Margaret Adey, University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership

At Rio+20, leaders of 15 global companies, with a collective turnover of over $350 billion, have called for urgent action to properly value and maintain the Earth’s natural capital.

The theme of natural capital has featured strongly in business discussions at Rio. Natural capital has been defined as including diversity of life, or biodiversity, underpinning the resilience of the Earth's natural systems to absorb shocks and disturbances. It also includes vital ecosystem services under threat – ranging from crop pollination to carbon storage and freshwater provision, and from fisheries to wood production and the renewal of soil fertility – upon which society and all economic activity relies.

CEOs and Board members of leading companies, which include Anglo American, Alstom, Arup, ASDA-Walmart, Aviva Investors, Grupo André Maggi, Kingfisher, Mars, Natura, Nestlé, Puma, SABMiller, Unilever, Volac and Votorantim, have signed up to the Natural Capital Leadership Compact in advance of Rio.

These business leaders call on governments to set ambitious goals and targets to address the risks posed by the loss of our natural capital worldwide. The Leadership Compact not only urges governments to take immediate action, but also commits the signatory companies to a challenging shared agenda. Businesses recognise that their leadership is essential and have committed to address the following four complex challenges:

  1. Operate within the limits of natural systems – manage their supply sources in order to protect the environment and improve social equity.

  2. Identify and address the (as yet) un-costed impacts of their business activities on people and the environment that are associated with the production and consumption of goods and services – and pledge to build this into business decision-making and planning.

  3. Enable consumers to make better-informed choices – by working with industry bodies, governments and citizens to deepen public debate on how to realign consumption within the limits of natural capital and to eliminate wastage and inefficiency.

  4. Develop rigorous and realistic targets and plans – to promote the protection and efficient use of natural capital.

Thomas Lingard, Global Advocacy Director for Unilever says:

“Only by collaborating with others across our industry and up and down our supply chain will we be able to crack the toughest sustainability challenges. For that reason it is important for us to clearly define the non competitive areas of sustainability where we can apply our collective effort, ingenuity and scale to drive the change that is necessary in the amount of time that the scientists tell us is available in which to do it.”