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Why business leaders are cheering the new Natural Capital Protocol

More than 50 companies including Coca-Cola, Dow, Shell and Interface already have piloted the open-source protocol.

Business leaders convened last week in London to launch the first global Natural Capital Protocol, a standardized framework which aims to help managers around the world better value nature in their decision-making.

The protocol, freely available under a Creative Commons license, was developed over two years by the Natural Capital Coalition, a public-private sector collaboration whose core team comprised 38 organizations including the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), WWF, PwC and Nestlé.

It provides guidance to help firms measure their dependence and impact on natural assets and raw materials, and can be used to help firms manage their risks as well as explore new revenue streams and prepare for future reporting and disclosure.

Mark Gough, executive director of the National Capital Coalition, said the protocol will allow all businesses around the world to realise the benefits of including nature in their decision-making. "Now we have a standardized framework, it is time for action," he said in a statement.

Mark Gough

Peter Bakker, president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), said the launch of the protocol signals an end to the days of defining business success by financial metrics alone.

"As we move to fulfill the Paris Agreement and achieve the SDGs (U.N. Sustainable Development Goals), business will need to take a holistic view and start including information on natural and social capital in the definition of performance," he said in a statement.

The protocol brings together a number of existing approaches on natural capital and has been through a detailed consultation process with over 450 organizations providing input, while it already has been piloted by more than 50 businesses including Dow, Shell, Coca-Cola and Interface.

Robert Spencer, director of sustainability for environment and ground engineering at AECOM, called the protocol a "momentous step forward" for the natural capital agenda and said it would bring much-needed consistency to the market. "For the first time, businesses and organizations have a clear framework to guide them in measuring, managing and valuing their natural assets," he said in a statement.

However, Spencer also warned that the protocol's success will depend on the ability of companies to integrate natural capital assessments into their everyday decision-making.

It starts with the view that maintaining and restoring natural capital is vital for business success.

"While the protocol arms sustainability professionals with robust guidance on how to measure the value of natural capital, progress is dependent on achieving buy-in from more commercially focused departments, such as finance and procurement," he said.

Will Evison, assistant director of sustainability and climate change at PwC, said the protocol will help business with the need to balance the growing demands on the planet with their bottom line.

"The Natural Capital Protocol does not start from the usual position that companies should be concerned about natural capital purely for the benefit of external stakeholders," he said in a statement. "It starts with the view that maintaining and restoring natural capital is vital for business success — and managing it better can contribute significantly and positively to business performance."

Now the protocol has been launched, the Natural Capital Coalition will shift its focus scaling uptake and enabling implementation.

Businesses in the U.K. are also anticipating the U.K. government's own long-term environment plan, due in the coming months, which is also expected to heavily feature the natural capital approach.

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