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The New Spirit Of Sustainable Business

World Affairs

Open eyes Opinion {source: US/DOC}


Nature provides several trillion dollars’ worth of inputs and services vital to long-term business success – indeed, one study shows our global ‘natural living infrastructure’ produces $21-72 trillion in annual goods and services.  However, because clean water and air; fertile soil; buffers to floods, droughts, fires, and extreme weather are not traded or sold in the marketplace, their value has been largely unaccounted for in business decisions and market transactions.

That is now changing, as business leaders increasingly recognize that it is in their own economic interests to support healthy ecosystems and natural capital and to seek innovative solutions to ecosystem management.  According to the Corporate EcoForum and The Nature Conservancy, businesses that see protecting ecosystems as a business imperativewill benefit by reducing operational risks, cutting costs, enhancing their brand and reputation, and fueling growth through innovative, sustainable product development.

To facilitate information sharing and assist businesses in integrating sustainable practices, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) are developing a new website called Assess Environmental Benefits (AEB).  This week staff from NOAA and ESA are conducting the first in a year-long series of Natural Capital Business Roundtables in order to gain business insights and inform the development of the AEB tool.

The roundtables give businesses, academicians and Commerce Department staff the opportunity to examine the interdependency of natural capital planning and supply chain resiliency, corporate image, and business operations.  Companies that already have robust mechanisms for incorporating natural capital into business planning and those just beginning to consider this topic have important voices in this discussion.  Information gathered in these sessions will help foster development of the new AEB website, which will serve as a hub for data and information on natural capital for companies located or dependent on the coast.

This week’s roundtable is Gulf Coast-focused and is sponsored by the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute.  Future roundtables will be in the Great Lakes area this summer, followed by the Northeast, Silicon Valley, and a concluding meeting in Washington, DC.

Incorporating natural capital into business planning is critical to continuity of operations and long-term financial success. This is particularly true along our coastlines, which are critical to our nation’s economy and home to more than one-third of Americans and innumerable U.S. businesses .  These vital and fragile areas are acutely vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters and degraded ecosystems.  The recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy, with its approximately $67 billion in damages, is a reminder that environmental conditions can profoundly disrupt lives and economic well-being. This is one of many reasons why some companies are changing the way they do business along our coasts, embracing sustainable practices that balance economic and environmental concerns across management and operations.

Through the roundtables and the development of the AEB tool, the Commerce Department aims to help businesses become more informed environmental stewards, leading to a safer, more sustainable, and more profitable future for industries along America’s coasts.  This tool represents just one way in which the government can partner with businesses to protect ecosystems.  Others include:

  • Promoting investment in sustainability infrastructure, such as smart grids, electric vehicle charging stations, water filtration systems, etc.
  • Funding basic research needed for developing renewable energy and renewable resource technology.
  • Making federal data and information related to environmental opportunities and risks open and accessible to businesses.
  • Helping to develop generally acceptable metrics to determine the value our natural resources and to measure progress toward sustainability.
  • Regulating land use and other behaviors to minimize destruction of ecosystems.

Dr. Susan Helper, Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Commerce and Dr. David Yoskowitz, Chief Economist, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


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