The Nature of Business

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Published on January 24th, 2011  |  Discuss This Article  

In the next 40 years, our children and grandchildren may see the Earth’s population grow by nearly a third – expanding to 9 billion people. More than ever before, we must find new and innovative ways to ensure that nature can continue to provide the food, clean water, energy and other services a growing population depends upon for survival.

Finding these solutions won’t be easy, but I believe it can be done if all sectors of society come together.

The Nature Conservancy today announced a new collaboration with Dow Chemical Company aimed at changing the way businesses view nature and the footprints they leave behind.

The Conservancy will work with Dow — one of the world’s largest companies — to incorporate the value of nature’s services into its business plans, goals and operations, from what products to make to where to site its factories.

Together, we will spend the next five years testing strategies at different Dow project locations to demonstrate how protecting nature can be a global business strategy – and a corporate priority.

For instance, many of Dow’s manufacturing sites are located along coastlines. These sites receive natural flood and storm protection from coral reefs, coastal wetlands and mangroves. Many times, these natural systems are more effective and less costly than engineered systems such as levees.

Forests are another good example of why investing in nature makes good business sense.  Some believe the value of forests lies only in timber production. But timber revenue accounts for only about one-third of the full value forests provide to society. It doesn’t include the critical role standing forests play in reducing sedimentation and filtering clean water.

By keeping forests healthy and standing, companies like Dow can save money by avoiding the need to build water filtration systems. Forests also collect and store water, helping prevent damaging floods and providing a source of water during dry periods.

These undervalued services provide direct assets to industry, governments and society as a whole.

The ultimate goal of our collaboration with Dow is to discover strategies like these that will allow businesses to become more sustainable in the future, producing more with less as they work to meet the growing needs of society. To that end, we will share the tools, lessons learned and results of this collaboration publicly through regular reports and peer-reviewed journal articles so that other companies, scientists and interested parties can test and apply them.

Admittedly, this effort is very much an experiment. There is no established roadmap to guide a company the size of Dow on how to incorporate nature and biodiversity into its global business strategy. Throughout this process, we will learn by doing, and be open and transparent each step of the way.

Imagine the potential of a company with the size and reach of Dow making a commitment to incorporate nature into its global business strategies. What might that mean for green infrastructure? What might that mean for nature? What might that mean for a company’s bottom line? What might that mean for the health and prosperity of the communities around the world? Together, we’re going to find out.

And, we need to find out quickly because if we continue with business as usual, we will lose opportunities to invest in the protection of the natural systems and services that nature has provided us as forests, grasslands, marshes, and reefs are converted to other uses.

A future in which the needs of people – food, water, health and security – are sustained by the wealth of nature will require a shared vision of creating a new norm – one in which the health of the environment is not just an afterthought, but a fundamental consideration in everything we do.

This collaboration with Dow has the potential to show a new way… a new way for how the private sector, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations, can help protect the natural systems we all depend upon for our health and prosperity.

(Image: Mark Tercek. Image credit: Erika Nortemann/TNC.)

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