Imagine arriving at an alumni event from your business school a bit late. In an effort to catch up on the discussion, you listen carefully, hoping to recognize a few keywords. But the conversation is interspersed with unfamiliar terms like “contiguous forestlands,” “riparian management,” and “green infrastructure.”
Seeing your confusion, one of your friends explains that they are talking about ecosystem services, the benefits that society and businesses gain from well-functioning natural systems. Unfortunately, your friend explains, many of these “services”—like a relatively stable climate, fertile soil, and strong stocks of fish—are under threat.
Even after the explanation, you can’t figure out why businesspeople are so interested in something that is literally outside of corporate fence lines. And yet the companies taking action on ecosystem services are household names: Coca-Cola, Dow , Rabobank Group, Unilever, and Weyerhaeuser. These companies and others are even crafting initiatives focused on decreasing corporate impacts on ecosystem services. Why? As the WRI’s Craig Hanson explains: “Climate change may dominate headlines today. Ecosystem degradation will do so tomorrow.”
New research from BSR’s Ecosystem Services Working Group underscores the numbers of companies and governments currently engaged on the subject. Consider some of our findings:
- 78 countries are acting on ecosystem services—up from 68 nations in 2013—with new entrants including: Belgium, Belize, Czech Republic, Ireland, Jamaica, Mauritania, Mauritius, Myanmar, Sierra Leone, and Turkey.
- 57 companies specifically name ecosystem services issues as an area of current work, up from 47 businesses in 2013. New 2014 activity came from JetBlue, National Grid, and Novo Nordisk, among others. Corporate work covers the gamut. JetBlue is working on directly tying the importance of nature to the airline’s main economic measure—revenue per available seat mile—which company leaders hope will strengthen businesses’ and governments’ interest in protecting destinations and ecosystems. The company National Grid is working on a framework for assessing opportunities to enhance the natural environment across the corporate property portfolio to identify opportunities for improving habitats on surplus land. Novo Nordisk is the first pharmaceutical company to publish an environmental profit and loss account.
- A growing body of decision aids and analytical tools are making the technical aspects of ecosystem services more easily applicable within corporate settings. New 2014 initiatives include the Earth Genome Project, which has called for an integrated global framework of data collection, environmental and economic analytics, and planning centers focused on applications of insights to decisionmaking. The Natural Capital Project’s latest targeted tool for specific users, OPAL (Offset Portfolio Analyzer and Locator), helps decisionmakers assess the impacts associated with development activities on terrestrial ecosystems and the services these natural systems provide and identifies appropriate offsets to efficiently mitigate losses.
The business community’s recognition of ecosystem services is on the upswing because companies rely on well-functioning ecological systems. And many are acting on this knowledge.
Now, the question is: Does your company know about “ecosystem malfunction risk” and opportunity? Does your company understand ecosystem services analytical approaches? Don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a room with your colleagues discussing how this is relevant to your business.