Last reviewed 9 April 2013

Realising Nature’s Value is the final report from the Ecosystems Markets Task Force. It sums up a wide range of business opportunities that the Task Force says can deliver substantial benefits for nature and business. John Barwise provides an overview.

The Task Force was set up as part of the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper — The Natural Choice — released in 2011, the first on the natural environment for over 20 years. The primary aim of the White Paper is to place a value system on nature’s assets and to establish mechanisms that will restore natural systems and capacities, while enhancing economic growth and securing personal well-being. Against a backdrop of a degrading natural environment and continuing loss of biodiversity, the 2011 White Paper is as challenging as it is ambitious.

The Government believes there is scope for businesses to reduce their impact on “nature’s capital” by improving their environmental performance, particularly in areas such as waste management, energy and water use, and the consumption of other natural materials that cause environmental damage. The White Paper also presents the case that investing in nature and greening the economy is good for businesses and stimulates growth.

Task Force members are primarily business leaders from industry and commerce and the team is chaired by Ian Cheshire, Group Chief Executive, Kingfisher plc. Their remit was to look at the opportunities for UK business to trade in green products and services, to promote markets that value and protect nature’s services, and to explore options for economic growth that also benefit the environment.

The final report acknowledges that businesses are often unaware of their reliance on nature and says that the current linear model of “take, make, discard” is no longer viable because it “degrades the essential services nature provides”.

The report goes on to show that “green businesses” have remained resilient despite the economic downturn and suggests that green business models help to build better customer relations, strengthen reputations and improve risk management.

New business model, new economy

The Task Force says businesses need to be aware of how much they depend on natural ecosystems for energy, food, water and other resources. The report recommends a “new model for business”, where the wealth of “free” resources and services that nature provides are no longer taken for granted, and argues that investment in nature’s assets is as vital as investment in infrastructure and innovation.

According to the Task Force, a new economy that fully integrates the real value of nature is a real possibility. It calls on businesses to develop new models based on the circular economy or “closed loop” system, whereby redundant or discarded materials are repaired or reused in other production processes. New standards to reinforce these changes should be promoted and backed up by government and regulatory support to help accelerate this trend.

The report goes on to suggest that understanding how businesses interact with nature also presents further business opportunities. A “knowledge economy” will open up export markets to UK-based consultancies, technical standards, legal services and training, which the Task Force says the UK is well-placed to deliver.

Business opportunities

The final report identifies 22 business opportunities that can provide substantial benefits for both nature and business, grouped under four broad themes.

  1. Carbon and markets for nature.

  2. The food cycle.

  3. The water cycle.

  4. Natural capital.

Each theme has been expanded to include a number of measures and recommendations that can deliver benefits. For example, recommendations under “Carbon and markets for nature” include:

  • biodiversity offsetting: securing net gain for nature through planning and development

  • sustainable local wood fuel: active sustainable management supporting local economies

  • carbon reduction through investing in nature

  • environmental bonds.

In defining its key areas for action and subsequent recommendations, the Task Group reviewed evidence from a wide range of sources, including the newly formed Natural Capital Committee (NCC) and The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), both of which are referenced in The Natural Choice.

The Task Group has also set out a list of five priorities with recommendations for action.

  1. Biodiversity offsetting: securing net gain for nature through planning and development (Carbon and markets for nature).

  2. Bio-energy and anaerobic digestion on farms: closing the loop using farm waste to generate energy (Food cycle).

  3. Sustainable local wood fuel: active sustainable management supporting local economies (Carbon and markets for nature).

  4. Nature-based certification and labelling: connecting consumers with nature (Food cycle).

  5. Water cycle catchment management: integrating nature into water, waste water and flood management (Water cycle).

Each priority includes a number of recommendations. Under the biodiversity offsetting priority, for example, the Task Force calls on the Government to “signal its intention to mandate a national system of biodiversity offsetting across England, in which planning authorities are required to use offsetting to deliver a net gain for nature from all new developments”.

The report also recommends the Government includes peatland restoration in its Greenhouse Gas Accounting Guidelines and calls on businesses to “explore the growing opportunities for innovative, nature-based carbon abatement, in particular around woodland and peatland as innovative ways of adding value to their CSR and carbon-reducing commitments”. The benefits, according to the report, go beyond carbon offsetting to include better flood protection and recreational opportunities.

Case studies

The report includes business case studies that illustrate how these recommendations work in practice. Jaguar Land Rover, for example, is developing a new metal alloy and a closed loop recycling process that increases the use of recycled aluminium. The new alloy tolerates higher levels of impurities from previously disregarded aluminium scrap castings, which reduces the amount of aluminium sent to landfill. The business case studies include projects such as United Utilities’ sustainable Catchment Management Programme (SCaMP), which protects important wildlife sites, and the Co-operative Bank’s “Plan Bee” campaign to protect pollinators such as bees, butterflies and moths — the Government’s White Paper points out that natural pollinators save the UK £1.5 billion a year.

To the future

The final report has now been published and the Government is expected to respond to its recommendations later this year. In the meantime, the Task Force is expected to continue its work with business leaders and representative organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry and to reconvene in 2014 to discuss the Government’s response and possible ways forward.