Getting to grips with natural capital
ICAS Sustainability Committee member Jenny Chu CA explains how her attendance at a natural capital event last year has deepened her interest in the subject.
On 29th October 2014, I attended my first natural capital conference along with several fellow ICAS Sustainability Committee members. Hosted by the University of Edinburgh Business School, the event, "Natural Capital: Getting from A to B", was organised by the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital (SFNC), of which ICAS is a founding member. This year's theme builds on the introduction to natural capital in last year's inaugural World Forum and focuses on progress in accounting for natural capital over the past year.
As I scanned down the list of name badges for my own at the registration desk, I naturally glanced through the other names to see if I might bump into a familiar face. This being my first natural capital event though, I didn't recognise many people. What I did notice, however (and was pleasantly surprised by) was that there were representatives from organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors. Events like this are valuable for providing a forum for cross-sector discussion on topics like how the value of natural assets like clean air, clean water, forests and other natural assets is or can be factored into business decision-making and national accounting – and it's highly encouraging to see such great participation.
As the line-up of speakers and copies of their presentations are available on the SFNC website, I won't go into detail about what was discussed in each presentation. My overall impression though was that the presentations were both interesting and informative. Coming from a CA background, I was particularly engaged by the discussion around natural capital valuation and its application in business. In his presentation, Dr Richard Mattison, CEO of Trucost, outlined how natural capital accounting might be embedded into the communications, risks and operating strategies of a business and this, I felt, was particularly relevant for the profession. It was also useful to hear examples of natural capital analyses used in organisations such as Unilever, LVMH and NovoNordisk.
As well as this, one of my main takeaways from the event was the introduction to the Natural Capital Protocol drawn up by the Natural Capital Coalition. Specifically, the "Taking Stock" article provides a useful summary of the existing initiatives and applications for valuing natural capital. I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in natural capital accounting and valuation – particularly if you are, like me, new to natural capital.
Over the "marketplace" session and the networking drinks after, the event also offered an opportunity to network with like-minded people and to discuss the work of three Scottish Forum Project Groups. The results of the Scottish Natural Capital Survey 2014, carried out in partnership with IoD Scotland and ICAS, were also made available at the event and can be read here.
Overall, I am very positive about my first natural capital conference and will be signing up to next year's World Forum event. Even without much technical knowledge in the sustainability field, the event was welcoming rather than daunting and I would urge anyone with an interest in sustainability/sustainable business to consider an afternoon at one of these conferences.