Biocultural resilience: A holistic approach to investing in nature

Stewardship of biocultural resilience enhances investors’ ability to manage systematic and systemic risks

Andrew Parry Head of investments, JO Hambro Capital Management


Andrew Parry, head of Investment, JO Hambro and Regnan

The traditional distinction between human needs and nature is a false dichotomy and has hampered effective action to protect the natural world. Humans have been reshaping and managing nature for thousands of years, establishing a deep interdependence between economic activity and natural systems. There now needs to be a recognition of this inseparable link between people and nature to tackle the systemic issues arising from crossing multiple planetary boundaries

The adoption of a biocultural approach that emphasises the interconnectedness of biodiversity, ecosystems, culture, economy and society is a way of reframing the discussion. Such an approach allows us to work towards a sustainable future that supports both human wellbeing and the preservation of nature and to break the cycle of destruction that has become embedded in our economic activities.

The biocultural approach builds upon the field of political ecology, which applies political economy theories to environmental issues. This interdisciplinary approach highlights the importance of understanding how political and economic institutions and structures shape changes in natural ecosystems.

By considering the interplay between nature and human behaviour, the biocultural approach enhances our understanding of how policy choices and economic forces can influence incentives to balance human needs with preservation of a healthy and thriving natural world. Executed well, it will promote the equitable engagement of various stakeholders in effective stewardship activities, ensuring robust and enduring efforts to sustain biocultural systems.

Resilience approach

Drawing from insights on resilience systems-thinking, the biocultural perspective recognises that societies are an indivisible part of the natural world and have a continuous impact on ecosystems. Resilience, in this context, refers to the capacity of a social-ecological system to absorb disturbances and stresses while maintaining its structure and functions.

By enhancing resilience, systems become better equipped to withstand shocks without collapsing. The biocultural approach encourages stakeholders to view resilience as more than protecting a specific number of species or cultures.

Instead, it emphasises understanding the interconnectedness of diverse elements and their contributions to the overall resilience of the system, including the economic and social costs of failure in food supply chains.

The guiding principles for stewardship of biocultural resilience align with the vision set out by UN Principles for Responsible Investment‘s Active Ownership 2.0. These focus on delivering positive real-world goals, prioritising systemic risks, and promoting collaboration between investors and other stakeholders.

For investors, stewardship of biocultural resilience enhances their ability to manage systematic and systemic risks, enhancing the long-term value of economic, social, and environmental systems in portfolios. By prioritising resilience, businesses can operate in more predictable environments, reducing disruptions to socio-economic and business operations under different scenarios. As the climate is already changing significantly under the influence of increased concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, the potential for economic shocks is growing.

Advocacy and engagement

Advocacy plays a vital role in addressing systemic barriers to enhancing biocultural resilience. The important evolution in thinking is to take a systems-level approach to engagement and to recognise that the greatest influence may be through encouraging the correct policy incentives.

Investors can engage in systems advocacy by contributing to regulatory processes, industry working groups, collaboration with academia and public debates that reframe thinking on effective public policies. These activities aim to improve market-wide regulations, norms, and practices to advance biocultural resilience.

Engagement with issuers is another important avenue for investors to promote the consideration and management of biocultural resilience. This involves raising awareness among investee companies, seeking effective risk management, and encouraging their participation in policy discussions and market design and shared learning across their supply chains.

Companies must also recognise the interdependencies within their value chains and their impact on biocultural systems over multiple dimensions. Reliance on enhanced corporate disclosure alone is insufficient and creates the risk of biodiversity-washing.

While some industries directly influence biocultural systems, many others indirectly impact them through activities such as pollution or climate change mitigation. The market for companies providing solutions to enhance biocultural resilience is expected to grow as momentum in sustainability efforts increases. Companies that effectively capture these opportunities will create additional value, while those whose operations undermine biocultural resilience face greater risks.

We should also encourage legal frameworks that give the natural world rights rather than focusing on nature as an asset; financial markets are adept at exploiting assets for their own benefit without effective guardrails. 

Furthermore, isolated investor efforts are less likely to succeed, but by coming together and creating a systems effect, investors can drive the necessary change to ensure a sustainable future for both nature and humanity.

Latest Stories