Nature-positive enterprises: driving restoration through business

Posted: 19th October 2023

Photo: Mihai Donea

In an era where our planet’s biodiversity is under constant threat, the importance of aligning business ventures with nature conservation and restoration goals cannot be overstated. By creating economic incentives for local actors to engage in biodiversity conservation, we not only protect our natural heritage but also promote sustainable, long-term financing for nature conservation and restoration efforts. This synergy between business and nature is the foundation of nature-positive enterprises, a concept that’s gaining momentum worldwide.

The unique challenge of nature-positive enterprises

Setting up nature-positive enterprise presents a unique challenge distinct from traditional social enterprises. A social enterprise or social business is a business with specific social objectives that serve its primary purpose. While social enterprises typically prioritise generating positive impacts for their beneficiaries, nature-positive enterprises place their primary goal on promoting the sustainable use of natural capital.

A beekeeper tends to his bees. Fauna & Flora International is working with local forest communities to find alternative sources of income, reducing pressure on threatened forests. Fauna & Flora International is working with local forest communities to find alternative sources of income, reducing pressure on threatened forests.

Alternative sources of income from nature positive enterprises can reduce pressure on threatened environments. Photo: Jason Smith.

To illustrate the difference, consider the example of a dairy enterprise. For a social enterprise based on dairy products, the primary goal would be to generate maximum return for its farmers and to achieve this objective the business would consider increasing livestock population to boost milk production to enhance profits and social impact. In contrast, a nature-positive dairy enterprise would carefully consider the carrying capacity of the grassland and any potential negative impact of livestock on the habitat before expanding the livestock population. Profitability remains important, but nature-positive enterprises would target niche markets of customers who demand biodiversity-positive impact at source.

“A social enterprise often see community as “beneficiary” whilst a nature-positive enterprise see community as “partners” to achieve conservation outcomes.”

– Kiran Mohanan, Fauna & Flora

A unique approach at every stage

The journey of setting up a nature-positive enterprise demands a distinct approach at each stage, different from that of a traditional social enterprise. Consequently, there is a pressing need for guidance documents and tools tailored to developing such businesses.

“There are similar problems and challenges with nature-positive enterprises across all projects, particularly the trade-offs between conservation and finance, but that these enterprises can have the biggest positive impact on communities.”

– Christoph Promberger, Foundation Conservation Carpathia

Fortunately, with Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme funding, Fauna & Flora, in collaboration with the Cambridge Judge Business School Social Ventures and seven other conservation organisations in Europe, have dedicated over a year to co-developing a comprehensive guidance toolkit. This toolkit represents a fusion of Fauna & Flora’s international experience in developing nature-positive businesses across 20 countries with the expertise of Cambridge Judge Business School Social Ventures in developing social enterprises across various sectors in the UK. It also incorporates hands-on practical experiences and case studies of conservation organizations applying these concepts in local contexts.

Several projects supported by the Endangered Landscapes & Seascapes Programme are exploring eco-tourism as a nature-based enterprise. Photo: Sascha Montag / Zeitenspiegel.

The nature-positive enterprise toolkit

This invaluable toolkit begins by offering guidance on how to assess and identify different nature-positive business opportunities at the landscape and seascape level. It takes into account natural assets, social capital, physical infrastructure, and macro-economic conditions. Once these opportunities are identified, they undergo careful evaluation against criteria measuring biodiversity and social impacts. This evaluation helps stakeholders make informed decisions on which business options to prioritise.

“Business and economics are not as challenging as we perhaps first think, particularly with the tools developed that can help.”

– Louise Maccallum, Blue Marine Foundation

During the business design phase, the toolkit provides a customised business model canvas. This canvas enables the development of a financially viable business model with a clear focus on biodiversity and social impacts. Additionally, the toolkit offers guidance on how to pilot and manage the business long term, ensuring that it operates with a steadfast commitment to biodiversity impact.

The Gökova Bay to Cape Gelidonya project is marketing invasive species as exciting new menu items and jewellery making equipment. Photo: AKD.

Nature-positive enterprises represent a ground breaking approach to biodiversity conservation, one that marries economic growth with the preservation of our planet’s natural treasures. By embracing this concept and utilising the guidance toolkit developed, we can pave the way for a more sustainable future where business and nature thrive in harmony. It’s a win-win situation: businesses flourish, communities’ benefit, and our precious ecosystems are preserved for generations to come.

From this project, Fauna & Flora and the Cambridge Judge Business School have developed Guidance on setting up and running small and medium enterprises for nature restoration and conservation which is freely available in English and Russian. The project has also created an associated Toolkit and Guidance document on Developing Strategic Partnerships for Nature-Positive Enterprises which is particularly relevant for building partnerships to capitalise on business opportunities at a landscape or seascape scale. To find out more about the Enabling Nature Positive Enterprises Advancing and Applying Knowledge Project, visit the project page

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