New review system helps companies adapt to ecosystem degradation
Jeremy Hance,
March 11, 2008

A new accountability initiative will help companies factor ecosystem degradation into their business decisions.

Developed by the World Resources Institute (WRI), the Meridian Institute, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the Corporate Ecosystems Services Review sets guidelines to help companies manage risks and opportunities arising from ecosystem degradation.

"Ecosystem services are often unacknowledged, yet they underpin many corporate activities," said John Ehrmann, managing partner of the Meridian Institute.

The guidelines were created to help businesses efficiently utilize ecosystem services in an over-taxed world — just last week WWF announced that humans are currently using 20 percent more resources annually than the earth can provide. Ecosystem degradation means that vital resources, which are used in a wide-variety of products and services, are becoming increasingly scarce, for example fresh water, wood, and even pollinators.

"The world’s forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems are under tremendous pressure due to climate change, land conversion, and many other factors," said Jonathan Lash, president of WRI. "As ecosystems degrade, companies will face operational, regulatory, and reputational risks while those that offer solutions may find new business opportunities and new sources of revenue."

International paper company Mondi was one of five corporations to test out the recently developed Corporate Ecosystems Services Review. The review caused the paper-giant to look at how ecosystem degradation is currently affecting the company's performance and to consider ways to mitigate its use of resources. Focusing on freshwater use in their South African tree plantations, Mondi corporation found that several new initiatives--clearing invasive species, planting water-efficient strains of trees, and burning grasslands more frequently--would allow the company to use less water, aiding both Mondi and the environment.

The review consists of five steps: 1) Select scope, 2) Identify priority ecosystem services, 3) Analyze trends in priority services, 4) Identify both business risks and opportunities, and 5) Develop strategies. Other companies that have so far used these guidelines to change their use of scarce natural resources include Akzo Nobel, BC Hydro, Rio Tinto, and Syngenta.

Mondi, for one, was pleased with the program. "The methodology helped us identify and rank emerging problems, and provided us with a framework for turning risks into opportunities," said Peter Gardiner, natural resources manager at the paper company.

With ecosystem degradation becoming a global reality one thing is certain: business can no longer continue as usual.

Jeremy Hance, (March 11, 2008).

New review system helps companies adapt to ecosystem degradation.