Biodiversity loss is accelerating at an alarming rate, which also impacts the welfare of humankind. In the BIODIFUL research project, led by the Biodiversity Unit of the University of Turku and Turku School of Economics, enthusiastic researchers and experts work passionately to combat biodiversity loss.
Biodiversity can be considered the lifeblood of the Earth’s vitality. Unfortunately, biodiversity is in constant decline. This process, called ecological crisis, cannot be defined only as a threat to nature, but it is an inevitable crisis for humankind.
– When it comes to environmental crises, the problem is human beings rather than the environment. We as human beings are the ones satisfying our needs and desires in a manner that damages both nature and humankind, states University Research Fellow Juulia Räikkönen, Coordinator of the BIODIFUL research project.
The Biodiversity-respectful Leadership (BIODIFUL) project conducts research to support and facilitate the shift towards biodiversity-respectful leadership at all levels, including individual, organisational, and societal levels. The consortium has been granted funding of EUR 4.2 million by the Strategic Research Council (SRC) for the years 2021–2024.
The BIODIFUL consortium consists of experts in different fields from the University of Turku, the University of Jyväskylä, LUT University, and the Natural Resources Institute. The research project has a broad network of partners consisting of ministries, expert organisations, companies, associations, politicians, thought leaders, activists, and artists.
Satu Teerikangas says that researchers are developing a new way of thinking, a managerial paradigm where being respectful of biodiversity could be a natural part of a business strategies.
The University of Turku has a strong history of researching sustainable development and circular economy. Biodiversity and sustainability is one of the University’s six strategic research and education profiles for multidisciplinary research and education. The BIODIFUL research project was initiated in cooperation between the Biodiversity Unit and Turku School of Economics.
– We are developing a way of thinking, a managerial paradigm where being respectful of biodiversity could be a natural part of a business strategy in the future. Conventional economic and management theories are not considerate of nature, nor are they nature-friendly, so this way of thinking is what needs to be urgently changed, explains Professor of Management and Organisation at Turku School of Economics Satu Teerikangas.
Ilari Sääksjärvi, the responsible leader of the BIODIFUL consortium and Professor of the Biodiversity Unit, describes the BIODIFUL project as a community seeking solutions to a global problem.
– Biodiversity is often, by mistake, only viewed from the point of view of natural sciences. Strong collaboration between natural and human sciences is needed to approach extensive systemic solutions better, says Sääksjärvi.
One of the goals is to increase knowledge around biodiversity loss and understand it as a global challenge similar to climate change.
– Climate change has been a hot topic for a long time now, whereas biodiversity loss has merely been discussed for some years. On the other hand, climate change and biodiversity loss must be fought simultaneously as they are intertwined.
Biodiversity-Respectful Leadership as the Founding Principle of Business
The umbrella term for the BIODIFUL research project is leadership, as the name of the project states. This refers both to formal decision-makers, such as business or public sector leaders, as well as any individual in the role of a consumer-citizen and workplace professional.
– To succeed, change always requires leadership. Leadership is a phenomenon that tends to operate both top-down and bottom-up, via official decision-makers as well as consumers and citizens, and through action, the other way around, describes Teerikangas.
According to Ilari Sääksjärvi, biodiversity loss and climate change must be controlled simultaneously.
A business model that respects nature requires knowledge and understanding of the ecological limits of the planet and what is happening to nature. In the BIODIFUL project, the global food system and recreational use of nature are being studied.
– We examine, for instance, how Finnish food sector companies take biodiversity into account and how it can be seen in their corporate strategies. Together with our stakeholders, we map out what biodiversity-respectful leadership truly means, explains Teerikangas.
Towards Biodiversity-Respectful Consumption
The BIODIFUL project examines consumers and seeks more sustainable models of consumption. In addition to the economy, the loss of biodiversity is also impacted by the choices consumers make, and they are often culture-specific.
Consumption has become an essential part of our way of life. However, the level of consumption should be critically assessed. Consumer choice is, at least partly, affected by which option is seen as most accessible or acceptable.
– We are investigating the consumer habits of Finns through surveys. The aim is to find out how consumers can be encouraged to make more sustainable choices. It is intriguing figuring out how consumers could do meaningful things in their lives without it causing unreasonable harm to nature, Räikkönen says.
According to Juulia Räikkönen, the values of Gen Z vastly differ from those of the previous generations.
Consumption habits are constantly changing. For example, the experience and sharing economy partially reduce the consumption of goods but it does not directly solve the problem of over-consumption.
– The values, attitudes, and behaviour of young consumers are different from those of older consumers. Generation Z has grown up in a society where environmental issues are constantly present, Räikkönen adds.
The Culture of Dialogue Has to Change
The fight against biodiversity loss requires that experts from all fields and sectors work together. Research concerning biodiversity loss can indeed be conducted in any discipline.
– We need natural scientists and experts from the economic sciences, humanities, philosophy, and political sciences. Researchers need to step out of their disciplinary comfort zones and work in interdisciplinary settings. We need more cooperation, openness, and curiosity, Teerikangas states.
The future challenges include creating a dialogue between disciplines and working together for a common goal.
– We must create a culture of dialogue where everyone feels valued and where we not only distribute information but also genuinely listen to and welcome new information. One of the challenges is how researchers could communicate their results in an improved manner, says Sääksjärvi.
Sääksjärvi reminds us that although biodiversity loss is a significant and distressing issue, hope should still be kept alive.
As long as dialogue remains, initiatives are made, and we work towards improving these issues, there is also hope that we will be able to find more viable solutions. Hope is what keeps us going, emphasises Sääksjärvi.
Text: Veera Heinonen
Images: Hanna Oksanen
Translation: Jatta Koivumäki