There’s an old saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” For decades, industry leaders – the Coca-Cola’s, Dow Chemical’s and Apple’s of the world – poured everything they had into becoming the ones that couldn’t be beat, to emerge as the leaders the competition did their best to emulate.
Now however, these companies, as well as many others, have realized that their biggest competition may not be of the industrial variety, but of the natural variety. That is, they are up against all forms of environmentally-driven “consequences” of their climbs to the top – from the depletion of natural resources their companies depend on for their existence, to push-back from environmental advocates, government penalties, loss of customers and angry shareholders.
Fortunately, many companies these days are enlightened enough to be joining in the cause and working with nature to create win-win situations for their business and the environment alike. They are investing in natural capital (assets including geology, soil, air, water and living organisms), and capitalizing on the results! There are some great examples explored in this GreenBiz article, which demonstrate how natural capital investments can offer simpler, more cost-effective solutions than many of the more technological alternatives. These include:
- Coca-Cola: More than 380 water-replenishment projects are in operation at facilities worldwide.
- Dow: Creating a wetland-based water filtration system with a $1 million price tag that has resulted in $282 million in net present value savings.
- Apple: Investment in forestland regrowth is significantly addressing issues of product packaging on the environment and has the company on course to a zero net impact operation.
Again, I borrow from Sissel Wage, author of the article, to describe this line of thinking and action as future-proofing. Companies are investing in natural capital… they are leveraging the power of natural systems as well as supporting the health of these systems to drive their growth in environmentally responsible ways. In doing so, these “investors” are helping to ensure the existence of natural resources for even more growth.
Water is an industry that takes a “long view.” The pipes that are being put into the ground today will be expected to be in service 100 years from now. A water treatment plant built today will be expected to be in service for 50 or more years. It takes decades of planning to ensure the availability of the water resources that we enjoy today. There are few other industries that are as dependent upon natural capital as your water utility! Therefore the impacts of climate change, land use patterns, population growth, and emerging contaminants must be examined.
This is not to say that the other types of corporate conservation efforts and investments we’ve looked at before – those that look at reinforcing and rebuilding infrastructure, innovating less wasteful technologies, improving company-wide practices and the like – are no long necessary. On the contrary, everything and everyone has its role to play… joining together and working hand-in-hand to replenish natural resources and advance sustainability.