Zero Waste: Is Natural Capital Capital?

In a previous post titled The Headwinds of Sustainable Accounting I suggested that there may be forces inside your capital group that may be at odds with your sustainability goals. Traditional capital allocation often excludes natural, social and intellectual capital and certainly doesn’t understand zero waste. And that I believe is something that can be forgiven. But with great risk that companies continue to embrace what is currently considered the norm.

Your sustainability goals are real and you understand the importance of adding your company to the conversation. You also may have been told that this will cost money, capital that could be reinvested in equipment, expansion or employees. Who takes money that could be destined for profits and turns them into a gamble on your present P&L in favor od future savings as yet unrealized or acknowledged? Who will explain to your shareholders/stakeholders/investors/partners that this is the right thing to do – from a financial aspect?

Over the next several posts on this topic, I will break down these headwinds beginning with natural capital and the difficulty in framing the argument.

The Linguistic Challenge of Sustainability

Professor of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies, University of Johannesburg; Research Associate, Stellenbosch University; Professor of Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University and  Associate Professor, Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University suggest that the capitalization of nature is not the right way to save it. And while I tend to be on the side of translating the concepts of sustainability, if only to help economists, policy-makers and CEOs understand why this is so important, I get it.

Nature is priceless. Can it also grow profits?

I also agree with them when they suggest these assumptions are fallacies: “Nature can become capital and provide services, and this could be the basis for a sustainable economy.” They argue and with great effect that capital is simply a self-absorbed beast, focused only on growing itself and at the cost of anything in its path. This self-replication via investment is based on extraction of new capital based on the investment of existing capital. In this scenario, a dollar in had better come out as a dollar with interest on the other side of any investment decision. The challenge is not changing the system, it is embracing the current system and teaching others how to bend it.

Nature by Its Nature is Bend-able

Throughout history, man has bent nature to his will, the only creature on the planet to have done so with the sole purpose of making the world more inhabitable. This activity is often not for the betterment of nature. And yet, after tens of thousands of years, our nature is still in motion, a self-replicating and self-absorbed beast of its own. While damaged, it still exists.

Three things should be noted at this point:

  1. Using nature for profit and then offering to do for-profit biodiverse conservation is neither profitable or conservation. Attempting to extract resources for profit is often a partnership with governments and business that is, as Büscher and Fletcher suggest, a fallacy. The belief that remediation is possible once the damage has been portrayed as not only possible, but in some respects, profitable. Unfortunately, too many contradictions exist to make the argument tenable.
  2. Nature has an uncanny ability to absorb many of the destructive tendencies we have exhibited over those thousands of years however we are at a crossroads. Unfortunately, the last hundred years have been more destructive than the previous 70,000 years. The cause for alarm is well founded (and well researched) and should be considered as a the sole reason to regard nature as much more fragile than capitalism suggests.
  3. Natural capital should not be considered an exploitation – although the world is full of instances whereby capital (to find oil, harvest trees, burn coal, etc.) and in recent history, supported by government agencies via policy accommodation, it remains up to companies to right the wrong they have caused or are considering causing. And that may not be the best solution.

While nature might be bend-able, it is believed – and I agree – it is also breakable. And this is why we have entrenched views of whether natural capital is an unnatural solution to the problems we currently face. Yes, nature is priceless.

Blending Your Capitalistic Tendencies with Sustainability

I am not going to suggest that every study Zero Waste Consultants will do for your company will be adopted. We share a view of integrated biodiversity that blends your goals with those of your business. We will look at every aspect of your business and incorporate a plan that encompasses what is available in your neighborhood, what may have been overlooked and what other business shares your same issues.

Zero Waste Consultants offers what might be called sustainable arbitration. WE find solutions for all the partners, keep your company on a profitable course and allow you to continue to do the right thing for all of your investors. Does this sound like something we can help you achieve? Contact us.

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