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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


13 April 2018 – Dr Gemma Cranston, Director, Natural Capital, CISL makes the case for leadership group of companies committed to safeguarding pollinators. She calls for tangible action from business that provides positive outcomes for the spectrum of pollinators and benefits to corporate supply chains.

There’s been renewed buzz around the need to restrict bee-harming pesticides after an updated assessment confirmed the dangers to insects. It has prompted a fresh battle cry to protect our pollinators, using beautiful pictures and emotive stories about the demise of the honeybee. But pollination isn’t just about the honeybee and protecting pollinators isn’t just about safeguarding tiny creatures and their energy sources.  

Pollination is a service provided by a number of different animals ranging from the midge that pollinates cocoa to the squirrels that pollinate coconut. The vast majority of pollinator species are wild, and it is the declining numbers of these wild pollinators that is causing concern because it poses a risk not only to the stability and yield of food crops around the world but to business and trade as well.  

A recent report from global investment manager Schroders identified pollinator decline as, “clearly an issue that is likely to affect cash flow because of the impacts on raw material prices”, adding that it was a particular threat for companies reliant on agricultural supply chains. However, there has been relatively little attention from the private sector, and there are few examples of companies devoting resources to consider how supply chains might be affected by pollinator decline.

The evidence is clear: as much as three-quarters of our food crops depend on pollination and wild pollinators provide half of this pollination value. The result is that pollination is worth US$577 billion globally every year. These are big numbers, but to date, there hasn’t been a big reaction. This may be because the perceived risk is low within companies, or the case has not been made clearly enough that companies with supply chains dependent upon pollinators are at risk.

Either way, what is clear is that there is not enough information for companies about the commodities that rely on pollination and which are integral to their business. This was the conclusion of a survey of blue chip companies carried out by experts from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL), Fauna & Flora International (FFI), UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the University of East Anglia (UEA).  

The group’s report, The pollination deficit: Towards supply chain resilience in the face of pollinator decline, surveyed companies including Mars Incorporated, The Jordans & Ryvita Company and The Body Shop. It acknowledged the business risk associated with pollinator decline, and in particular recognised the potential operational and reputational risks. However, the companies also identified a gap in knowledge around the businesses’ vulnerability.

The report also highlighted how company profits and access to raw materials will be compromised if pollinators cannot be replaced, sourcing locations cannot be changed or crops cannot be substituted. 

But there are also opportunities for businesses to address their vulnerabilities to pollinator deficit that will prevent business interruption and increase resilience. We have a developed a roadmap that outlines five steps to support companies in enabling sustainable pollinator management. These steps guide companies through the process of identifying vulnerability in their supply chains and designing appropriate responses to mitigate risk and increase security of supply. 

The first step is raising awareness of the issue among business leaders. Unless leaders can discuss and understand the risks to their business of the pollination deficit, we cannot count on their invaluable power to invest in solutions. Such a coalition, or 'Partnership for Pollinators', could be instrumental in bringing about change. 

The next step to achieve progress is to formalise a partnership that represents a leadership group of companies committed to safeguarding pollinators. Our research has revealed the need to refine, test and embed a vulnerability assessment within company supply chain management systems in order to assess and act on crop vulnerability to pollinator decline. 

It is now critical to see tangible action that provides positive outcomes for the spectrum of pollinators and benefits to corporate supply chains. We hope to take this work forward by collaborating with industry, government, certification bodies, trade associations and pollination experts and establish an effective partnership for pollinators.

Blog first published on the Thomson Reuters Foundation news website.


Articles on the blog written by employees of the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) do not necessarily represent the views of, or endorsement by, the Institute or the wider University of Cambridge.

About the author

Gemma Cranston

Gemma is Director of the Natural Capital Portfolio, bringing together influential companies with a global reach to address their dependencies and impacts on natural capital and enable companies to translate this into a tangible business context.

With a Ph.D in Ecological Footprints, Gemma previously worked as the Lead Scientist at Global Footprint Network in Geneva.  


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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