Investment in natural capital is an investment in ...
In this age of rapidly accelerating climate change and its subsequent devastating effects on ecosystems and communities, it’s more critical than ever to protect, preserve and nurture our biosphere – not just for its sake, but for ours.
From cultural shifts in the latter part of the last century which flowed into the 21st, corporations are expected to be “responsible corporate citizens”, having a positive impact on the communities in which they operate. Standard Bank achieves this through key sustainability areas: reducing our carbon footprint; understanding our water and waste impact; supporting economic transformation; encouraging inclusive growth in our Africa regions; and promoting enterprise development.
Now, through the establishment and upkeep of the Mogale’s Gate Biodiversity Centre (MGBC) – a non-commercial nature reserve near South Africa’s Magaliesburg – we are doing that much more for our communities by understanding the economic value of “natural capital”.
Though relatively new, the concept of natural capital coincides with and envelopes the concerns of the global shift towards “greener business” practices. Defined as “indispensable resources and services that are essential to human survival,” it is provided by the world’s ecosystems. For example, society derives real economic value from gold mining, and from the plant life that “cleans” carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Yet, despite the international push for eco-friendly practices, current business methods are eating away at our natural capital stocks. This has environmental implications, but also economic and humanitarian ones; if societies continue to grow unchecked, ecosystem services will be damaged and unable to function effectively, resource market prices will increase due to depletion and, consequently, the quality of human life will drop. Investment in biodiversity centres aim to mitigate, if not resolve, these issues.
From a strictly “bottom line” point of view, our interest in the MGBC doesn’t make sense, but profit is not the point. The true value of Mogale’s Gate extends beyond the centre itself and to the range of ecosystem goods and services it provides to the nation: waste water dilution, stream flow regulation and carbon sequestration. In 2015, a study was conducted to determine the true “natural capital value” of the MGBC. The value of wildlife and stored carbon was found to be USD3 million, while the value provided by water flows, climate regulation and grazing is USD1.65 million. Taking into account all the natural capital flows and management costs, the centre’s worth to society is estimated between USD15.5 million and USD41 million.
In more tangible, real-time examples, the MGBC provides educational outings for schoolchildren, team-building exercises for our staff, and wildlife research opportunities for South African universities. The centre has also discovered, and is preserving, 286 plant species with known medicinal or spiritual value.
In a world fast realising the consequences of unchecked resource exploitation, true long-term economic, environmental and humanitarian value will be found in respecting and repairing our ecosystems. For large corporations who often hold the health of these ecosystems in their hands, their interests will go beyond financial profit to environmental preservation to keep us all moving forward.