5 public sector trends in ecosystem services

From 2009 through 2012, BSR has documented a wide and growing range of public sector activities related to ecosystem services. Given the breadth and growing depth of government work on the issue, it is increasingly clear that ecosystem services concepts have the potential to shape future policy, regulation and expectations of the private sector.

For businesses, the questions about this emerging domain are many and include where, how and in what time frame ecosystem services may gain traction within specific national and sub-national governments. This work is linked to the growing number of initiatives on integrating monetary values of natural capital into gross domestic product (GDP). There are numerous potential implications, including transferring the costs of using ecosystem services onto beneficiaries and user groups, including the private sector.

In response to this context, BSR has conducted research over the past four years on the following questions:

  • Are there new ecosystem services-focused government policies and legislation or regulation?
  • Are there existing or emerging government-supported, voluntary, and incentive-based initiatives that focus on ecosystem services?
  • Have governments and/or multilateral organizations issued reports on ecosystem services that could signal a change in their approach?
  • Are there ecosystem services-based non-governmental organizations or voluntary initiatives that appear to be influencing (or seem likely to influence) policy makers?

Our research clearly shows that public sector exploration of ecosystem services concepts is on the rise globally. Five key trends include:

  1. National governments around the world are exploring expansion of GDP measures to include natural capital, which would include ecosystem services measurements.
  2. Public-sector exploration of ecosystem services valuation is on the rise.
  3. Governments around the world are showing interest in attracting investment in ecosystem services, such as through payments for ecosystem services (PES) and eco-compensation mechanisms.
  4. Public sector-funded research on ecosystem services is proliferating.
  5. Engagement between the private and public sectors on ecosystem services is limited but has grown each year.

Collaboration between the public and private sectors will likely be a key component in accelerating the uptake of ecosystem services concepts and applications. Private sector decision makers will need to understand ecosystem services concepts and the state of emerging best practice for assessing ecosystem services impacts and dependencies. Public sector decision makers will need to understand the range of corporate processes, protocols and other approaches that are currently in place to measure and manage environmental and social impacts. Some of these processes are regulated but many are voluntary and have emerged from corporate history and culture, as well as industry best practices.

Effective collaboration between the public and private sectors on how to operationalize and integrate ecosystem services concepts—within both public and private sector measurement and decision making processes—will move the domain forward. We hope that this report will offer the rationale for all players to engage more fully, as the trends for uptake seem to warrant.

Image by Vladyslav Starozhylov via Shutterstock.