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Governments, non-profits and individuals can do a lot of good for ocean health. But what about companies? According to the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), all elements of society must work together to assure the continued survival of our oceans, and that includes corporate action.

To help facilitate healthy business activity in oceans, the Global Compact published a list of nine “Sustainable Ocean Principles” last month. The group, which calls itself the “world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative,” aims to collect letters from companies who say they are committed to renewing the world’s oceans. Companies can download the pre-written letter, sign and send it in, thus resolving to abide by the guidelines and recommendations and to communicate yearly progress.

“[As] we approach the decade of delivery for the Global Goals, much more work must be done, and we need your company to join the movement,” the U.N. group writes its introduction to the new initiative. These Sustainable Ocean Principles come just under a year before the 2020 U.N. Ocean Conference in Portugal. The previous (and first) U.N. Ocean Conference was held in 2017.

Comprehensive ocean principles for responsible business

The three categories under which the nine new principles fall are ocean health and productivity; governance and engagement; and finally, data and transparency.

These guidelines were created with the idea of building upon the Ten Principles of the U.N. Global Compact, which consider human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption. The new ocean principles were created alongside stakeholders from U.N. agencies, NGOs, academic institutions and private sector companies.

The principles take businesses through a cohesive process for achieving ocean sustainability, no matter the industry. The first, for example recommends that companies, “Assess the short- and long-term impact of their activities on ocean health and incorporate such impacts into their strategy and policies.”

The Sustainable Ocean Principles continue through specific actions companies should take to maintain and restore ocean health, prevent pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and preserve marine life; but they also continue through responsible engagement with local communities and sharing data and practices where appropriate.

This initiative follows the publishing of “Global Goals, Ocean Opportunities” earlier this summer, which outlines the necessity for ocean action, as well as economically-motivated reasoning for keeping the oceans healthy and productive.

The business case for ocean health

“The rapid deterioration of ocean health, which deeply affects biodiversity, coastal communities and the health of the planet, must be urgently addressed,” Lise Kingo, CEO and Executive Director of the Global Compact, says in a press release.

“The deterioration is caused by human activity, and we need to create a tipping point where a critical mass of businesses use their capacity and competence to solve this challenge.”

The report discusses industries such as shipping, recreational cruises, aquaculture and offshore energy production.

One business case the report offers for marine food production is that more sustainable production practices, such as responsible aquaculture, can improve yields and reduce pressures on marine and land ecosystems. The report includes a graphic that shows aquaculture increasingly overtaking production from capture fishing, especially over the last three decades.

Also recommended is integrated farming, which can mitigate ocean acidification and improve carbon sequestration, but also directly benefit the farm by creating a more balanced ecosystem that more effectively uses byproducts and organic waste.

The report also discusses improving the traceability of fish feed — which represents half of the industry’s procurement costs. Better data can improve business operations and build trust among customers.

Responsible aquaculture can also help restore fish populations — 50 percent of which are fully exploited. In the case of ocean food production, the business case for sustainability is continued survival of the industry. With continued warming oceans, acidification and pollution, the same can be said for all industries that rely on oceans, though not always as directly.

Anticipation builds for the 2020 U.N. Ocean Conference

When some national governments are shifting from stewarding the ocean to protecting opposing business interests that pollute, exploit resources and ignore indigenous populations, individual corporate action is essential.

The theme of the 2020 U.N. Ocean Conference will be “Scaling up Ocean Action Based on Science and Innovation for the Implementation of Goal 14: Stocktaking, Partnership and Solutions.”

There’s no doubt that corralling businesses for coordinated and deliberate action on behalf of oceans will prove a positive precursor to a meeting that will focus on partnerships, progress and solutions.

If your business touches the ocean in any way, even in energy or shipping, sign onto the Sustainable Ocean Principles. If nothing else, the increasingly environmentally conscious average consumer will reward you for it.

Image credit: Pexels

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According to the UN Global Compact, all elements of society must work together for the continued survival of our oceans - especially the private sector.
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