Ecological balance is one of the three pillars of sustainable development and without it, business cannot function. All companies affect ecosystems and benefit from the services they provide, such as fresh water, fiber, and food. They also rely on regulatory services, like climate regulation, flood control and waste treatment.
Over the past 50 years, human activity has altered ecosystems faster and more extensively than ever before. That finding was supported by the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment – a four-year, international, scientific appraisal that was completed in 2005. It concluded that most of the critical ecosystem services assessed are being degraded or used at unsustainable levels and that this will accelerate, diminishing sustainable development options and business opportunities.
Both the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD) have been working on ecosystems issues for 10 years. The overarching goal is that all stakeholders – including business – recognize the real benefits of ecosystems and that the true value of ecosystem services be accounted for. We’ve used gaming theory, collaborative projects and measuring tools to move toward this goal. The value and sustainable management of ecosystems must become a more integral part of economic planning and decision-making; otherwise nature will always play second fiddle to social and economic development.
With today’s communication tools, we have a unique opportunity to help business leaders understand the value of ecosystem services and their local opportunities. The current efforts of the WBCSD are focused on identifying risks and opportunities (using the Corporate Ecosystem Services Review) and quantifying the economic value of ecosystem services and strategies to businesses. The US BCSD was one of 16 WBCSD companies and regional councils that participated in a “road test” of the WBCSD Ecosystem Valuation Initiative in 2010. A guide based on that initiative describes the effectiveness of various ecosystem valuation models and tools. The final guide is expected to be published in 2011. Details will be laid out at the fall meeting of the US BCSD in Indianapolis on October 12 and presented at the 18th annual EHS Management Forum on October 14.
The US BCSD plans to establish working groups with volunteers from interested companies to help identify projects, set implementation plans, evaluate potential funders and reach out to relevant university programs. Using a project-based focus that builds on its ecosystem experience, including the US BCSD’s green brownfields project and its afforestation efforts in the Lower Mississippi River valley, the council plans to play a role in supporting healthy ecosystems for a long time to come. After many years, it appears that today, the business community, NGOs and academics are gradually realizing they share the same concerns, but simply approach them in different ways.
Andrew Mangan is the Executive Director of the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development. He will be speaking about ecosystems services at the 18th annual EHS Management Forum, October 13-15 in Indianapolis.