Natural capital assessments: How far are you willing to stick your neck out and why?

We live in a world where natural capital is drawn down faster than the earth can replenish it, and at an accelerating rate (WWF, 2014 “Living Planet Report 2014”). We have moved from living on nature’s interest – to devouring its capital.

The Natural Capital Protocol aims to fix the issue, moving towards an economy that reflects true value, true costs and true profits. But the Protocol will only meet its full potential if organizations are clear about their approaches and share best practices.

Even though it can be challenging for big businesses, transparency is necessary for progress. So we asked major companies, “How far are you willing to stick your neck out for natural capital and why?”

Here’s what they said:

Natural Capital transparency shows leadership Andreza Souza, Sustainability Coordinator at Natura, told us, “We consider transparency a way to demonstrate our pioneering leadership in this area [natural capital assessment]. We are planning to speak more openly about natural capital in our value chain. We will then work on acting on these results. For us, the value is showing that we are aware of these impacts, and willing to find ways to deal with them.”

Natural capital transparency is inevitable For Dow, transparency is a necessity. They use disclosure on natural capital to maintain their license to operate, as well as to retain and attract a skilled workforce.

Nestlé are also aware that the need to include transparent natural capital into decision-making is only going to grow in the future, as they predict disclosure standards and institutions will ask for more natural capital content in the near future.

Natural capital transparency is an opportunity to gain a market advantage over competitors, and to bring the whole business community forward:

Simon Braaksma, Project Manager at Philips, explained, “At Philips we are very transparent, for example related to our progress on our sustainability ambitions. But as we are benchmarking our carbon data against that of other companies, we are finding this information is not widely disclosed among our peers.”

Kering shares this perspective, and believes that natural capital transparency will give them the competitive advantage. Baptiste Cassan-Barnel, Sustainability Performance Manager in the Group, said, “Sharing our process and results is part of Kering’s mindset, and considered a competitive advantage by our Chairman & CEO, François-Henri Pinault. If other companies follow the same logic as is outlined in Natural Capital Protocol, then we hope to drive significant changes.”

Some companies may already be leaders in the natural capital field, but aren’t willing to shout about it. So how can we encourage these companies to open up and share?

For companies who are still a bit shy, Cassan-Barnel assured us, “There are many ways of sharing information, and businesses could easily make information available publicly without making a splash.”

Natural capital transparency means increased credibility

Will Evison, Assistant Director and Environmental Economist at PwC said “If you’re claiming to measure your impacts on the world, you should really be willing to tell the world how you quantified those impacts. Real transparency is essential to allow proper scrutiny, build trust in the approaches, and ensure that organizations are competing on performance, not on methodology choice.”

Being transparent about the methodology used around assessing natural capital can lead to increased corporate credibility. That is why we set up an independent Methodology Review Panel to consider proprietary methodologies that could feed into the Protocol development.

It was a way to start opening up existing “black boxes” and sharing information that many may be skeptical of. In response, Kering and PwC have since made their methodologies accessible online for everyone – including direct competitors – to see and use. We hope to see this trend continue with others sharing their approaches too, so that we can all move in the right direction.

We need to be open about our various approaches, constructively criticize and improve them, test them and then systematically apply them to our businesses.

Transparency can be uncomfortable, but it is critical if we are to reach our strategic vision: reward companies for being more sustainable, by competing on performance, not on methodology.

This article is part of a series around the Natural Capital Protocol that WBCSD led the development of on behalf of the Natural Capital Coalition, working with many experts. Check out WBCSD’s views on the resources needed to carry out a natural capital assessment and the making of the natural capital protocol.