Just as an individual’s wealth is a measure of their income and assets, Conservation International (CI) believes that part of society’s assets is its natural resources. While it is easy to understand the value of the natural capital we consume directly—such as food and water—much of the ‘dividend’ that society receives from natural capital remains economically invisible. Often overlooked are nature’s renewable ecosystem services such as pollination and water purification—why do you put a value on what nature provides? And how can it inform better business and development decisions?
Management of natural resources and ecosystems has long been relegated to land use planners and conservation organizations. Corporate valuation of ecosystem services is one of the major emerging trends in the sustainability space and one that companies need to focus on. The question is no longer if ecosystem services will be a key framing of environmental issues among multilateral institutions such as the private sector and governments, but rather exactly when, where and how it will occur.
As businesses increasingly recognize the need to address their dependencies and impacts on ecosystems, they should also take natural capital into consideration. The launch of reports such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) are bringing natural capital valuation to the forefront of the corporate sustainability arena.
If valued in financial terms, it is estimated that ecosystem services—such as freshwater, a stable climate and food security—would provide benefits valued at $2-6 trillion per year. Yet, many ecosystem services have largely been disregarded in financial and investment analyses. Markets do not systematically account for the inherent value of services provided by nature, like water filtration or coastal protection. The failure to account for the full economic values of ecosystems has been a significant factor in their continuing degradation and loss. Both economics and ethics demand more systematic attention to the values ecosystem services provide.
For CI, the valuation, protection and management of natural capital has become a key aspect of our mission to value and account for nature’s role in human well-being. We recognize that with the ever-increasing demands of a soaring population and middle class, nature is losing ground. And with it there is a dangerous downslide in the ecosystem services that we all rely on for our health, security and quality of life.
In this, our first publication of Resources, we vet the information on ecosystem services for the business context. By providing a review of the existing resources and tools, we hope to help companies understand the issues surrounding natural capital and ecosystem service valuation. Along the way, we present case studies on how leading companies are using the new approach to change behavior and realize business benefits. Finally, we give you our perspective and present opportunities to further support CI’s mission and achieve your environmental and business goals.