Since the signing of the Paris agreement, more and more initiatives are emerging and making waves in terms of carbon reduction. However, our planet is much more complicated than a carbon cycle, in fact, there are nine planetary boundaries to look out for from biodiversity to land system change and our current way of doing business is on the trajectory of trespassing many of them. The very core of the problem is that our business activities are heavily dependent on natural resources, yet we fail to integrate the true value of natural capitals into the commercial world.
Last week, Let’s Talk Business! – a natural capital conference in The Hague organized by Platform BEE (Biodiversity, Ecosystems and Economy), aimed to address this missing link between the natural world and the financial world by bringing together the combined force of the financial institutions, corporates, academia and politicians.
On Wednesday evening, Rein Willems, Chairman of Platform BEE, welcomed participants and introduced the joint initiative of IUCN NL (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and VNO-NCW (the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers), and their five-year effort to put together the Den Haag Business Accord on Natural Capital, which was to be presented the next day.
His opening was followed by keynotes from Coenraad Krijger, Executive Director of IUCN NL who stressed our heavy dependency on natural capitals; and Cees Oudshoorn, Secretary-General of VNO-NCW, who then explained the Netherlands’ key position in the movement of caring for the natural capital is motivated by the fact that 10 percent of Dutch GDP depends on agriculture. He went on and proposed three key considerations - economic interest, market position and impact on natural capitals - as guiding principles, and urged Dutch business to know their eco footprints and politicians to sharpen policies to promote the Natural Capital Protocol to the EU and rest of the world.
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On Thursday, Chad Holliday, Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell, kicked off the main event by sharing his tips on making a change in the large corporations:
- To pay attention to words
- To plan for good timing
- To understand cultural differences
- To cultivate trust
He encouraged everyone to keep these in mind during the discussion for the rest of the day. When asked how to bridge the gap between CSR officers and CEOs, he replied: “How about we don’t divide them by their titles and just call them human beings? CEOs can talk sustainability and CSR officers can also talk about making money.”
As if to illustrate his point, Heleen Herbert, Chief Commercial Officer at Dutch construction company Heijmans Inc., then shared her take on sustainability. She admitted that it’s not a topic in her conversations everyday, but putting more values on natural capitals brings good opportunity for her business in a highly competitive, low-margin industry.
Last but not least, Katinka Abbenbroek from World Wildlife Fund introduced the NGO’s new report on “One Planet Thinking” and urged everyone to set the bar higher in their companies’ long term plans to contribute to maintaining a healthy planet.
The day was packed with breakout sessions broken up into three categories - Knowledge, Integration and Finance – and abuzz with natural scientists and bankers having engaging discussions on how to put a value on nature. Some key points from the talks and discussion are:
- Policies from the government can most effectively put an economically recognized value on nature.
- Financial institutes can play a role in bridging the communication barrier between businesses and conservation scientists.
- A few challenges for banks interested in preserving natural capitals are the lack of data access and tailored tools to measure and value impacts and dependencies.
- There are many interesting business models being explored; the transition is still in the early phase but should accelerate with rising public awareness and maturing policies.
Later in the afternoon, Mark Gough, Executive Director of the Natural Capital Coalition, presented the Natural Capital Protocol which aims to put the pieces of different stakeholders from academia to business together under one standardized framework to identify, measure and value businesses’ direct impacts and dependencies on natural capitals.
And Wout Dekker, former Chairman of Rabobank Supervisory Board and former CEO of Nutreco, shared his professional journey of finding the right purpose of a business. He said that doing business is just like life, there are always reasons to be both optimistic and pessimistic, but we always try to build on the positive and improve on the negative.
Then it finally came to the official presentation and launch of the Den Haag Accord on Natural Capital. More than 70 Dutch companies had already endorsed it and are looking forward to gaining more support on the Accord worldwide.
In the end, Peter Bakker, Chairman of the World Business Council of Sustainable Development, celebrated the Accord as a great effort pulled together by dozens of stakeholders in the Netherlands. Especially considering recent political events, radical transformations for sustainability is ever more important. He added that “accountants will save the world” because a great part of the battle is redefining value. He has high hopes for accountants to play a bigger role in improving:
- Risk management by introducing natural capital risks
- Management of decision making by developing tools
- Reporting and disclosure by increasing transparency
If the above can be achieved with a combined effort, we could be looking at a different capital allocation, where nature will finally get the value it deserves. He ended with an additional shot of optimism by reminding the audience to not underestimate the speed of the sustainability movement, because it is happening a lot faster than most people realize.
Jan Peter Balkenende, former Prime Minister of the Netherlands and Chairman of the Dutch Sustainable Growth Coalition, ended the event with a question to everyone: “What is your value and legacy?”