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Dow Chemical to put a price tag on nature's sustainability

By Matt Marusiak, Tainted Green

1264 days ago   Article ID# 871880
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The Nature Conservancy

NEW YORK, NEW YORK (Tainted Green) - The natural world is ignored by accountants, and its services don’t appear on a balance sheet. But natural systems provide important functions that help businesses thrive, and their loss would not only affect the sustainability of the natural world, but also the sustainability of the businesses that depend on these natural systems. To address this issue, the Dow Chemical Company and the Nature Conservancy are working together to put a dollar value on the services provided by nature. But is this a green undertaking or a greenwash?

Natural systems supply important functions – such as stormwater control, flood protection, ground water recharge, and water filtration – that, once gone, are very are costly to replace. Nature also provides a readily available laboratory to find new medicines and innovative products. But these benefits of nature are seldom recognized until they are gone.

In order to account for the benefit of natural systems, Dow Chemical is working with the Nature Conservancy to develop methods and tools to assess the value nature provides. Ideally, these tools will help drive business decisions to protect these natural systems and the natural world as a whole. Dow has committed $10 million for the five-year study.

Although the effort sounds great, chemical companies and other industries should not surprised at skepticism at such an endeavor. Too many companies are driven by quarter-to-quarter thinking, and are unable to focus on long term effects. Additionally, perhaps the research would allow a company to pollute in “smarter” ways. For example, if a natural system is not providing valuable services to the economy, its destruction could then be justified. And industry has a long history of externalizing its costs to society. Would simply having a better understanding of the cost really result in different behavior?

And it goes without saying that nature has a value beyond the services it provides. How can you value what is irreplaceable? A net present value calculation may simplify decisions too easily.

On the other hand, the reality of our economic and political system is to value only that which can be assigned a dollar amount. Putting a price tag on the services provided by natural systems is essential in order to protect them. The collaboration between Dow Chemical and the Nature Conservancy may be a first step in developing an economics that truly accounts for the value of the environment.

Copyright 2014 Tainted Green   (Copyright Terms)
Updated 1264 days ago   Article ID# 871880

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