Of the top 10 risks identified by the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Risks Perception Survey, four are environmental: water crises, failure of climate change adaptation and mitigation, more extreme weather events and food crises.
As a conservationist, I might be depressed by this list. Instead, I am delighted.
If WEF members – which WEF says “comprise 1,000 of the world’s top corporations, global enterprises usually with more than US$5 billion in turnover” – are listing these among their most significant concerns, we might finally be at a tipping point. We might finally realize that the real costs will come if we fail to protect nature, not the other way around.
Some companies have known this for years. They have assessed the risk of failing secure their natural capital and taken action, such as joining the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Such voluntary standards have allowed leading companies to distinguish themselves, and they have created real social and environmental benefits where they operate. Now FSC members – companies as well as organizations like WWF – need to work as a collective to create change at scale.
And that means generating significant new investment in forest management by changing the way forests are valued in the marketplace.
I am at the FSC General Assembly today speaking on a panel about the capital needs for responsible forest management, and how that money can be mobilized. If current market signals mean forests are worth more as timber or converted to oil palm plantations, our task is to show tangible benefits from responsible forest management and the value of ecosystem services that forests provide.
This is why I am delighted by WEF’s risk survey. If we know business leaders are concerned about water, climate change and food security – not from a philanthropic perspective, but from one of bottom-line business risk – then responsible forestry should be attractive to companies and financiers alike. Well-managed forests help mitigate all of these risks: They secure soil and help prevent flooding and siltation of waterways; they protect groundwater; they sequester carbon and regulate climate.
Despite my optimism, I am not naive. I know it can be hard for profit-driven companies and investors to make the leap from a good idea to implementing a new business model. FSC and WWF still have work to do when it comes to demonstrating the business case to industry for adopting good practices. While the costs of certification are direct and immediate, the benefits accrue over time.
Anecdotally, FSC-certified companies report increased production efficiency, employees expressing greater satisfaction and increased capacity to cope with changing regulations. These benefits don’t show up on the books, but when combined with mitigation of bigger global threats, surely they justify the investment in better production practices.
I am looking forward to the discussion, and to an evolution in the approach to responsible forest management – seeking change in both individual companies and the system itself. As society recognises the true value of forests, the case for FSC becomes even more compelling as a way to reduce risk and safeguard the natural capital that drives our economy.
Janos Pasztor is Acting Executive Director for Conservation at WWF International.