Ian Boyd Ecologist and co-founder of Artecology is here to help!
Biodiversity has become a handy, all-purpose eco-tag. It might be swapped as if synonymous with ‘wildlife’ or ‘the natural world’ or used even more generously to denote the environment at large. And none of that is so much wrong as less practically useful than it might be.
Biodiversity is fundamentally about variety, the richness of flora and fauna that exists and interacts in a place and at a time. This isn’t a very different definition to the more general applications, but it does focus attention on the ideas of species richness and habitat complexity, tools to build more sustainable spaces for people and wildlife alike. Managing for biodiversity IS managing for sustainability and yet there are few examples of corporate strategy that treat the subject in this way.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, and the fact that it sounds idyllic is testament to the amazing job we have done of convincing ourselves that we are not actually a part of biodiversity, that we are not in fact biological organisms at all, and that we exist above and beyond any sort of functioning, or misfunctioning, ecosystem.
A reappraisal of biodiversity in sustainability practice plugs us usefully back into the ecosystems we share with the organic and inorganic world. We can build better habitats for humans and shape places that are better for people, when they are also better for wildlife (because people are wildlife). The UK’s 25-year Environment Plan is already bending policy in this direction and there are good reasons to be ahead of its commitment to change.
The more interesting, diverse and complex an urban design for biodiversity, the richer the suite of animals and plants that results, and the more immediate and lasting the effects on the social, economic and environmental performance of buildings and the urban volume between. Ecological design and management gathers up and combines the central threads of the sustainability agenda, in the management of wind, water and heat, in adaptations to climate change, in the capture and cycling of nutrients and pollutants, the reuse of materials for biologically favourable outcomes, and ultimately in the mental and physical wellbeing of tenants, residents, businesses and communities in the places we inhabit. By using ecological leverage and demonstrating gains for biodiversity, we can be growing human resilience and creating a more sustainable living and working environment.