AHC Group

The millennium ecosystem assessment and corporate strategy

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Over the past several years, the author has worked on the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Steve's article brilliantly points out that ecosystem degradation presents threats to businesses through high costs, supply disruption, government restraint and stakeholder demands, and, simultaneously, opportunities to businesses through new technologies and business models.

Over the past several years I have had the great pleasure and responsibility of participating in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). (See www.maweb.org/). This assessment focused on the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being, involved 1,360 scientists from 95 countries, was peer reviewed by an additional 600 experts, and was sponsored by a number if international agencies, NGOs, and corporations. In the latter stages of the work, I led, along with Jane Lubchenco, the Distinguished Professor of Zoology at Oregon State University, a team of scientists and business practitioners in the production of a report that tried to capture the implications for business of the many findings of the overall assessment. That report, entitled Ecosystems and Human Well-Being, Opportunities and Challenges for Business and Industry (which I will call the MA Business and Industry Report) can be found at the aforementioned website.

It is not my intention to re-present this report, as it is readily available through the MA website. I will recant only the highest-level messages as a springboard for discussing corporate strategy in a fast changing physical and social environment. Nevertheless, it is my view that the findings of the MA will begin to have the same type of impact on the corporate operating environment as had the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. (Indeed, climate change is intimate to the story of ecosystem change). In fact, my discussion of corporate strategy in relation to the MA findings draws on the learning and experience I gained from involvement with BP's climate change journey during its early days.


The MA has found that ecosystems have changed more rapidly during the last 50 years than at any time in human history. Many of these changes have in fact helped improve human well-being by providing more food and fiber, etc. However, many of the services provided by ecosystems that help support these provisioning services are in steep decline and this ultimately threatens the ability of ecosystems to provide for the needs of people directly. On a global basis, 15 of 24 key ecosystem services are in decline, and many of these services are relied upon by business.

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