Strategic Corporate
Conservation Planning:
A Guide to Meaningful Engagement

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Margaret O’Gorman’s 2020 book is aimed at building healthier relationships between business and the environment. “Strategic Corporate Conservation Planning” distills lessons from O’Gorman’s work–many examples of which are in the Great Lakes region– into fresh insights for corporations and environmental groups looking to create mutually beneficial partnerships. The following is an excerpt from her book, published with permission.

Knowing that companies can leverage high quality biodiversity efforts to meet a business challenge is a strong starting point for a conversation about corporate conservation. Understanding that many other factors will influence the effort is essential to sustaining engagements in the private sector.

The biggest challenges to sustainable, corporate-wide conservation are scale and perspective. Conservation action – moving earth, planting trees, seeding meadows, or managing gardens –  takes place at the human scale (sometimes assisted by machines.)  Conservation planning is done at a regional or landscape scale. But, corporate strategy is shaped at a national or global scale and cascaded to regions and operations. Stepping back to gain perspective on the various influencers at different scales is necessary for success.

Perspective requires awareness of the many plans, approaches, frameworks and initiatives that can be adopted by the corporate office or at the site level, at any time.  These frameworks and initiatives are designed to improve corporate behavior, establish conservation or corporate citizenship targets, and provide best practice guidance to operators, partners and consumers. Efforts to integrate natural resources projects into the frameworks that corporate leaders care about will strengthen the argument for adoption. Designing the strategic corporate conservation plan to fit reporting and disclosure needs will further shore up support for such initiatives.   This chapter will explore the frameworks and initiatives that could be introduced at any stage in corporate conservation planning. It shows how to create intersections between site-based conservation and the many initiatives that exist at all levels in a company.

The Salamander and the Sustainable Development Goals

A story about a construction materials company and an endangered salamander illustrate the how the dots can be connected. In Ontario, Canada, the Jefferson salamander is a species of concern. Over the last 30 years about 90% of its population has been lost to forestry and urban development. The Jefferson was listed as endangered in Ontario in 2011. Six years later, a curious population of these salamanders was listed separately.  This population contains no males because the female salamanders reproduce asexually through kleptogenesis (“stealing” male sperm to either activate cell division in the eggs or egg development without using the male DNA). Today in Ontario there are only seven isolated Jefferson dependent asexual salamander populations. (These all-female populations require close proximity to other Jefferson salamander populations, as the females still need access to male sperm donors.) Today, the government oversees a recovery plan that seeks to restore habitat and expand the population of these fascinating creatures[i].

In Milton Ontario, Dufferin Aggregates owns and operates an award-winning limestone quarry that has a role in the salamander recovery plan. Dufferin Aggregates is owned by CRH plc., a multinational building materials company headquartered in Ireland. CRH currently links its corporate citizenship efforts to two global initiatives, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI.) Contributions to these initiatives help CRH enhance its value through international recognitions on the FTSE4Good, Dow Jones Sustainability Index, the Vigeo Eiris Eurozone 120 index among others. CRH must satisfy reporting and disclosure needs (Chapter 2 Business Driver – Citizenship 1) and shareholder needs (Chapter 2 Business Driver – Citizenship 5)

At the quarry in Milton, progressive rehabilitation (the practice of restoring the land as the extraction progresses) across the site has placed 1,000 acres of land in conservation with a third of the quarry now restored for wetlands, meadows and wooded areas. At the quarry site a water management system of pumps and wells protects water quality and quantity both on the site and for off-site dependent features like creeks and the breeding grounds of the listed Jefferson salamander which needs vernal ponds or intermittent wetlands in order to lay egg masses in predator-free waters.  Before the water management system was installed, a single pond in the complex had good conditions for successful salamander  breeding once during an eight year period. Since the system was installed in 2009 the pond has provided suitable habitat for salamanders every year regardless of weather and seasonal variations.

The water management project at the Milton quarry contributes to an effort by Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry and Environment and Climate Change Canada to recover the local population of Jefferson salamander. It also contributes to CRH’s corporate citizenship efforts on the SDGs and the GRI. A salamander can impact a corporation’s value.

By aligning its conservation efforts with initiatives like the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s Jefferson Salamander Recovery plan and others, Dufferin Aggregates ensures that its quarry restoration efforts have meaningful biodiversity outcomes at the site.

By aligning the same efforts with global corporate initiatives like the SDGs and GRI, CRH can realize value beyond the site. If a company can report its ecological stewardship efforts through existing frameworks or initiative, the efforts provide co-benefits to the company and increase the chances of continued buy-in and resources allocated to the conservation effort.

 Exploring  and understanding where the larger frameworks, initiatives that happen across the corporate landscape dovetail with conservation-related opportunities can help secure buy-in for implementation. It doesn’t matter whether the conversation starts at the corporate level in the office of a chief sustainability officer or at the site level in the office of an environmental, health and safety manager, time taken to seek connections with the corporate plans and frameworks that the company currently reports into will be well spent.

There are many such initiatives, each one connected to others in a web of plans, actions and reports. No single initiative dominates across industry sectors. It could be argued that too many corporate initiatives exist and together they create the appearance of movement but result in little forward motion. These initiatives are generally met with resignation or cynicism at the site level but corporate executives use their respective company’s involvement with them as currency for regulators and investors. Site level enthusiasm can be created if (a) corporate commits resources to the project and (b) ownership for the efforts are ceded to the personnel at the local level. Corporate should give the direction, provide the money and step out of the way.

From Strategic Corporate Conservation Planning: A Guide to Meaningful Engagement by Margaret O’Gorman, excerpt from Chapter 3 (pages 59-62) Copyright © 2020 by Margaret O’Gorman. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington, D.C.

About Margaret O’Gorman

Margaret O’Gorman operates at the intersection of business and nature. As President of the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC), she helps companies find value in natural resources conservation and mainstream biodiversity across operations. She consults with multinational corporations to develop integrated strategies to implement conservation projects that meet business needs and, in so doing, enhance ecosystems, connect communities and engage employees. Margaret led the design of its signature Conservation Certification recognition, a voluntary sustainability standard which serves to define corporate conservation worldwide. She has addressed the Business and Biodiversity forum at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s COP13, the Smithsonian Institute’s Conservation Optimism Summit, and Ireland’s National Biodiversity Conference. Her book is available at Island Press.


[i] Ontario Environment and Energy Ministry Jefferson Salamander and Jefferson-dependent Unisexual Ambystoma Recovery Strategy, https://www.ontario.ca/page/jefferson-salamander-and-jefferson-dependent-unisexual-ambystoma-recovery-strategy