We depend on natural capital and biodiversity for much of our lives and livelihoods. We as humans have historically done a poor job of putting a value, much less a price, on the “ecosystem services”—such as clean water, air, timber, fisheries, and pollination—that are the foundation for human life on earth. Investors, companies, policymakers, and civil society are beginning to realize the need to better value and manage these resources as we see the negative impacts natural capital issues, such as climate change, water scarcity, and ocean health, can have on our lives and our investments.
The purpose of this paper is to introduce investment professionals to the key concepts of natural capital, highlight some of the educational resources available, and help investment professionals begin to develop their own frameworks for properly integrating natural capital into the investment process. Any discussion of natural capital leads to a discussion of the planetary boundaries of the natural world (e.g., climate change, land use change, and ocean acidification). We have already breached the “safe levels” of many of the nine planetary boundaries, a dangerous harbinger for the survival of our markets and even the viability of the society in which we live. Green growth is often seen as a style of growth that simply replaces polluting inputs with “green” ones; renewable energy is one example. But green growth often fails to address the problems still inherent in a system that calls for ever expanding growth from a planet with limited resources. Finally, we discuss the degrowth movement that advocates moving away from a “growth for growth’s sake” ethos, focusing instead on human well-being and the sustainability of our economic system.