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  • Writer's pictureNick Keppel-Palmer

Nature Wealth - redefining value 3

The third pillar in a redefined value system that works for the planet

How do we reconfigure our economic model to work for the planet?

We make too much, take too much, waste too much, all in the name of 'growth'.

The future belongs to businesses that combine brand and sustainability into a much smarter value system. Value built on connection, origin, and nature. The intuitive sense of value that we all have, but which orthodox economics does not.

origin, identity and nature - value redefined
Three pillars of value redefined

"Decarbonisation is dentist - we can't sell that"

This is a line from this (well worth your time) video featuring Martin Stuchtey of SystemIQ (originally) and now Landbanking Group.

His point is that the prevailing narrative on climate has been about what needs to be given up, what needs to be lost, to address the burgeoning problems of an overheating planet. It's an unappealing story that underlines how terrible Sustainability Inc is at grappling with value - no wonder we've made so little progress in that direction.

Whilst carbon world has been spinning its wheels, nature and biodiversity have been slowly but surely raising their profile. For years I didn't even realise there was a "Biodiversity" COP, so all consuming was the noise around Climate COP.

But now, and not before time, nature and biodiversity are getting the attention they deserve. Great news because they are definitely not dentist.

Nature is lovely, nature is wealth

There's an unbridled joy we get from seeing nature thrive. Whether it's orchids growing wild, red kites feeding, a blanket of bluebells, snow leopards in the Altai mountains......

....and there is value in being instrumental in restoration of nature.

a wild orchid

The smart thing that Stuchtey is proposing is to recognise stewardship - doing good for nature - as an asset class. He argues that our industrial economic system has robbed us of the wealth of nature. It extracts. Nature depletes. We all get poorer.

Instead of trying to put a price on "nature services" why not recognise it as wealth in and of itself? Put it in the balance sheet, not the P&L.

What's fabulous about this approach is that it works for the millions of land stewards who don't own the land. It works for the commons.

The commons
Mongolian rangelands - the commons

Business - invest in landscapes, invest in wealth

Could businesses get attribution rights to effective stewardship leading to nature uplift? Could businesses invest in landscape restoration, and then see that investment recognised on the balance sheet?

This is a reversal of the current situation where we only put a value on nature by ripping it down or out.

If 'nature uplift' is recognised as wealth creation then many good things start happening. Entire continents can get richer - overnight. Farmers can realise additional income streams in line with doing good for the land. Businesses can invest in landscape restoration as a wealth building activity. Which means that even the ones with mega problematic supply chains can - as a precursor to, or in parallel with supply chain rethinking - get on with landscape improvement.

Developments such as TNFD are shifting business towards not just recognising dependencies and risks from nature - but crucially also opportunities.

This is really important because small financial investments can deliver big landscape returns. Utilising non-commercial sheep wool to stimulate plant growth - less waste, more plants. Rekindling the skills around combing and then using horsehair to make amazing fabrics - enabling herders to earn more from fewer animals.

I am convinced that the most effective thing any business can do right now to get perspective on their role in restoring nature (and addressing climate) is to get out into the landscapes, really get to know what's going on, and look back at their business through the landscape lens. Leaders' Quest for Nature.

Regenerative Agriculture -> Regenerative Business

The more I get to look at business from the landscape perspective, the clearer the path to 'regenerative' becomes. Only by building fully regenerative businesses will we reach a point where the world of commerce and the world of nature can once again co-exist.

It can't just be about farmers. One thing that has worried me is seeing a number of businesses (mostly textile) believe that all that is needed is for 'farmers to become regenerative'. Brand X (I won't name them) claimed that "all the cotton we source is regenerative" but then couldn't say where they got their cotton from because they hadn't decided for that year. It was enough to insist.

Regenerative agriculture is great. But on its own it is not a magic solution. And if it's coupled to a business-as-usual industrial and extractive sourcing system then it can't be sustained.

Over years we have industrialised our landscapes. Cranked up volumes, maximised yields, installed ruthless efficiency. And in doing so we've created monocultures that are both destructive and - irony of ironies - inefficient.

The thing that makes industry successful is repetition and scale. Do one thing well, repeat. Mechanisation.

What make nature successful is the opposite of industrial. Nature is diverse. Nature is adaptable.

The shift to regenerative agriculture is basically de-industrialising the landscapes. Reinstating diversity and adaptability. Working with the land, not exploiting it. Letting nature do its stuff - not trying to fight it. (When I was at school we were taught that "de-industrialisation" was a bad thing. Now I'm not so sure.)

To build a regenerative business we need to take the opposite approach - landscap-ise the business. Build in adaptability, diversity, responsiveness to nature. And above all collaborate. If there is one thing the last four years has taught me it's that any shift to regenerative is intrinsically collaborative.

No business on its own can achieve regeneration. To achieve a regenerative effect across an entire landscape necessitates collaboration in and cross sector. Diversity, not monocultures.

Change the metrics

One way to shift perspective is to shift the way we measure success.

Non-regenerative agriculture loves to focus on yield - how much can we squeeze out of that patch of land. But yields go down the more industrially we treat the landscape. If there are too many goats in Mongolia and not enough food, many will die every time there is a harsh winter and animal welfare will suffer. If we put too many stimulants into the soil to drive up yields the soil will suffer.

Volume costs money. More and more input cost. Volume drives down quality. Volume screws up nature.

Regenerative means less volume, but also less input. Let nature do its stuff. Adapt and respect diversity. This is a formula for more profit from less. Less waste, less volume, less damage, more money.

As a design direction for regenerative business you couldn't get any better.


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