“I'm really heartened and enthusiastic,” said Neil Hawkins, Vice President of Sustainability and Environment, Health & Safety (EH&S) for Dow Chemical. “I see the business community mobilizing. The commitment to sustainable business is huge, and I saw some really excellent work going on in ecosystems services valuation that the business community is leading. I think with us leading the way, we'll find a way to build this right into our practices and make a big difference for the planet.”
Hawkins wasn’t the only one talking about natural capital and ecosystems services, the result of the Natural Capital Declaration signed in Rio by more than 80 CEOs. “One of the most exciting things we've found here is a bubbling up of interest in the idea of natural capital — the idea that nature has value for the economy,” said Glenn Prickett, Chief External Affairs Officer at The Nature Conservancy. “So you can think of forest, coral reefs, and wetlands as infrastructure that provide water, clean air, and protection from storms. “We think that will be one of the legacies of Rio: the world really getting serious about internalizing the externalities, really incorporating the value of nature in economic development, and we're excited to work on that.”
WBCSD’s Bakker agreed. “There is a real momentum building toward natural capital accounting -- the fact that we all are getting a little more serious about the actual impact or what are the benefits to business and companies from nature. There are a lot of meetings where you hear that reflected. That could well be the start of a real solution for the next few years.”
The elevation of natural capital notwithstanding, the biggest boon to business at Rio+20 may have been the overall recognition of the vital role companies play in sustainability. “I believe the sustainable development world has forgotten that a lot of sustainable development is actually economically good,” says Yalmaz Siddiqui, Senior Director of Environmental Strategy at Office Depot. “And I think they tend to focus on social and environmental reasons to do things, forgetting that, economically, a lot of what we're talking about are actually very good: energy efficiency, conservation of resources, lower toxicity -- all of these things can result in good returns for companies. I think a lot of companies should be talking about these things.”
And they were.
Photocollage of Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio by GreenBiz Group.