All businesses both depend on and impact on natural resources and services. As legislation and investment mandates change and environmental expectations on businesses increase, you may need to actively manage your interactions with environmental systems (ecosystems) and the services they provide.
How to assess your dependence on ecosystem services
Your environmental processes may already account for ecosystem services - eg as part of an environmental management system (EMS). Quickly analysing how effective those processes are in capturing ecosystem-related risks and opportunities is a good starting point. It could also highlight gaps in existing processes and expertise and help you decide on next steps.
An ecosystem services review (ESR) provides a structured way to assess your business' dependence on ecosystems, if existing processes don't do so. An ESR is a framework for assessing the impacts and reliance of your business on ecosystem services and identifying associated opportunities and risks and actions needed to account for them in decision-making. It consists of five steps:
- selecting the scope of your assessment
- identifying priority ecosystem services
- analysing trends in priority services
- identifying business risks and opportunities
- developing strategies
Assign a value on business costs and benefits
A qualitative valuation of ecosystem-related risks and opportunities that are more important to your business might be enough to inform your business decisions if:
- interaction between your business activities and ecosystem health is not significant
- risks and opportunities that your business' dependence on ecosystems creates are low
If this isn't the case, you may need a quantitative valuation. This can link costs and benefits of ecosystem services more directly to your bottom line and make it easier to compare the outcomes of alternative business scenarios.
You can also find out about valuing ecosystems on the GOV.UK website.
Act on your findings
Once you have identified the key issues for your business and changes that might be needed, you should decide how to implement those actions or business improvements.
Consider whether you will act as an individual business or take a more co-ordinated approach to address certain environmental challenges. For example, you could reduce the pressure your business puts on water supplies on your own but you may need to work with other businesses to address challenges such as deforestation caused by rising demand for agricultural land. Co-ordinated action might also provide the most cost-effective way to implement the changes.
The steps you should follow in order to incorporate new actions into your business plan and monitor your business performance are very similar to putting an EMS into practice. You can read about how to use internal and external communication, training, indicators, and other approaches in our guide on how to operate your environmental management system (EMS).