Why Dow is Putting Nature on the Balance Sheet

Of course, the implications of this go well beyond accounting. I asked Hawkins how he would measure the success of this five-year collaboration.

Success, he said, would be, "if, at the end of this, we're able to fully integrate this into our business decision-making as we site facilities, as we make changes to existing facilities, as we look at our product development -- if we can build in an economic valuation of nature and how we touch nature. If we can create environments and markets where business naturally is doing valuations and reaching the best economic outcomes while still meeting their growth objectives -- I think that becomes a longer-term goal."

TNC's Prickett weighed in: "To me, most fundamentally, success comes if businesses start to see conservation -- that is, helping to restore healthy ecosystems -- as a source of cost reduction and revenue enhancement. This is business, not just a philanthropic exercise in corporate responsibility or regulatory compliance."

It's a first step, to be sure, but an important one. And it will take more than just one chemical company and one NGO, however well-funded, well-staffed, and well-intentioned, to bring this into the mainstream.

"You've got to have some companies that are willing to try this, to take it on, to partner and collaborate with another organization with similar interests," says Dow's Hawkins. "And that's really at the core of this agreement: How do you take that first step to make this a reality by building it into a company and into a business and, hopefully, into a broader economic approach?"