Making the case for biodiversity in South Africa: Re-framing biodiversity communications


  • Kristal Maze South African National Biodiversity Institute, South Africa
  • Mandy Barnett South African National Biodiversity Institute, South Africa
  • Emily A. Botts Independent consultant, South Africa
  • Anthea Stephens South African National Biodiversity Institute, South Africa
  • Mike Freedman Freedthinkers, South Africa
  • Lars Guenther Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa


Biodiversity, Branding, CEPA, Communication, Marketing, Socio-economic development, Stakeholders, Value proposition


Background: Biodiversity education and public awareness do not always contain the motivational messages that inspire action amongst decision-makers. Traditional messages from the biodiversity sector are often framed around threat, with a generally pessimistic tone. Aspects of social marketing can be used to support positive messaging that is more likely to inspire action amongst the target audience.
Objectives: The South African biodiversity sector embarked on a market research process to better understand the target audiences for its messages and develop a communications strategy that would reposition biodiversity as integral to the development trajectory of South Africa.
Method: The market research process combined stakeholder analysis, market research, engagement and facilitated dialogue. Eight concept messages were developed that framed biodiversity communications in different ways. These messages were tested with the target audience to assess which were most relevant in a developing-world context.
Results: The communications message that received the highest ranking in the market research process was the concept of biodiversity as a ‘national asset’. This frame places biodiversity as an equivalent national priority to other economic and social imperatives. Other messages that ranked highly were the emotional message of biodiversity as ‘our children’s legacy’ and the action-based ‘practical solutions’.
Conclusion: Based on the findings, a communications strategy known as ‘Making the case for biodiversity’ was developed that re-framed the economic, emotional and practical value propositions for biodiversity. The communications strategy has already resulted in greater political and economic attention towards biodiversity in South Africa.


Download data is not yet available.


Adenle, A.A., Stevens, C. & Bridgewater, P., 2015, ‘Global conservation and management of biodiversity in developing countries: An opportunity for a new approach’, Environment Science Policy 45, 104–108. envsci.2014.10.002

Balmford, A. & Cowling, R.M., 2006, ‘Fusion or failure? The future of conservation biology’, Conservation Biology 20, 692–695. 1739.2006.00434.x

Blignaut, J., Marais, C., Rouget, M., Mander, M., Turpie, J., Klassen, T. et al., 2008, ‘Making Markets work for People and the Environment: Employment Creation from Payment for Eco-Systems Services’, An initiative of the Presidency of South Africa, hosted by Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies, Pretoria, South Africa.

Borah, P., 2011, ‘Conceptual issues in framing theory: A systematic examination of a decade’s literature’, Journal of Communication 61, 246–263. http://dx.doi. org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2011.01539.x

Cadman, M., Petersen, C., Driver, A., Sekhran, N., Maze, K. & Munzhedzi, S., 2010, Biodiversity for Development: South Africa’s landscape approach to conserving biodiversity and promoting ecosystem resilience, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

CBD, 2011, Quick guides to Aichi Biodiversity Targets, Target 1: Awareness increased, Convention on Biological Diversity, Montreal, Canada.

DEA, 2012, State of play: Baseline valuation report on biodiversity and ecosystem services, Department of Environmental Affairs for The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), Pretoria, South Africa.

DEA & SANBI, 2011, Making the case for biodiversity: Final draft Project Summary Report, Department of Environmental Affairs and South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa.

DEA, DMR, CoM & SANBI, 2013, Mining and Biodiversity Guideline: Mainstreaming biodiversity into the mining sector, Department of Environmental Affairs, Department of Mineral Resources, Chamber of Mines, South African Mining and Biodiversity Forum, and South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa.

EDD, 2011, New growth path: Green economy accord, Department of Economic Development (EDD), Pretoria.

Futerra, 2010, Branding Biodiversity: The new nature message, Futerra Sustainability Communications, viewed 17 August 2015, Branding_Biodiversity.pdf

Hesselink, F., Goldstein, W., Van Kempen, P.P., Garnett, T. & Dela, J., 2008, Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA): A toolkit for National Focal Points and NBSAP Coordinators, Convention for Biological Diversity, Montreal, Canada.

King, B. & Pervalo, M., 2010, ‘Coupling community heterogeneity and perceptions of conservation in rural South Africa’, Human Ecology 38, 265–281. http://dx.doi. org/10.1007/s10745-010-9319-1

Kepe, T., Saruchera, M. & Whande, W., 2003, ‘Poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation: A South African perspective’, Oryx 38, 143–145.

Le Maitre, D.C., O’Farrell, P.J. & Reyers, B., 2007, ‘Ecosystems services in South Africa: a research theme that can engage environmental, economic and social scientists in the development of sustainability science?’ South Africa Journal of Science 103, 367–376.

PIRC, 2013, Common cause for nature: Finding values and frames in the conservation sector, Public Interest Research Centre, United Kingdom.

ProEcoServe, 2015, Improving awareness and understanding of the concept of ecological infrastructure through a targeted case study communications campaign, South African National Biodiversity Institute report for ProEcoServe, Pretoria, South Africa.

Reyers, B., Roux, D.J. & O’Farrell, P.J., 2010, ‘Can ecosystem services lead ecology on a transdisciplinary pathway?’ Environmental Conservation 37, 501–511. http://

SANBI, 2011a, Biodiversity sector messaging strategy document: 2012–2015, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa.

SANBI, 2011b, Making the case for biodiversity the biodiversity case study development toolkit, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa.

SANBI, 2013, Ecological infrastructure factsheet, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa.

SANBI, 2014, Biodiversity Mainstreaming Toolbox for land-use planning and development in Gauteng. Compiled by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability for the South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa.

SANBI, 2015, Ten compelling case studies making the case for biodiversity, South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria, South Africa, viewed 8 November 2015, from

Saunders, C.D., Brook, A.T. & Myers, O.E., 2006, ‘Using psychology to save biodiversity and human well-being’, Conservation Biology 20, 702–705. http://dx.doi. org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00435.x

Schultz, P.W., 2011, ‘Conservation means behaviour’, Conservation Biology 25, 1080– 1083.

Schwartz, M.W., 2006, ‘How conservation scientists can help develop social capital for biodiversity’, Conservation Biology 20, 1550–1552. j.1523-1739.2006.00421.x

Snyman, S., 2014, ‘Assessment of the main factors impacting community members’ attitudes towards tourism and protected areas in six southern African countries’, Koedoe 56(2), 12 pages.

Tittensor, D.P., Walpole, M., Hill, S.L.L., Boyce, D.G., Britten, G.L., Burgess, N.D. et al., 2014, ‘A mid-term analysis of progress toward international biodiversity targets’, Science 346, 241–244.

UNEP, 2011, Towards a green economy: Pathways to sustainable development and poverty eradication. United National Environment Programme, Nairobi, Kenya.

Veríssimo, D., 2013, ‘Influencing human behaviour: an underutilised tool for biodiversity management’, Conservation Evidence 2013, 29–31.

Wilhelm-Rechman, A. & Cowling, R.M., 2011, ‘Framing biodiversity conservation for decision makers: insights from four South African municipalities’, Conservation Letters 4, 73–80.




How to Cite

Maze, K., Barnett, M., Botts, E. A., Stephens, A., Freedman, M., & Guenther, L. (2016). Making the case for biodiversity in South Africa: Re-framing biodiversity communications. Bothalia, African Biodiversity & Conservation, 46(1). Retrieved from



Original research, Reviews, Strategies, Case studies