New protocol to help industry generate a positive impact on biodiversity

Stephen Edwards/IUCN
Published: 28 March 2019
Last edited: 05 July 2019
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 Industries such as mining, forestry, and oil and gas have been trying for years to minimise their environmental and social impacts, but there is a growing expectation from civil society, regulators and investors that companies not only ‘do no harm’, but also make a positive contribution to the environment and society.


In many companies, projects follow procedures to avoid or minimise biodiversity impacts and restore biodiversity or offset impacts when these are unavoidable. This framework, known as the mitigation hierarchy, is increasingly used by companies and governments to improve environmental management and contribute to a net positive impact (NPI) or biodiversity net gain (BNG).


Following a NPI commitment by the mining company Rio Tinto, IUCN worked with the company to develop and trial a review protocol that could track its progress towards reaching NPI at an operational level. This protocol was tested at Rio Tinto operations in Australia, Mongolia and Madagascar.


East Asia
East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Grassland ecosystems
Tropical deciduous forest
Tropical evergreen forest
Tropical grassland, savanna, shrubland
Land management
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Sustainable development goals
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 4: Sustainable production and consumption
Target 5: Habitat loss halved or reduced
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Business engagement approach
Direct engagement with a company


Madagascar, Mongolia, Australia


A key challenge is keeping the review protocol simple enough so that it can be easily applied by companies while covering comprehensive and appropriate measurements.


In some cases, there may be a lack of biodiversity information to serve as a baseline for measurement but this should not be a constraint to progress as alternative assessment methods can be found. NGOs should work with governments to develop a more standardised approach to biodiversity assessment and management.


Restoration timeframes are uncertain, efforts may depend on wider biodiversity plans and it is not always possible, at least in the short term, to recreate complex natural habitats, but again this should not be an excuse for inertia.


Delivering biodiversity net gain takes time and needs continual planning, review, robust support systems and sufficient resources.


The review protocol provides a framework to assess progress, share experience and lessons across a company or sector, meet lender and regulator demands and stakeholder expectations. It can also help sites with implementation challenges.




How do the building blocks interact?

Collectively these building blocks show that developing and sustaining an effective NPI programme, calls for collaboration and consultation among diverse players. This demands excellent facilitation and an enabling environment to be provided by government and regulatory bodies for integrated conservation planning.


There needs to be a balanced involvement of internal and external stakeholders, alongside the scientific community, to help ensure that the approach developed is pragmatic.


NGOs have an important role to play in helping to create a level playing field. If good biodiversity management continues to be mostly the voluntary practice of a few companies, biodiversity will continue to be lost when sites abandoned by these companies are taken over by those that have no biodiversity management standards or policies.



As ongoing infrastructure development and resource extraction are inevitable to support economic growth, biodiversity net gain goals and safeguards are important to ensure that development is sustainable. A growing number of governments, businesses and organisations are adopting NPI-type policies and commitments, and international lenders are including NPI safeguards as part of their conditions. The IUCN Review Protocol for Biodiversity Net Gain contributes to a growing set of tools that can help business and governments safeguard nature.


IUCN is drawing on its network of government and NGO Members to promote the use of a BNG approach by providing technical support, new knowledge products and tools, and a platform for sharing lessons learned. The aim is to help business achieve a net gain for nature in their operations and at a landscape level.


The knowledge and experience gained in developing the protocol contributed to Rio Tinto’s overall strategy on biodiversity and the company is helping others integrate biodiversity into risk management and on-site management. IUCN is now helping other companies roll-out the protocol, including Newmont Mining and Black Mountain Mining.


 The review protocol is now being used by several other companies worldwide, and the number of companies and governments committing to an NPI approach continues to grow.


Rio Tinto’s net positive impact strategy was launched at the 2004 IUCN World Conservation Congress and reiterated by the company’s chief executive at several forums, including the 2008 IUCN Congress.


At that time, the company’s position statements and guiding principles on biodiversity acknowledged that conservation and responsible management of biodiversity are important business and societal issues. Recognising that it did not have enough internal expertise to implement a NPI commitment, Rio Tinto enlisted the help of a number of NGOs, consultants and research bodies to advance the process, including a series of trials.


The most comprehensive of these was at Rio Tinto’s project site, QIT Madagascar Minerals (QMM), where the company worked with biodiversity specialists including: Flora and Fauna International (FFI); Birdlife International with its local partners such as Asity; The Biodiversity Consultancy (TBC); Missouri Botanical Gardens; Kew Gardens; Hardner and Gullison Associates; and a number of academics and other consultancies, as well as IUCN.


This collaboration produced an internal corporate guidance note in 2010, which included an overview of concepts and methods as a roadmap to achieving NPI and which has since undergone several revisions.


In addition to the QMM trial, IUCN helped with others at Oyu Tolgoi in Mongolia and Dampier Salt in Australia. In the meantime, a number of other sites, inspired by the initial launch of the NPI approach, also begun working towards it, exploring how to incorporate it into land use management plans and site operations.


Exploring how a NPI approach to biodiversity can enable the private sector to better manage biodiversity and contribute to global conservation was the focus of the NPI Alliance, which included IUCN, Rio Tinto, Shell and The Nature Conservancy. The Alliance published two papers on the business case and conservation case for NPI in 2016.


The review protocol is now being used by several other companies, and the governments' interest in NPI is also growing.

Contributed by

Rachel Asante-Owusu International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Other contributors

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)