skip to content

Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

21 March 2022 - Tom Divney, Business Engagement Consultant for the CISL Centre for Business Transformation, and CISL’s Dr Gemma Cranston, Director, Business & Nature, Centre for Business Transformation, explain how the new diagnostic tool, Decision-making in a nature positive world, accelerates the understanding and adoption of nature-based solutions in organisations.

There is a global consensus that urgent action is needed to work towards a nature-positive future and momentum is building. Last week 190 countries debated the goals of a crucial global framework to stop biodiversity loss. In the same week the Taskforce on Nature Related Risks published the first beta version of its framework to help corporates outline and disclose nature-related risks and impacts in alignment with corporate reporting. Many companies recognise their critical role in leading the transition and are calling on governments to adopt policies to reverse nature loss.

However, the journey is complex. Companies face unprecedented challenges, operating in a rapidly evolving world and dealing with a number of crises that have consequences upon their own operations, society and the planet. At least one fifth (21%) of the world’s 2,000 largest public companies have committed to meet net zero targets. But how can a company meet these commitments, address the nature and climate crises and deliver benefits for people? Nature-based solutions (NbS) are often seen as the answer. There is growing interest and debate around NbS and how best to approach them.

NbS focus on natural systems and ecosystems as a means of addressing environmental and societal challenges. “…restoring degraded ecosystems and effectively and equitably conserving 30 to 50 per cent of Earth’s land, freshwater and ocean habitats, society can benefit from nature’s capacity to absorb and store carbon, and we can accelerate progress towards sustainable development,” stated Prof Dr Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of the IPCC Working Group II. Companies can adopt nature-based solutions to address strategic and environmental risks and to build business and supply chain resilience against climate change.

However, there has not yet been a major shift from the private sector to invest in nature.  Indeed, the role of nature in supporting companies to meet their climate goals is often not fully understood and action around it is met with hesitancy. But why? The challenges can vary, from internal barriers such as processes that don’t include nature to external barriers such as out of date regulations.

The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), with funding from We Mean Business (WMB), set about unpicking these challenges in order to develop a diagnostic tool to support companies in moving forward with nature-based solutions.  This diagnostic helps companies to identify and resolve internal challenges to adopting NbS in order to address their strategic environmental challenges. The diagnostic draws upon interviews with over 35 companies including household names such as ASDA, Coca-Cola, Mars and Primark. During their NbS decision processes a number of challenges were encountered including; unclear strategy on NbS, the perception that NbS cannot compete financially against more traditional solutions, or the company is not comfortable allying with potential NbS implementation partners. These business insights were used to inform the development of the diagnostic. 

The diagnostic aims to help executives and management in companies beginning their NbS decision-making journeys. It is also relevant for companies that have already decided to implement NbS but still face some internal decision-making hurdles; our analysis has shown that they are not alone. The diagnostic provides useful guidance to support them in overcoming these barriers. 

Businesses may be asking questions like, Is the company receptive to considering NbS? Is the company willing to use NbS? Does it believe in its value as a solution? Does it have the necessary capacity, skills, knowledge, and corporate culture to implement NbS? These are all important questions which, with the help of the diagnostic, can be answered.  The challenges to implementing NbS can be categorsied into four areas: 1) dealing with the unknowns; 2) making the financial case; 3) navigating reputational and external issues; and 4) engaging and convincing colleagues. Within each of these categories there are a number of actions that can be taken. 

Figure 1: Get NbS ready.

For example, a common internal challenge is the scarcity of information and data that is available to demonstrate the results of NbS. Some companies explained how they created a multi-disciplinary, cross-departmental team to research and design NbS efforts and evaluate the results. This allowed personnel to becoming increasingly comfortable with the lack of data and confident in the positive results. Other companies shared how they chose to work with local partners to capture early results, thus providing them with initial metrics for progress.

The potential benefits from implementing NbS are plentiful, with drivers including lowering project costs, managing regulatory requirements and risks, engaging community stakeholders, and promoting employee well-being. Many businesses have yet to take full advantage of these benefits despite being committed to positive action on nature. Many still struggle to access simple data to support a clear business case. Many have the opportunity to influence processes to accelerate the adoption of NbS. The diagnostic contains abundant insights to guide executives to advance internal decisions about NbS and point them towards other information that will help their companies build their nature-positive futures.

Download the diagnostic tool now!


About the authors


Tom Divney is an independent consultant working with CISL to research corporate challenges to deciding on investing in nature-based solutions (NbS) and ways to overcome them, as well as to develop an NbS decision stumbling block identification and solution diagnostic tool. His consulting work focuses on the intersection of business, social, and environmental issues in and strategies for sustainable agriculture and natural resources management, particularly for corporate value chains. Tom is based in Costa Rica and has over 30 years of international experience in the not-for-profit and commercial sectors.



Dr Gemma Cranston is the Director of the Business and Nature team, collaborating with companies to identify strategic approaches to address their dependencies and impacts on nature. She is leading a team who are looking to amplify business support for ambitious global action on reversing nature loss, articulate a view on what business leadership looks like in the face of the ecological crisis and identify sustainable and scalable solutions.



Guest articles on the blog do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

Email | +44 (0) 7845652839