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What value human and natural capital?

What are my hopes for the business world in 2014?

In 2014, I would like to see the private sector commit to three goals: Embracing carbon-neutral policies, which will require decisions and investments that focus on efficiency and low-carbon and renewable energy, as well as investments in carbon sequestration activities, such as forest carbon projects.

Expanding thinking about what it means to truly value the people that businesses touch, from customers to employees to supply chain partners. This will require a range of actions, including strengthening policies for human rights and labor issues and creating clear, aspirational environmental policies around worker and community well-being, such as a transition away from the use of toxic chemicals.

Becoming biodiversity and ecosystem services neutral, or even positive, which will require businesses to galvanize the innovation power within their companies and networks to ensure that they avoid, mitigate, and offset impacts on the ecological systems upon which we all rely.

All three goals are essential to business, human, and environmental sustainability, but the last goal is worth considering in more detail because it is seldom considered at all.

This relative lack of attention to natural capital—including biodiversity and the flow of ecosystem services—is odd given that we all breathe oxygen (from plants), eat food (grown in soil), and drink freshwater (which is cycled through natural hydrological systems, not just wastewater treatment plants). Our reliance on natural systems is so fundamental that it is invisible. We assume that it will always be there for us.

To ensure that natural systems will continue to function in the ways that we have come to expect, the corporate pathway toward biodiversity and ecosystem services neutral goals should include:

Funding sustainability-focused R&D and investment business units that focus on innovation and even the creative destruction of existing products and processes that have adverse impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services—while still supporting competitiveness of the company.

Committing to sustainable materials, design, and products that eliminate the use of toxic, persistent, and bio-accumulative chemicals and materials.

Establishing sustainable sourcing goals that intertwine social and environmental considerations, such as products that are both Fair Trade and sustainably harvested. Exploring offsets, such as forest carbon projects that meet both the Verified Carbon Standard and the Climate, Community, and Biodiversity Alliance.

Wouldn't it be great if, at the end of 2014, we could congratulate ourselves on leapfrog actions that have put us on a new (regenerative) path? What if? And why not?

As my son says to me, without any awareness of Nike, "Do it, Mom. Just do it."

Sissel Waage is director, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services for the San Francisco-based organization Business for Social Responsibility. She holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy and Management from the University of California, Berkeley; an M.S. in Forestry from the University of California, Berkeley; and a B.A. in Political Science from Amherst College. In addition, Sissel has studied at the University of Oslo's Institute of Human Rights as a Fulbright Scholar.

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