Ecosystem Services: Why the Private Sector NEEDS to Sit at the Table

Natural Capital Symposium March 20-23

We recently headed to Silicon Valley to participate in the Natural Capital Symposium at Stanford University and speak on the Sustainable Development Planning panel. The purpose of the symposium was to bring together Natural Capital thought leaders from around the globe to review their natural capital approaches, share new ideas, and address gaps and barriers. It was also a great opportunity to receive natural capital assessment training directly from the Natural Capital Project experts.

Throughout the week there were plenty of insightful presentations that included:

  • Opportunities and Barriers to Sustainable Development Planning;
  • Securing Freshwater;
  • Scaling Natural Capital Approaches;
  • Issues with Governance, Policy, and Funding;
  • Developing Sustainable Cities; and
  • Creating Standards for the Private Sector.

Some of the most interesting and engaging presentations were related to the private sector. There were excellent discussions on using private sector funding to encourage restoration work, how private sector buy-in is needed to scale these approaches, and, of course, the barriers to widespread private sector uptake. These discussions sparked a lot of interesting questions and debate regarding funding and scaling opportunities. There was a problem though; industry representation was decidedly low.

We need more private sector representatives at these events. This was mentioned frequently at the symposium. Below is a sector breakdown of event attendance:

Breakdown of event attendance at the Natural Capital Symposium 2017

So, why is recruitment so low? First off, we need to do a better job proving the private sector business case to attract them to the natural capital and ecosystem service community. We need to show them how these assessments can reduce operational risk, increase access to new revenue streams, and boost their competitive advantage. It’s more than just improving social license. We should also be building models and collecting data that is applicable at the business scale. Large-scale, global models, although necessary to show trends in natural capital, do not do a good job answering the private sector’s business questions.

BSR released a report in 2013 related to private sector uptake of ecosystem service assessments. The report identified several trends that show a willingness from many different industries in taking this concept further. It also recognized that there is work to do to accelerate uptake from the private sector. Their recommendations included:

  • Documenting the relevance and value of ecosystem services to businesses as well as how to apply the concept. With the recent release of the Natural Capital Protocol, we’ve seen huge strides in this area.
  • Summarizing lessons learned from private sector uptake to-date. We need to know what works and what doesn’t, to push this ahead further.
  • Increasing capacity and knowledge on the advances in ecosystem service science, available data, and reliable tools to do these assessments. This is where having more industry representation at symposiums like the one hosted by the Natural Capital Project is imperative.

If we can build capacity in the private sector, we will see widespread uptake and improved sustainable development planning. First, we need to get private-sector representation sitting at the table so they can go back to their organizations with refreshing ideas and initiatives. This is the push the natural capital movement needs.

For more information on how Silvacom is proving the business case for natural capital and ecosystem service assessments please contact us

Alberta also has great resources available to private sector organizations that want to learn more. More details can be found on the Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity Network.