Determining the (Economic) Value of Nature
By Reuben Teague on 9 Dec 2010
Have you heard about TEEB? I hadn’t until recently. TEEB, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, is an attempt at putting a true value on the services nature provides for us human beings (an effort that is often credited to the book Natural Capitalism). I think this could be a transformative effort – one of the deeply frustrating things about fighting for a more viable, healthy planet is that you can either get bogged down in the warm fuzzies, which yield haphazard results, or you end up arguing with a very limited data set. For example, we typically treat environmental harms in terms of externalities, and we can make a decent guess at the price of harm caused to someone who inhales mercury-laden smog, but how do we know about the loss of value to all of us from an ocean ecosystem that has become slightly more toxic and thus slightly less efficient at generating oxygen?
Lots of people are working on this very problem. The Natural Capital Project at Stanford has been producing policy tools that can guide legislative and executive action. The TEEB initiative has launched the Bank of Natural Capital, which has a ways to go before it looks less like a discussion board and more like a finance site (where are the overpriced opt-in programs?), but reflects a way of thinking about the problem that is overdue and worthy of lots of work.
We’re going to do our part in this effort as well. We’ve been working to figure out the best metrics to evaluate the success of our triple bottom line approach to our projects, so that we know that we’re truly generating benefits worthy of our aspirations. It’s not easy, but if we can’t measure our success, how will we know what needs to be done?