On January 27 we invited a number of our members to our first Change Lab at Elia. Around 20 members – companies, NGOs, government bodies and other organisations – put their heads together and considered how they could protect and enrich biodiversity in Belgium.
Our host, Elia, kicked off the afternoon with a presentation of the LIFE Elia project. This is an initiative whereby the grid operator turns strips of woodland under high-voltage cables into ecological corridors. Whereas these corridors used to be completely stripped of vegetation every three years, Elia now works with environmental organisations and farmers to manage and maintain them. The result is twofold: biodiversity in these strips of land is strengthened and they increase awareness of natural habitats and species among a diverse public.
Despite higher costs initially, the project has turned out to be economically cost-effective. Furthermore, it has had some unexpected positive consequences. This approach has enabled Elia to develop better contacts with residents in the area and the local authorities. The company has also found that the project has had an impact on employee satisfaction due, for example, to diversification and the integration of environmental aspects into some employees’ jobs. Last but not least, it has also had a positive influence on public acceptance of high-voltage power lines and sites. The European subsidy period for the pilot project ends soon, but Elia will continue to roll out this approach more widely and will use it on new sites.
Inspired by this neat practical example, the participants discussed together how they could apply it in their own contexts too. For organisations like Infrabel and Eandis, Elia’s example could be translated almost immediately into their own context, taking into account specific conditions such as budgetary restrictions and security. Other players pointed out that some factors specific to LIFE Elia, such as the stable nature of high-voltage power lines over the longer term, are not typical of the average business context.
However, two specific opportunities emerged for organisations that are keen to work on biodiversity:
- The FPS Environment and the regional administrations have developed an online tool that companies can use to identify concrete initiatives around biodiversity. This tool has been presented during the conference Biodiversity at the heart of business.
- The Flemish Government’s Department of the Environment, Nature and Energy pointed to 2B-Connect, which offers support in making business parks green (and partial subsidy of the plant stocks). Interested companies can still get on board!
Our project work on biodiversity is a result of the Partnership Symphony. This year we want to use this methodology, which was developed with the support of MVO Vlaanderen, to help expand and upscale a number of partnerships from the Sustainable Partnerships Award.