9 ways companies can start to repay their natural debt

The "New Business Imperative" publication suggests nine ways companies can take on the task of repaying their natural debt:

1. Do the math. That means you'll need to map, monitor and measure the specific impact of resource availability on products and services. For example, if your facility can't get enough fresh water locally, include the cost of piping it in.

2. Place a monetary value on natural resources. How would shortages or higher prices for certain natural resources affect pricing and availability for your company's products and services? Would margins suffer?

3. Reduce environmental dependence. Are there ways your company can change business processes in order to minimize the impact on environmental resources?

4. Invest strategically in conservation and restoration. Most businesses have come sort of environmental or corporate social responsibility initiative. Put that money where it really matters. "Companies increasingly see investments in 'natural infrastructure' as important, sometimes mandatory, to advancing key business initiatives," the report's authors note.

5. Engage your value chain. By getting supply chain partners involved, a company can multiply its positive impact -- or not. This won't be easy.

6. Innovate in materials, processes and products. That may mean systems that have worked well in the past but that the impact on natural resources weren't factored into the development process.

7. Build natural instead of manmade infrastructure. Examples include rebuilding coral reefs or mangroves to protect coastal operations against flooding or storm surges; or investing in forests that could help maintain freshwater resources.

8. Leverage new natural capital markets and investment tools. The report discusses four primary mechanisms: Direct payments to landowners that help encourage healthy ecosystems; regulatory-driven markets of ecosystem credits, notably those related to maintaining clean water resources; private trading of ecosystem credits; and purchases of products that are certified for their positive or neutral impact on the ecosystem, such as certified wood.

9. Join forces. Increasingly, non-governmental organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and many others are seeing to ally with corporations. Theses sorts of alliances, once frowned upon by many environmentalists, are now seen as critical for helping fund solutions that will scale across entire industries.