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Interview Steven de Bie, Adjunct Professor in Sustainable Use of Living Resources, Wageningen University

‘Preserving biodiversity is about more than just net costs: it’s a necessity that safeguards a company’s value.

Steven de Bie, Adjunct Professor in Sustainable Use of Living Resources, Wageningen university After finishing his degree in Biology, Steven de Bie did scientific work for more than 10 years before becoming Shell’s Manager of Environmental Partnerships and, later, adviser on biodiversity. He is now honorary professor at Wageningen University and a self-employed biodiversity expert.

Steven de Bie, Adjunct Professor in Sustainable Use of Living Resources, Wageningen university After finishing his degree in Biology, Steven de Bie did scientific work for more than 10 years before becoming Shell’s Manager of Environmental Partnerships and, later, adviser on biodiversity. He is now honorary professor at Wageningen University and a self-employed biodiversity expert.

“What drives me is to give people and companies an understanding of the role of biodiversity as an integrated part of a sustainable society. The environment has a function in our lives, and we make use of that, usually for free. Farmers, for example, make use of the services of bees to pollinate flowers. They don’t pay for this, but they will be confronted with huge costs in terms of smaller harvests and the need for manual pollination if the bee population declines. The challenge lies in preserving bio-systems so that they can continue to play a useful role in fulfilling people’s needs.

Companies have a direct link with bio-systems and the roles they play. Take, for instance, the use of ground water. This is rain water that has been cleaned by plants and fungi growing in the soil above it. Good soil condition is therefore essential for a good ground water system. Harming it will result in less ground water and more flooding, which can have a great deal of negative impact, and not just financially. Preserving biodiversity is about more than just net costs: it’s a necessity that safeguards a company’s value.

In 2012, I began talks with people from Teijin to provide insight into the value and opportunities of bio-systems and the risks of their loss. Which systems does the company depend on and which does it affect? What developments are you facing, and how are you preparing for them? Teijin depends on biodiversity in terms of water and other resources, but also generates light, emissions and other by-products that affect bio-systems. In our discussions, we explored both risks and opportunities. Teijin is clearly already doing a lot, such as the initiatives in the areas of EEP, eco-efficiency analyses, recycling, and emissions reduction. But there’s a lot more to be done in the coming years.

On a global level, from a political point of view, things are also starting to happen. Neutral or positive entrepreneurship with regard to biodiversity is a theme that is moving higher up on the political agenda. It is a subject that, from a development perspective, is comparable with the safety theme. Today’s safety standard is that you simply cannot expose people to risks. Up until the middle of the last century, people thought very differently about this. The same will happen with biodiversity, which means it’s important to start familiarizing ourselves with the subject more and more.”

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