‘We’ve got to figure out new ways of doing things’


One of the world’s leading experts on corporate sustainability had a simple piece of advice for a crowd of global business leaders: To protect your business, you must protect nature.

Speaking at GreenBiz 20, an annual sustainable business conference, Helen Crowley highlighted the vital — but often unrecognized — link between the global supply chains and the destruction and exploitation of nature.

“We really need to look at where we are getting things from our forests, from our agriculture, from mining,” said Crowley, a senior adviser on resilient supply chains at Conservation International and currently on sabbatical from French luxury group Kering, where she leads the company’s sustainable sourcing efforts. “It all depends on functioning nature.” 

“We’ve got to figure out new ways of doing things.” 

The annual GreenBiz 20 conference provides a platform for corporate and government leaders, NGOs and academic professionals around the world to discuss trends, challenges and opportunities for businesses to address climate change and biodiversity loss. 

This year’s event occurred a few weeks after the release of Global Risks Report by the World Economic Forum, which found that the top five risks to the global economy are all related to the environment — from extreme weather events to climate change to biodiversity loss. 

And with economic and political polarization set to increase in 2020, the onus on businesses and governments to step up as climate leaders and assume the shared risk of climate breakdown has never been more urgent. 

Crowley offered the crowd a cost-effective, low-tech approach to protect nature and conserve biodiversity while simultaneously slowing climate breakdown: natural climate solutions. Any action that conserves, restores or improves the use or management of these ecosystems, increasing carbon storage or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions — such as reforestation or mangrove restoration — can be considered a “natural” climate solution.  

“If we work on nature-based solutions, we can tackle these other things — there’s a real efficiency there,” Crowley said.

During her keynote, Crowley extolled the potential of Kering’s “Fashion Pact,” an initiative supported by French President Emmanuel Macron to help some of the world’s most recognizable — and profitable —  fashion brands, including Adidas and Prada, to help fashion brands map out a plan to cut carbon emissions, restore biodiversity in their supply chains and protect the world’s oceans.

To make this plan a reality, Crowley emphasized, corporations must turn these commitments into action. 

“It is time to act … we are going to act in the right way because we haven’t got much time.”


Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: The skyline of Los Angeles, California. (© Zen Sasaki/Flickr Creative Commons)

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