The ecosystem services ‘tipping point’: how and when do we shift from theory to widespread practice in the private sector?
Let’s consider a few potential ‘tipping point’ scenarios that could dramatically affect corporate ‘uptake’ of ecosystem services concepts within business decision-making processes.
Scenario 1: The financial services community gets serious about ecosystem services (ES). The International Finance Corporation’s performance standards now include ES, thereby changing the Equator Principles and how 76 banks consider loans. What if when these banks integrate ES indicators within due diligence models, lenders identify new risks or opportunities? What if these new insights provide “proof of concept” for ecosystem services and the vast majority of lenders adapt their processes accordingly? In response to these changes in gaining access to capital, corporate decision-makers may alter how they identify and manage ecological impacts, in terms of adapting planned activities, engaging offsets, and conducting restoration among other actions.
Scenario 2: “Final ecosystem goods and services” goes viral. USEPA scientists have been working on defining “final ecosystem goods and services.” What if the research quickly matures and generates a robust, new analytical framework applied by agencies around the world, particularly those responsible for managing public lands? The focus could then shift from optimizing for a relatively small set of environmental parameters to making public lands management decisions—across the full gamut, from mining rights through timber harvesting access, grazing leases, concessions, restoration, and conservation set asides—based on optimizing for the function of the overall ecosystem and the flow of ecosystem services. The use of public lands could significantly shift, as ecosystem services—such as carbon sequestration and water filtration, among many other parameters—is fully integrated into decision-making processes.
Scenario 3: Occupy Wall Street joins hands with 350.0rg, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists, and the Good Guide. What if grassroots organizers join forces with online consumer information sources to aggressively “name and shame” businesses causing system-level impacts to ecosystem structure and function? Adopting a systems-thinking lens, civil society organizations galvanize crowds around business decisions affecting ES outcomes, holding companies accountable with real data and publicizing impacts.
What other drivers/scenarios could bring ES into ‘prime time’ and change the future of corporate management?
* This article is inspired by BSRs new report which documents the current ecosystem services state of play within government, business, and financial services, and takes a closer look at how businesses are engaging with the topic. It was written by Sissel Waage, co-lead of BSR’s Ecosystem Services Working Group, in collaboration with Linda Hwang, Manager of Environmental Research & Innovation at BSR.