World Resources Institute WRI

Nature in performance: integrating ecosystem services into business performance systems

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In 2008, the World Resources Institute (WRI), in collaboration with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the Meridian Institute, published the Corporate Ecosystem Services Review (ESR). The ESR is a structured method that helps managers develop strategies to address business risks and capture opportunities arising from their company’s dependence and impact on ecosystems.

Over the course of the past few years, a number of business managers have inquired about how to integrate the ESR or, more fundamentally, considerations of ecosystem services into their existing business performance systems. Business performance systems are the range of tools, methods, techniques, approaches, and practices used by managers to guide, measure, monitor, and improve corporate performance. Examples include corporate strategy development procedures, product design guidelines, environmental management systems, environmental impact assessments, environmental and social impact assessments, environmental audits, and sustainability reporting.

Most companies already have their own established business performance systems. The question managers are now asking is “How can considerations about ecosystem services and their impacts on the bottom line be integrated into our existing systems?” This publication tackles this and a series of related questions. Key messages include:

  • Ecosystems provide businesses—as well as people and communities—with a wide range of benefits known as ecosystem services. Ecosystem services matter to companies because they are intimately linked in two fundamental ways. First, businesses depend upon ecosystems and the services ecosystems provide. Second, businesses impact ecosystems and the services ecosystems provide. These two linkages can pose a number of operational, regulatory/legal, reputational, market, or financing risks and opportunities to a company.
  • Basic principles that guide how to integrate ecosystem service considerations into business performance systems, regardless of the system, include: (1) consider all ecosystem services; (2) assess dependence; (3) identify opportunities; (4) look beyond the company boundaries; (5) engage stakeholders and experts; and (6) manage with incomplete data.
  • Ecosystem service considerations are relevant to a variety of business performance systems, including corporate strategy development processes, product design guidelines and life-cycle assessments, environmental and social impact assessments, environmental management systems, corporate sustainability reporting, and investment screening processes.
  • The ISO 14001 guidance on environmental management systems contains at least four components into which ecosystem service considerations could be readily inserted: (1) environmental policy, (2) aspects review, (3) objectives and targets, and (4) management review.
  • The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) reporting framework contains at least four guidance components into which ecosystem service considerations could be readily inserted: (1) materiality, (2) sustainability context, (3) organizational profile and strategy, and (4) performance indicators.
  • For further guidance and reference, a number of scientific assessments, business tools, and working groups exist and can help business managers integrate ecosystem services into their business performance systems.

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