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A standard-bearer for the SDGs: The private sector’s essential role in preserving our natural capital



It doesn’t matter when you’re reading this. Whether one year or a whole decade has passed since this article was first written, what’s certain is that the environment will continue to be the only topic of conversation on June 5. And rightly so, because each year, World Environment Day gives us another opportunity to stop and reflect. Because we need to put right what we have done in the past, especially in the sense of the severe damage caused by human activity to our ecosystems and natural resources. According to the Living Planet Report 2020, our planet has lost two thirds of its vertebrate population in just half a century as a result of human activity.

“Humanity now overspends its biological budget every year. A deep cultural and systemic shift is urgently needed, one that so far our civilization has failed to embrace: a transition to a society and economic system that values nature,” said Marco Lambertini, WWF Director General, in the study. Until 1970, humanity’s Ecological Footprint was smaller than the Earth’s rate of regeneration, but subsequent excesses have eroded the planet’s health.

This is precisely the flag that the United Nations is flying today to mark World Environment Day, which shifts the conversation to ecosystem restoration and protecting biodiversity, an essential immune barrier to prevent future global health crises as a result of pathogens being transmitted from animals to humans. Restoring ecosystems means preventing, halting and reversing damage. Not stopping investment, but rather investing in the environment.

This is where the economic system, together with the private sector, comes into play: Any substantial harm caused to biodiversity will ultimately have repercussions, one way or another, on the economic well-being of our societies. In this context, where humankind appears to be causing its own undoing, we must urgently ask ourselves: Are we walking toward a green future for companies and, therefore, for society?

Thankfully, the answer to this question is an optimistic one. The business world has never had as significant a role in the United Nations as it does today. Each and every one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) places much of the onus on companies themselves—from multinationals to cooperatives—to bring about change and to contribute in a positive way to achieving these goals. Indeed, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized this: “I personally ask you to take action. The private sector has a central role to play in the success of each of the global goals.”

Looking to our country, more than 85 percent of Spanish companies have incorporated the SDGs into their agendas and processes, focusing mainly on identifying which key goals to prioritize, developing products and services that contribute to them and conducting social initiatives. These figures are provided by the Spanish Network of the Global Compact, the largest social responsibility initiative in the world that brings together all the entities that have joined the United Nations Global Compact — one more example of the business world’s crucial role in caring for the environment.

Analyzing which goals have been the biggest call to action for companies, the Spanish Network points out that the business world has focused its work on the SDGs dedicated to Good Health and Well-Being, Climate Action, Life Below Water, Zero Hunger, and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, through various strategies. Companies like MAPFRE reflect the private sector’s growing commitment to caring for the planet through various actions in their lines of work, strengthening their comprehensive environmental risk analysis and governance models—in terms of both business and investment—as well as identifying sustainable development opportunities for the insurance industry.

And the list goes on. MAPFRE also joins the group of companies seeking to further the 2030 Agenda commitments by measuring their environmental impact and setting targets for reducing emissions and reaching carbon neutrality. Accordingly, MAPFRE has chosen to integrate the climate change variable into its business, as well as incorporating environmental, social and governance criteria in the definition of low-carbon products.

MAPFRE also views the circular economy as a fundamental pillar of its activity and has therefore prioritized this concept within its planning, resolving to minimize the waste generated by the company’s activity. In 2019, MAPFRE prevented the generation of 25.8 million metric tons of plastic waste and recovered a total of 132,589 parts from over 30,000 disused vehicles in order to give them a second lease of life.

Processes such as these contribute to the so-called environmental culture that drives every link in the private sector chain—from employees to the highest senior management positions—to make substantial changes to their mechanisms. That’s why more than 2,000 of MAPFRE’s employees have received environmental training, being educated through work groups on climate change, the circular economy and the SDGs in order to continue the transformation to a lower-carbon economy.

And last but not least, the environmental issue that unites us all on this important day: biodiversity. The loss of our ecosystems in turn results in economic losses of almost 14 million dollars per year. The cost of this—both financially and in terms of natural capital—will one day be too much for us to pay. It’s for that reason that MAPFRE has signed several collaboration agreements with organizations for the preservation of biodiversity, such as WWF Spain, the Pacto por la Biodiversidad (Spain), Funzel (El Salvador), Bird Life, Nature Trust (Malta) and Para la Naturaleza (Puerto Rico). This represents a firm step forward in the company’s investment in restoration and preserving our ecosystems — the only capital that, when it comes down to it, will decide the future of the human species. Today, on World Environment Day, the United Nations reminds us: For every dollar invested in restoration, at least 7 to 30 dollars in returns for society can be expected. Do we really want to miss out on that green fortune?