GRI Proposes Metrics for Firms’ Ecosystem Benefits

by | Oct 5, 2011

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The Global Reporting Initiative has proposed a new approach for organizations to examine ecosystems as “service providers.”

Approach for Reporting on Ecosystem Services, released today by the GRI, the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and consultancy CREM, looks at emerging thinking around ecosystem services – the benefits that people and companies derive from ecosystems.

The GRI says that many organizations already monitor their pressures on ecosystems by, for example, measuring their emissions and effluents. But this does not take into account all the benefits derived from ecosystems, the paper argues.

It outlines the ways that companies can monitor both their impacts and dependencies on ecosystem services, such as freshwater and pollination, and report their relationship with ecosystem services.

The publication suggests indicators that organizations could use to assess and report their impacts on ecosystem services, including

  • Nature and amount of natural resources harvested, produced, traded and/or consumed (e.g., crops, fish, timber, fiber) by the organization in relation to safe ecological limits
  • Volume of water consumed by the organization by source related to total water availability in areas of operation, including identification of water sources significantly affected by withdrawal of water
  • Economic cost to the organization due to climate related disasters (e.g., flooding, crop failure)
  • Volume of inputs from sources complying with internationally recognized responsible production standards

Monica Barcellos, one of the authors and head of business, biodiversity and ecosystem services at UNEP-WCMC, said there is not yet any global agreement on the best way to report impacts on ecosystem services. She said the ideas in the paper provides a basis for possible future reporting indicators and guidance.

Companies can submit feedback on ecosystem services reporting to the ongoing public comment for the GRI’s next generation of sustainable reporting guidelines, called G4. GRI is currently asking the public to suggest topics that could be included in the guidelines. The comment period ends November 24.

Last May Puma announced the results of what it called the world’s first Environmental Profit & Loss Account. Chairman and CEO Jochen Zeitz said the EP&L was a shift in how companies can account for the true costs of their reliance on ecosystem services.

A UNEP report earlier this year, An Ecosystem Services Approach to Water and Food Security, says an urgent rethink is needed on strategies for intensifying agriculture, given that food production already accounts for 70 to 90 percent of withdrawals from available water resources in some areas.

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