JPMorgan Chase, UBS assess risks to tally natural capital costs

Sports apparel and shoemaker Puma is widely credited with creating the first corporate Environmental Profit and Loss statements, which attempt an accounting of its exposure.

While the math is still imprecise, these calculations have provided the company with an unprecedented view and directional guidance as to how its operations might be affected in the future, said Richard Mattison, CEO of research firm Trucost, which is helping a number of companies with this exercise.

For example, almost 57 percent of Puma's embedded risk, which it calculated at around $192 million, is related to the cattle ranches it uses to source its leather, particularly the water they need to thrive.

Clothing company H&M faces a similar conundrum: The price of the cotton it uses for its products has been rising quickly over the past 24 months, largely driven by water shortages. And consumer products giant Unilever has estimated publicly that climate change is costing the company around $265 million annually.

"It is of value to understand these metrics from a design point of view, to understand regulatory scenarios and so on," said Mattison.

Slowly but surely, forward-thinking companies are embracing that idea.