Why should my company care about valuing ecosystem services?
What’s the relevance to my business?
How can my company manage our dependencies and impacts on ecosystems in ways that benefits our bottom line, as well as the environment and human well-being?
These were some of the key questions global corporate leaders from a wide range of sectors tackled at Conservation International’s Business & Sustainability Council (BSC) meeting on June 27, 2012 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. As this was my first meeting since joining CI as Senior Manager of the BSC, I was pleased to participate in this animated discussion of this important topic.
If valued in financial terms, it is estimated ecosystem services — such as freshwater, a stable climate and food security — would represent a $33 trillion a year industry. However, many of the services provided by nature are disregarded in financial and investment analyses. With growing resource constraints, price volatility and impacts from global climate change, companies have begun to understand the links of their business to these services. These efforts to measure, manage and ultimately reduce a company’s environmental impacts are critical to ensuring the longevity of both their business and healthy ecosystems that are critical to sustaining human well-being.
The meeting was hosted by Council member Rabobank International and well-attended by representatives from BSC members and guests including Bunge Limited, Cargill, Chevron, Citigroup, The Coca-Cola Company, ExxonMobil, Marriott International, Northrop Grumman, Harley Davidson and The Walt Disney Company. Daniel Esty, leading expert on corporate environmental strategy and co-author of the best-selling Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value and Build Competitive Advantage, kicked off the meeting by offering his unique perspective and insights on the business case for valuing ecosystem services.
Participants also discussed the relevance and applicability of an important framework called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) for Business in sector specific breakout groups. Spearheaded by CI Board Member and TEEB Study Leader Pavan Sukhdev, TEEB for Business offers a lens for how companies can integrate ecosystem services into their decision-making and business models. In essence, the TEEB for Business framework consolidates vast amounts of information on what companies have done and are doing to manage their dependencies and impacts on ecosystem services into concise and compelling pieces.
An insightful panel comprised of representatives from Trucost, Bunge Limited and the New York City Department of Environmental Protection explored the business case for what is prompting companies and governments to start measuring and valuing ecosystem services, as well as the successes, challenges and advice for others following this path.
Participants also learned about some of the innovative ecosystem services tools for business, including The Corporate Ecosystem Services Review, Guide to Corporate Ecosystem Valuation, Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs (InVEST) and The ARtificial Intelligence for Ecosystem Services (ARIES). This led to a lively discussion in breakout groups around what tools and other solutions could fit their business and/or sector, what is still needed to move forward and how CI can help address those needs.
I concluded the meeting by seeking the members’ input on a re-design of the Council, discussing with participants how to ensure the Council remains both compelling and practical going forward. The BSC staff and I are now hard at work finalizing the revised BSC program, based on a tiered membership structure with a variety of benefits and services available to help Council members even more successfully achieve their environmental and business goals. I look forward to sharing information soon about the revised BSC program that will be launched over the next few months.
Jennifer Gerholdt is CELB's Senior Manager for the Business & Sustainability Council
DOWNLOAD: For more information, the BSC meeting book.pdf, pre-meeting materials.pdf and the presentations.pdf are available.