Valuing externalities workshop

This blog was created as part of the original Valuing Nature Network (2011-2014)

How much natural resource can a company use? How do they take into account environmental limits, community needs and meet regulations whilst remaining profitable? 

Yesterday I took part in a very enjoyable workshop, alongside business leaders from well-known brands, to understand how businesses can use practical tools from the ‘Right Value for Externalities Collaboration’ to help answer these questions.

The ‘Right Value for Externalities Collaboration’ is run by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL).

Businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the role of the environment in their products. This might seem obvious for products such as food crops, but not all companies know, for example, how much water is used to grow the crop; where that water comes from and how long it might last, plus how much greenhouse gas their operations emit and how this be could reduced.

The day kicked off with Tony Juniper giving a short overview of the ecosystems approach and how this has come from the margins to the mainstream since the mid 1980s. He ended with a call to action to maintain the momentum on valuing externalities and for people to come up with the tools, data, interpretation and engagement to take action.

So a good thing then that the well known businesses and CPSL are doing just that are now working on a practical guide and tool for valuing business externalities.

The guide is based on ideas that came out of the original placements of academics with these businesses, co-funded by the Valuing Nature Network.

The work is focussed on agricultural supply chains and looks at impacts from the crop in the growing phase. In the afternoon we tested out the online tool which has been developed by CPSL as a practical guide for people such as sustainability managers to use. Using an imagined example we went through the stages that a business would need to take to identify the activities and impacts and to value these.

This was fairly straightforward for our example, but the proof will be if it can be used in the more complex real world where dilemmas occur and trade-offs will need to be made. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing the feedback from the companies and seeing the final tool in operation.

The Practical Guide will be published by CPSL in November 2013 – more details to follow!