements for large developments may also provide additional opportunity for farmers and land owners to contribute to the recovery of nature. In addition, there is likely to be increased scrutiny on the agriculture sector from business customers that wish to understand nature-related risks in their supply chains.

Tools and roadmaps for UK agri-businesses

There are several actions that UK businesses operating in the agriculture sector can undertake to meet sustainability targets, support the UK’s nature positive commitment and respond to requests for information on nature-related risks. Below, we have set out a selection of places that businesses can go to start or progress on their nature positive journey.

The TNFD and SBTN provide step-by-step guidance on identifying impacts and dependencies on nature, acting to conserve and enhance nature, setting targets and disclosing nature risks.

As a starting point, businesses within the agriculture sector should consider undertaking some of the following actions:

  1. Determine how the business is already accounting for nature in its governance, strategies and actions, and use the IEMA Biodiversity and Natural Capital Buzzword Guide to understand key terms and phrases
  2. Develop a high-level understanding of the business’ processes and agriculture operations
  3. Understand how the business impacts and depends on nature by conducting a screening/prioritisation exercise to identify areas with potential to have the greatest nature-related risk/opportunity e.g., a particular crop/commodity or location. Review suggested disclosure metrics for the sector set out in Annex 4.3 Disclosure Metrics Annexes in the latest version of the TNFD Nature-related Risk and Opportunity Management and Disclosure Framework

Similarly, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) has started to develop Roadmaps to Nature Positive, outlining the stages of the nature positive journey. A food and agriculture roadmap is currently under development with the WBCSD, aiming to provide a sector specific approach to ‘drive nature-positive outcomes across the land-based agricultural value chain’. While this is aimed at corporate stakeholders in the agriculture sector, others can also use this information to help determine the type of information their business customers are interested in obtaining.

There are several resources set out below that could support the agriculture sector on its journey to support nature positive actions. The relevance of the resources depends on where a business sits within the agriculture value-chain; with some catering more for farmers and others for larger food manufacturers and retailers. The list is not exhaustive but provides a selection of examples for consideration:

  1. Companies based in the UK can sign-up to the UK Business and Biodiversity Forum’s Nature Positive Business Pledge, a set of 12 principles designed to help businesses to accomplish their nature positive ambitions
  2. There are a number of different resources for UK farmers including the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, the Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN), among others, that farmers can review to learn from other UK farmers’ experiences and about farmer training opportunities
  3. For those with Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA) membership there is the opportunity to join the Biodiversity and Natural Capital Network to keep up to date with wider developments
  4. Anyone can join the Ecosystems Knowledge Network to help stay informed of current innovations and learn how to manage the environment locally as an asset for all of society
  5. Businesses in England, Scotland and Wales can join local biodiversity/nature partnerships to support local efforts to conserve and enhance nature and biodiversity
  6. While not currently released, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development is in the process of developing a Roadmap to nature-positive for agri-food companies, which will ‘provide initial “how-to” guidance on applying High-level Business Actions on Nature within value chains, assessing and disclosing material risks and opportunities (aligned with TNFD), and preparing to set science-based targets for nature’

In addition to these groups, there are a number of good practice examples of companies assessing and managing their impacts and dependencies on nature on the Capitals Coalition website.

By taking steps towards nature positive agriculture systems, UK companies in the agriculture sector can facilitate their own targets and ambitions, ensuring future resilience while supporting the UK to meet international commitments for the conservation and restoration of nature.”

About Little Blue Research

Little Blue Research is an independent sustainability consultancy focusing on the provision of support across: environmental economics, social impact analysis and nature-related risks. The company has significant experience supporting businesses in the agriculture sector to understand, measure and value their impacts and dependencies on nature.


Little Blue Research is a member of the TNFD forum, the Corporate Engagement Program for the SBTN, and members of the UK Business and Biodiversity Forum (UKBBF). Dr Stephanie Hime is part of the Technical Advisory panel for the Capitals Coalitions, the IEMA Biodiversity and Natural Capital Steering group and of the steering group for the UKBBF.


While the information contained within this presentation is relevant at the time of writing, the frameworks and guidance referenced are under development and subject to further updates and changes. The information contained herein is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity.

The citing of trade names, reports, websites does not constitute endorsement. Little Blue Research Ltd. do not accept any liability for damage arising from the use of the presentation and make no representation regarding the advisability or suitability of this to specific investment or business decisions.

Please note, the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of CHAP.

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