What is Natural Capital? Find Out What it Means for Some Companies


Feb. 21 —  Microsoft, Shell, Disney and 38 other companies representing more than $1.4 trillion in revenue have come together to launch an online hub to help make the business case for putting a price on natural resources.

The Natural Capital Business Hub will showcase best practices for integrating “natural capital” into business decisions and eventually collect data on the global impact of companies' natural capital projects.

The project is led by the Corporate Eco Forum and the Nature Conservancy.

Natural capital refers to the value provided by ecosystem goods such as metals and minerals, and services such as flood prevention.

More companies are trying to value natural resources that are vital to their business. But as valuation systems proliferate, companies don't always know where to turn, said Amy O'Meara, director of the Corporate Eco Forum.

“It was important to us to not reinvent the wheel but to find the things going on out there and bring them together,” O'Meara told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 19 after the hub's launch at the 2014 GreenBiz Forum in Phoenix.

The hub helps companies decide between different tools or frameworks for measuring and assessing the goods and services provided by natural capital.

Hub Case Studies

The hub also shows examples of how companies have considered natural capital in their business.

Michelle Lapinski, senior adviser for valuing nature at the Nature Conservancy, told Bloomberg BNA that many of the case studies focus on green infrastructure.

For example, Shell has helped construct wetlands to treat oily wastewater in Oman.

“It is important for me that we at Shell can share our experiences with green infrastructure solutions that can lower costs and carbon emissions while building up critical ecosystems, and also learn from others,” Rupert Thomas, who leads Shell's environmental team, said in a statement.

Other projects focus on ways to avoid disruptions to companies' water supplies, Lapinski said.

The creators of the hub hope these examples will allow for benchmarking and learning among participating companies and encourage more companies to pursue similar natural capital projects.

'Like-Minded Companies.'

“We saw the Natural Capital Business Hub as a great effort to pull together like-minded companies who are all starting to explore this space of natural capital,” Josh Henretig, director of environmental sustainability at Microsoft, told Bloomberg BNA Feb. 21.

The hub has opened up opportunities for partnerships between Microsoft and other companies like Disney, which are both “feeling their way through how you implement a corporate policy like a carbon fee in the most constructive way possible,” Henretig said.

Microsoft and Disney are among about 30 U.S. companies that factor internal carbon pricing into their business strategies, according to a recent report from CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project.

Microsoft is also working on two projects that will use “big data” to evaluate and predict how ecosystems might be affected by climate change, Henretig said.

Although the hub was designed primarily as a platform for businesses working on natural capital issues, Lapinski said it could also become a useful tool for investors to see what companies are doing in the area of natural capital.

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