- 22 Mar 2018
When I began my PhD three years ago and told people I was going to research how businesses think about nature, the standard response was: “They don’t… do they?!”. How I wish I could have pointed those who replied as such to the Business Impact School. Although “valuing” nature remains a relatively novel concept in business, the School confirmed that the gaps between business and nature are less distinct than they might have once seemed. It was refreshing to be given a practical insight into what is currently possible and what’s being implemented, and not simply a list of aspirations that may or may not be achieved. The School wasn’t a public relations exercise: three days of vigorous debate raised some searching questions for both speakers and audience alike. Moreover, although priorities and strategies could always be traced back to bottom line in one way or another (“follow the money” as one contributor told us), no magic bullet was offered, or indeed asked for. None of the contributors provided identikit responses: there were subtle differences in what nature meant across sectors, and differences of opinion about the best route to a solution.
Although we heard about some interesting tools and initiatives, from biodiversity offsetting and catastrophe bonds through to the natural capital protocol, I’m not sure that the School provided any ready-made answers to the problems faced in properly valuing nature… then again that would be a rather high bar to set for three days! What it did do was provide a neat encapsulation of the challenges facing businesses and how we as researchers can - and can’t - play a role in helping them to properly value nature, rather than just appear to. For me it also demonstrated the importance of each and every one of us reflecting on our own capacity as a citizen and a consumer. For all that we need to find tools and systems that help businesses to measure and manage their impacts, if nature matters to a critical mass (however that may be defined), businesses will have to find a way to respond. Whilst I left the school more aware than ever that we face some difficult trade-offs in the not too distant future, I also departed with the sense that we might be better equipped to value nature now than we were even three years ago, and clearer about what my role might be in helping to meet that challenge.