Following the publication of the white paper “Ecosystem Services: Framing a Corporate Action Plan,” (free download) David Meyers spoke with Eva Zabey, Assistant Program Manager at the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, about ecosystem services and what drives corporations to take action.
What really drives companies to act responsibly about ecosystem services impacts and dependencies? According to the World Business Council on Sustainable Development’s (WBCSD) Eva Zabey, there is no one answer. When looking at the range of member companies that have acted as “Road Testers” for the WBCSD’s Corporate Ecosystem Valuation (CEV) the only unifying point is that the companies realize that ecosystem service (ES) issues will impact them at some point and they want to get ahead of that curve.
Weyerhaeuser for example was generating significant positive externalities from its management of expansive forest lands but was not capturing revenue for these services. Its CEV study helped pinpoint and justify new revenue sources. A CEV study can also identify economic winners and losers with ES issues – a process that helped some companies identify and communicate effectively with key stakeholders. Other companies have used the Corporate Ecosystem Services Review (ESR) and CEV to identify operating risks and cost savings.
Many of the companies in the WBCSD are aware of the increased attention being given to biodiversity and ecosystem service issues. For example, the 190 countries that are signatories of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) recently agreed to put in national targets for reducing the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services by the end of 2012. The UK government has produced a whitepaper on integrating ecosystem services into the market economy. “Governments, financial institutions, NGOs, and consumers will ultimately include ecosystem services values in their assessments of companies and their products,” explains Zabey. It is becoming clear to leading companies that increasing disclosure, regulation and, eventually, pricing of ecosystem services is on its way.
Although carbon and water have clearly caught the corporate eye, there are major challenges to getting companies on board with other ecosystem services. Says Zabey, “about half of our members that are interested but the other half are waiting. It will take several years before corporate ES reporting is required and after carbon and water, it starts to get complicated. So, one major challenge is to take the complexity of ecosystem services and provide clear useful tools and methods for business. It is better for businesses to spend their time making changes rather than just reporting.”
Towards the goal of helping companies “get” ecosystem service issues, the WBCSD is developing a Business Ecosystem Training (BET) program to bring sustainability professionals up to speed on the primary ES issues. This modular program can be experienced by individual modules and as a complete 2 1/2-day training program.
Zabey is hopeful that 2012 will be a good year for ecosystem services awareness. The WBCSD is a major sponsor of the upcoming World Conservation Conference of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); there will be a key CBD meeting of parties; and of course there is Rio +20. Ecosystem services have greatly deteriorated in the 20 years since the first “Earth Summit” but perhaps through better awareness, knowledge, valuations, and reporting requirements, things will look better 20 years from now.