(Last Updated On: 22nd September 2011)

You might argue that business is far removed from the Natural Environment.  It may be important to businesses that directly rely on the environment, e.g. tourism or mining industries, but I wondered about the link between everyday businesses and our natural environment.  So I went to the Sussex Wildlife Trust ‘Nature of Change’ conference last week to learn more.

The Natural Environment is termed an Ecosystem and the benefits derived from Ecosystems are called Ecosystem Services.

These benefits include:

Benefit

Meaning

Provisioning

Providing goods such as fuel, energy, water, food, timber/paper etc.

Regulatory

Providing regulation in the climate, disease, flooding, etc.

Cultural

Meeting our recreational, spiritual, aesthetic, inspirational needs etc.

Supporting

Supporting the above 3 benefits, for example, soil formation, nutrient recycling, etc.

 

Take a minute to think about your business, including your suppliers and customers, and how it benefits from the above services.

I think you will agree that without Ecosystem Services no business would be viable.  However, the value of these Services has been difficult to quantify.

One of the easiest first steps is to quantify the amount of carbon emissions a business generates.  But in the UK, for example, 75% of our water use comes from ground water.  This is a highly valuable resource that many businesses do not consider when determining their impact on the environment.  Whether your business uses water or produces waste which could leak into the water table, your business has an impact.

Studies have concluded that we undervalue our natural environment economically and non-economically, and that many of our Ecosystem Services are in decline.   However, these studies are also attempting to add a value to the Services so that we (and policy makers) can make more informed decisions.

I’ll share two takeaways with you from the conference:

Defra has now launched the England Biodiversity Strategy, which is taking onboard the long held view that we need to restore our natural environment rather than just protect what’s left, and that a landscape view is needed rather than a piecemeal approach.  The Wildlife Trusts Living Landscapes encapsulates this approach and builds on the idea to link up landscapes. I was quite surprised when I learnt that the Environment Agency is now re-structuring itself so it can restore waterways from source to tap – dealing with pollutants leaking into the water table and therefore reducing the need for costly water treatment processes.  I was amazed that this wasn’t already the standard approach.

The other takeaway was a story from Martin Baker (DEFRA) which I felt encompasses the problem and the solution:

A college age boy was driving home and hit an animal in the road. He got out and saw the animal was injured. He took it to the vet and was clearly shaken up by the damage caused to the animal.  I found his reaction was a hopeful and encouraging sign. But then he asked the vet what the animal was?  It was an otter.  We live in a society where we are so far removed from nature we can’t identify an otter when we see one.

But back to business.  Ecosystem Services, aka, the Natural Environment, are key for every business, even if the link seems far removed.  I believe there is a great opportunity for businesses to supply products and services that educate and give consumers a choice.  Local companies like Infinity Foods, hiSbe, Uniquely Organic Eco Spa, Bid and Borrow, Nigel’s Eco Store, have all taken this idea to heart.  There is also a role to play for Employers who can educate their staff about the importance and value we all get from our Natural Environment. If anything, encouraging staff to get out in nature will reduce their stress levels and make them more productive!

I’d like to finish with a big thank you to Sussex Wildlife Trust and Sussex University for an informative day.

Useful links for further information:

Sussex Wildlife Trust – Living Landscapes

Lawton Review

UK National Ecosystem Assessment

England Biodiversity Strategy

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