Natural capital gets its own business hub

Natural capital gets its own business hub

There's no denying that most people — and companies — take for granted the natural resources we consume every day. Yet as these resources become increasingly scarce, more companies recognize that they must start valuing assets such as clean water, fertile soil and biodiversity in new ways. In other words, taking "natural capital" into account is becoming essential to risk management.

Pioneers in such efforts are sharing their practices on a new website. The Natural Capital Business Hub, launched Wednesday at the 2014 GreenBiz Forum, is a joint effort of The Nature Conservancy and the Corporate EcoForum. It showcases the natural capital efforts of some 40 companies — from Alcoa to Lockheed Martin to YES Bank — representing $1.4 trillion in revenues. Nonprofits involved include BSR, Trucost and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

"There’s more going on in this field than people expect, and it’s really boomed in the last couple of years," said Michelle Lapinski, senior advisor, Businesses Valuing Nature, at The Nature Conservancy.

The hub's core tool is a database of case studies, which you can search by industry, geography, benefit, approach or ecosystem. Supporting articles introduce visitors to the basic concepts of valuing natural capital, with categories offering to help you "make the case, benchmark, implement and connect" your own efforts.

The hub's creators sought to reach out to every organization and NGO in this space, Lapinski added. And businesses were sometimes surprised at what they unearthed.

“Companies go, ‘Wow, we found an example in our business from a couple of years ago that had a great ROI and we didn’t replicate that,’” she said.

Coca-Cola leads the way

Coca-Cola is participating in the hub by sharing two broad programs, including its ongoing work with the WWF.

Greg Koch, director of global water stewardship at Coca-Cola, said the Natural Capital Business Hub differs from other multi-industry sustainability efforts, such as those of the WBSCD or the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable. For instance, this is not a "dating site" along the lines of the CEO Water Mandate's Water Action Hub, which helps organizations seeking potential partnerships to find water-related projects by region.

"it seeks to do a little bit more, and that is to inform others of the types of work going on across sectors, of the different ways and approaches of valuing nature," Koch said. After all, valuing natural capital is necessary for Coca-Cola’s non-export business model. The company operates some 1,000 plants in every nation but North Korea and Cuba.

“That’s the big driver for us,” Koch said. That means its 54 plants in India, 16 plants in Nigeria, or 43 plants and counting in China naturally must reflect and engage with the local community, culture and needs. “Our business can only be as sustainable and healthy as the surrounding community, so we have to engage with that community around water issues to understand vulnerability and work together."

The beverage giant has worked with WWF since 2007 to improve its carbon footprint and water efficiency, as well as the sustainability of the corn, oranges and sugar it uses. In July the two renewed a partnership through 2020. This will encompass Coca-Cola’s carbon footprint, freshwater conservation, a workstream around valuing nature, and an aggressive goal of 100 percent sustainable production for its top farmed ingredients.

“If all you’re focusing on is direct operations, you can get by by working unilaterally, but the minute you step into communities, into watersheds or ecosystem type work, by definition you’re going to have to work with civil society and other industries,” Koch said.

Business speaking to business

Lapinski hopes the hub will expose unique efforts that might be worth replicating.

“It’s neat to see companies be vulnerable and say, ‘We don’t know what it’s gonna look like yet, but here’s what we’re trying to do and what we’re learning,’” she said. “It’s meant to show things that you haven’t seen before, to show things in progress and to show variety," she said. "It’s less about a database of things going on. You can start to see themes in the work. Our hope is this is business speaking to business.”

The Natural Capital Business Hub grew out of a report launched at the Rio Earth Summit in 2012, The New Business Imperative-Valuing Natural Capital, which included 24 companies. The hub is one of the latest examples of the ways seeming competitors are ramping up collaborative, cross-sector efforts toward sustainability.

I took a spin with the early beta version of the hub the past week, and found it a useful introduction to the emerging, sometimes hard-to-grasp landscape of natural capital. Lapinski emphasized that the effort is in its early stages; feedback and participation are welcome.

This video from the WBSCD, also featured in the Hub, is a fun introduction to natural capital concepts: