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Shared Planet: does nature have an economic value?

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Can we put a price on nature? Or indeed, should we? These are the questions posed on BBC Radio 4’s Shared Planet programme last week.

Presenter Monty Don explored the world of environmental economics and ecosystem services.

He introduces the debate by asking if a rational valuation on the natural world might be the most practical way of working out how to protect it, and if assigning ecosystems a monetary value can ensure that they are better conserved.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report defines ecosystem services simply as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems”.

The topical example used in the Radio 4 programme refers to the plight of Britain’s bees. If bees disappeared, Don reasons, then replacing their role and pollenating fruit trees by hand would cost “a huge amount”. Therefore the bees are in a sense providing a very valuable service.

To inform decision-makers, many ecosystem services are being assigned economic values, often calculated by working out the cost of replacing the services with non-natural alternatives.

Supporters of this approach say that including such services in business calculations can prove that nature is worth conserving in cold, financial terms.

A report follows the work of the Coastal Biodiversity Ecosystem Service Sustainability initiative at the Eden estuary in north-east Scotland, where a team is trying to assess the value of the area.

The report reveals that such work can be even more complicated that you might think. The scientists must consider the contributions of even the smallest organisms in the local ecosystem. Even tiny polychaete worms and mud shrimps, we are told, are essential to the biodiversity of the area.

All that biodiversity makes up a complex food chain that is commercially important. But the area provides much more than just that. The mud flats provide a natural buffer that moderates the force of the winds and the waves, protecting our inland environment. Less tangible benefits, such as the enjoyment visitors take from the estuary, also must be considered. Tourists, dog walkers and kayakers all bring money into the local economy.

Don’s guests on the programme cautiously conclude that putting a price on natural services is worth it. Jonathan Aylen, a senior lecturer from Manchester Business School, says that it forces the business community to recognise nature is a scarce resource.

Environmental writer Tony Juniper argues that we have been losing nature precisely because we have not been valuing it. Bill Adams, professor of conservation and development at Cambridge University, says that at least the use of an ecosystem services approach places any value on nature.

Adams questions, however, what happens when we hand nature over to the commodity trader. He is concerned whether using ecosystem services is unpacking a “Pandora’s box”.

Indeed, some are made uneasy by the idea of nature as a service provider. It is argued that economic motivations for conservation must not replace scientific or ethical factors.

Richard Conniff, writer and journalist, says, “It may be, as some argue, that we have no better way to save the world. But the danger in the process is that we may lose our souls.”

Don concludes that it does seem to be worth putting a price on nature, if only to make people think about its value.

Further reading:

Consequences of ecosystem changes missing from economic forecasts

Government unveils strategy to end UK bee decline

State of Nature report reveals alarming UK wildlife loss

Loss of £200bn pollinating services will be harmful, scientists warn

Why we can’t afford to lose ecosystem services

Environment

4 Common Items That Can be Reused Again and Again

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reuse reduce recycle plastic bottles etc
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Vanatchanan | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/vanatchanan%20buahom

As a society we are getting much better at taking our obligations to the world and environment around us more seriously. This is undoubtedly a good thing! The effects of climate change are beginning to manifest across the world, and this is turning the issue from an abstract threat into a very real danger. Trying to introduce some greener, more eco-friendly practices into your life isn’t just a great way of doing something beneficial for society and the world around you. It is a wonderful way of engaging positively with the world and carries with it numerous psychological benefits.

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Being a greener, more ecologically friendly person doesn’t require any dramatic life changes. Breaking or making a few small habits is all it takes to make your life a greener one. In this article we look at one of the easiest, yet most effective green practices to get into: reusing everyday items.

Jars and Containers

Glass and metal are widely recycled, and recycling is a good thing! However, consider whether any containers you buy, whether it’s a tub of ice cream or a jar of coffee, can be washed out and reused for something else. Mason jars, for example, can be used to store homemade pasta sauce and can be washed for future use. Once you start thinking about it, you will find endless opportunities to reuse your old containers.

Soda Bottles

An ice-cold soda is a wonderful treat on a hot day, but buying soda can get expensive, and the manufacturing and distribution of the drinks themselves isn’t great for the environment. However, by holding on to your old soda bottles and repurposing them as water bottles, you can save money on drinks, or use them to measure out water for your garden.

Plastic Bags

Most of the time groceries come in paper bags, which are better for the environment than the plastic alternatives, but they are less durable and thus harder to reuse. Whenever the store places your items in a plastic bag, hang onto it so you can reuse the bags again. If you want to take it one step further, consider looking into buying some personalized recycled bags. These bags are designed to last for a long time and are made of recycled materials. They look striking and unique, they’ll turn heads, and maybe even attitudes!

Seeds

If you’re a keen gardener, then you will already probably know how to reseed your plants in order to ensure a fresh crop after each plant’s lifecycle. If you have space in your garden, or haven’t yet tried your hand at gardening, then consider planting a small vegetable plot. Growing your own veggies means that you’ll be helping to cut back on the emissions generated by their transport and production. The best part about growing your own food in this way is that, by harvesting properly and saving the seeds, you can be set up with fresh vegetables for life!

Reusing and recycling common household items is an easy way to make your world a little bit greener. Once you start looking for these opportunities you’ll realize that they’re everywhere!

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Environment

These 5 Green Office Mistakes Are Costing You Money

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eco-friendly green offices
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Stokkete | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/cyano

The sudden interest in green business is very encouraging. According to recent reports, 42% of all companies have rated sustainability as an important element of their business. Unfortunately, the focus on sustainability will only last if companies can find ways to use it to boost their ROI.

Many businesses get so caught up in being socially conscious that they hope the financial aspect of it takes care of itself. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to go green and boost your net income at the same time.

Here are some important mistakes that you will want to avoid.

Only implementing sustainability on micro-scale

The biggest reason that brands are going green is to improve their optics with their customers. Too many businesses are making very minor changes, such as processing paperwork online and calling themselves green.

Customers have become wary of these types of companies. If you want to earn their business, you are going to need to go all the way. Bring in a green business consultant and make every feasible change to demonstrate that you are a green organization from top to bottom.

Not prioritizing investments by long-term ROI

It isn’t realistic to build an entirely green organization overnight. You will need to allocate your capital wisely.

Before investing in any green assets or services, you should always conduct a long-term cost benefit analysis. The initial investment for some green services may be over $20,000. If they don’t shave your cost by at least $3,000 a year, they probably aren’t worth the investment.

Determine which green investments will have the best pay off over the next 10 years. Make these investments before anything else. Then compare your options within each of those categories.

Implementing green changes without a plan

Effective, long-term planning is the key to business success. This principle needs to be applied to green organizations as well.

Before implementing a green strategy, you must answer the following questions:

  • How will I communicate my green business philosophy to my customers?
  • How will running a green business affect my revenue stream?
  • How will adopting green business strategies change my monthly expenses? Will they increase or decrease them?
  • How will my company finance green upgrades and other investments?

The biggest mistake that too many green businesses make is being overly optimistic with these forecasts. Take the time to collect objective data and make your decisions accordingly. This will help you run a much more profitable green business.

Not considering the benefits of green printing

Too many companies believe that going paperless is the only way to run a green organization. Unfortunately, going 100% paperless it’s not feasible for most companies.

Rather than aim for an unrealistic goal, consider the option of using a more environmentally friendly printer. It won’t be perfect, but it will be better than the alternative.

According to experts from Doranix, environmental printers have several benefits:

  • They can process paper that has been completely recycled.
  • They consume less energy than traditional printers.
  • They use ink that is more environmentally friendly.

You want to take a look at different green printers and compare them. You’ll find that some will meet your needs as a green business.

Poorly communicating your green business strategy to customers

Brand positioning doesn’t happen on its own. If you want to run a successful green business, you must communicate your message to customers as clearly as possible. You must also avoid the appearance that you are patronizing them.

The best approach is to be clear when you were first making the change. I’ll make an announcement about your company‘s commitment to sustainability.

You also want to reinforce this message overtime by using green labels on all of your products. You don’t have to be blatant with your messaging at this stage. Simply provide a small, daily reminder on your products and invoices.

Finally, it is a good idea to participate in green business seminars and other events. If your community has a local Green Chamber of Commerce, you should consider joining as well.

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