bat biodiversity partnership - Embedding biodiversity

During Term 2, British American Tobacco, supported by the NGO Partners, embarked on a journey to embed biodiversity conservation principles into its businesses, and to manage biodiversity and ecosystem issues across its leaf-growing operations. Biodiversity underpins British American Tobacco’s commercial sustainability – in terms of security and availability of tobacco leaf supply – and impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems are key issues for its stakeholders. Its reputation rests in part on being able to demonstrate responsible behaviour throughout its supply chain.

Within the tobacco sector, British American Tobacco has the most vertically integrated agricultural supply chain, obtaining most of its tobacco from directly contracted farmers (149,000 in total). British American Tobacco currently sources leaf grown by more than 200,000 mostly small-scale farmers in emerging economies, by far the highest number for any tobacco manufacturer.

For more than 10 years, British American Tobacco has used a supply chain management tool called Social Responsibility in Tobacco Production (SRTP) to guide its suppliers to improve their management of social and environmental risks. SRTP was developed by British American Tobacco and is now used by almost all of the world’s international tobacco manufacturers.

Tobacco farming now occurs predominantly in parts of the world rich in biodiversity, including areas where there is significant conflict between agricultural land use and biodiversity conservation. Several countries which are of particular importance to British American Tobacco for tobacco growing have threatened ‘biodiversity hotspots’. In some cases, high rates of deforestation and other forms of ecosystem degradation threaten the long-term sustainability of agriculture.
British American Tobacco’s vertically integrated supply chain, existing afforestation and social responsibility programmes, and external recognition as a sector leader, provide a platform for addressing biodiversity issues, while the NGO Partners bring in a range of external expertise.

When in 2005 British American Tobacco committed to ‘embedding’ biodiversity in its operations through a second term of the Partnership, the following changes were a direct result:

Policy change

The direction for this journey was set in 2006 when British American Tobacco published its Biodiversity Statement on Opens new window. In the Statement, the company sets out that it:

  • Recognises that the company has both an impact and a dependence on biodiversity, through business operations and use of ecosystem services;
  • Will assess its impacts and engage with stakeholders to understand local issues and take into account their needs and requirements;
  • Will develop action plans to avoid, minimise, mitigate or offset impacts, with effective monitoring mechanisms; and Will take steps to share information with suppliers assisting them in understanding and managing their impacts on biodiversity, hence minimising impact throughout the supply chain.

This was an important step to enhance the integration of biodiversity conservation principles into the business. These goals were ‘open ended’, involving internal change within the company as well as commitments to the NGO Partners. At the same time, biodiversity issues were incorporated into existing supply chain tools such as SRTP.

Biodiversity measures

Three high-level indirect biodiversity performance measures were incorporated into British American
Tobacco’s sustainability reporting (see Opens new window):

  • Reduce reliance on natural forest;
  • Embed biodiversity management into business activities; and
  • Manage impacts in high-risk biodiversity locations through risk assessments and action plans.

Biodiversity Risk and Opportunity Assessment (BROA)

The main thrust in Term 2 has been to adopt a risk-based approach to the management and conservation of biodiversity by British American Tobacco. BROA was adopted as the core tool to drive change. To date, 19 British American Tobacco companies across the globe have completed BROAs and action plans, working with local partner organisations, and all have started to implement their plans. BROA has thus catalysed a range of activities that greatly extends the reach of the Partnership  In addition, a global biodiversity risk mapping tool was developed to enable an overview of biodiversity risk.

Read more about these tools here

Internal capacity building

British American Tobacco’s managers’ knowledge, skills and competence around biodiversity and sustainability have been raised throughout the work of the Partnership, through BROA training workshops at a regional and national level, and by direct involvement in initiatives (for example in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Brazil, Chile and on a smaller scale in many other countries). Awareness and understanding of biodiversity and ecosystem services within the company have been raised through Earthwatch Institute Employee Fellowships  and through an online learning module.

Projects in the field

The Partnership directly supports projects with local communities, addressing biodiversity and ecosystem issues in tobacco leaf-growing areas, managing resources more sustainably and enhancing livelihoods. Examples include projects in:

  • Lombok, Indonesia, where the Partnership is starting to address the issue of forest degradation and declining water flows for farming communities;
  • Sri Lanka, where a step-by-step process to return eucalyptus plantations back to native forest is being developed; and
  • Chile, where the Partners are trialling different methods to return 80 hectares of eucalyptus back  to native Espino forest and help secure an important water supply for the company.

The projects in Brazil and Uganda are described in more detail.

Sharing good practice

Based on these initiatives, the Partnership is starting to share good practice, for example through:

These tools and processes are contributing to the development of British American Tobacco’s overall approach to sustainability. Read more about British American Tobacco’s approach on Opens new window.  Increasingly, the Partnership is also sharing outcomes with other interested stakeholders. These are important opportunities as we move into Term 3, where we will also increasingly seek independent review and verification of progress.