We know that corporate responsibility is ethically correct, but is the jury still out on CSR as the correct business move?
In his new book, Nature’s Fortune, Mark R. Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, makes a strong and impassioned case that business and environmental interests can and must align for everyone’s long-term benefit. And that includes the planet. New win-win alignments may be closer to reality than many might realize.
Tercek wrote the book, published by Basic Books, with the science writer and conservation biologist Jonathan Adams. His premise is that business and society can thrive by investing in nature through new alliances that “will enable us to conserve nature on a scale never before achieved.”
A new valuation of nature is needed, which Tercek calls natural capital or placing a value on nature as an asset. This is not a Pollyanna thought: He brings a plateful of credibility to that idea, because prior to joining TNC in 2008, he was a managing director and partner at Goldman Sachs. At Goldman he was named by then-CEO Henry M. Paulson to build and lead the firm’s first environmental efforts, not necessarily in the name of CSR, but from a “pure business standpoint.”
“Conservation and business need a more sophisticated and nuanced calculation, one based on sound finance principles and a deeper appreciation for how nature contributes to economic and ecological well-being,” Tercek writes. “When conventional economics leaves natural capital out of the equation, both ecosystems and the economies built upon them are imperiled.”
A new valuation of nature, he continues, is one that integrates “conservation values and human development, science and economics.” It means “seeing things whole; if we want a successful business, a livable city, a green, diverse, and vibrant planet, we have to take nature into account and recognize the real value of the services nature provides.”
Businesses, governments and individuals must form a “three-legged stool” to save the world from environmental degradation. Those three actors “need to understand that nature is not only wonderful, it is also economically valuable.”
This will require major evolutions in the mindsets of environmentalists and businesses to get past long-held and carefully nurtured suspicions of each other, along with notions that “consorting with the enemy” is an inherently dangerous path. Is it really possible to apply Wall Street thinking to conservation? Can environmentalists really work with Coca-Cola and Dow Chemical to save nature?
Tercek says yes. He is optimistic that “seizing the opportunity to work with companies as they pursue environmental strategies to strengthen their business provides the chance to create significant conservation gains.”
It means that “unlikely alliances” will have to emerge with business, investors and governments joining farmers, ranchers, students and urbanites in the pursuit of strategies based on the understanding that everyone depends on nature.
It also means, as Tercek says, that saving nature means saving wild species and wild spaces, of course, but it also means saving ourselves.
[Image: Nature’s Fortune cover from The Nature Conservancy website]