A true visionary, Lori Anna Conzo aims to build a new model that promotes biodiversity conservation alongside economic development.
As an environmental specialist and biodiversity focal point in the Environment, Social and Governance Department of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector lending arm of the World Bank Group, Lori is forging new alliances in conservation.
She is committed to abolishing the perceived ‘us’ versus ‘them’ traditional mentality of conservation scientists against the ‘destructive entities of economic development’ in favour of a new era of ‘Unlikely Alliances’, as she calls them.
In pursuit of these alliances, Lori has brought together stakeholders across conservation organizations, industry, government agencies, consultancies, financial institutions and academia.
As a specialist in developing mitigation and management strategies for biodiversity-related impacts of large-scale private sector developments worldwide, Lori led the revision of IFC’s revised Performance Standard (PS6) on Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Management of Living Natural Resources (2012).
PS6 is one of eight standards developed by IFC in 2006 (and updated in 2012) that establish the environmental and social requirements that IFC’s clients, mainly businesses, have to meet throughout the life of any of investment. The standards are now recognized as the global industry benchmark for environmental and social management in the private sector.
The key to developing an unlikely alliance, Lori explains, is engaging new groups to design and manage landscapes so that development and conservation can co-exist more productively. This involves seeking new solutions from unexpected sources, for example, from construction engineers who could potentially offer innovative solutions for reducing impacts on fauna and flora from large-scale development projects. Some of this work has already begun in developed countries - wildlife crossings in highway design, more sophisticated curtailment strategies in wind power projects, micro-routing of pipeline right-of-ways, mitigation of noise generated by pile driving and underwater seismic activities. But this is not usually the case for the developing world where the protectionist mode of conservation biology is still largely advocated by international stakeholders but not necessarily supported by national interests.
“There is currently a vacuum of specialists that understand both conservation and industry, and it’s going to take a new sub-discipline of conservation biology to create the new generation of ‘biodiversity management specialists’,” says Lori. “These are people that understand the science but who are also practically-minded, good communicators, excellent negotiators, very patient and know the language of industry, timelines, financing and project development. Those who possess these skills are currently paving new ways of doing conservation. These individuals are usually extremely savvy and in very high demand at the moment.”
IFC’s Performance Standards apply to private sector development in both developing and post-conflict countries. Lori says that international private sector financing institutions and companies which adhere either to IFC’s Performance Standards or their own are increasingly recognized as agents of change in some of the most challenging environments in the developing world, including fragile states.
The Performance Standards affect far more than IFC’s own lending practices. They form the basis of the Equator Principles (EPs), an environmental and social standard used to support responsible risk decision-making in the lending practices of some 78 commercial banks.
Governments are also recognizing the value of the Performance Standards. At the eleventh Conference of the Parties (COP 11) of the Convention of Biological Diversity, in Hyderabad, the parties called on businesses to fully consider the revised 2012 IFC Performance Standards as articulated in Decision XI/7 with respect to Business and Biodiversity.
“The know-how, the drive, the ambition and the extraordinary problem-solving skills of industry is a potential resource that could provide new solutions for managing biodiversity more effectively across landscapes,” says Lori. “PS6 does not require companies to run away from the challenge, nor does it ask companies to obtain the impossible. It does require them to roll up their sleeves and get to work. It asks companies to consult with experts to seek solutions when working in biologically-complex landscapes so that development outcomes can be realized alongside of conservation outcomes.”
Lori says she was given a lucky break early in her career which gave her a wealth of experience and set her on her current path.
“One of my most rewarding projects was my first assignment on an IFC-financed project while working at the engineering and environmental consulting firm, D’Appolonia SpA (based in Genoa, Italy). I was the ecologist on the External Compliance Monitoring Group (ECMG) of ExxonMobil’s megaproject, the Chad-Cameron Pipeline. That work was an incredible blessing and set the stage for where I am today. The ECMG Team Leads took a chance on me by including me in a team of individuals that were far more experienced than I. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Operating in such a complex and challenging field, where does Lori’s inspiration come from?
“My inspiration is a simple one,” she says. “I love big cats. I saw my first and only black panther when I was seven. The cat was pacing back and forth in a glass enclosure, surrounding by onlookers, in the middle of a museum. That image never left me. Big cats in the wild are what have driven me for decades.”