Industries are drawn to regions that offer ample or needed supplies of natural resources for their business operations.  For example, mining establishments spring up around mineral deposits.

The U.S. Department of Commerce developed this natural capital database website to provide resources and information to businesses seeking to incorporate natural capital into their planning and operations.

What is Natural Capital?

Natural capital refers to the Earth's stock of natural resources – air, water, soil, and living resources – that provide a range of goods and services on which the global economy depends.

These natural assets are part of the world’s ecosystems, “a geographically specified system of organisms (including humans), and the environment and the processes that control its dynamics,” according to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.  

                         migrant farmworkers working in crop rows

Natural capital stocks and ecosystems services are distinct from, though related to, the concept of sustainability. 

  • Sustainability means meeting the needs of current populations while also preserving the ability to provide for future generations.  In the business context, sustainability is often associated with efficient production, gained through improvements such as more efficient use of energy or water, and waste reduction. 
  • Resilience, another related concept, has garnered a lot of attention recently as well, from both the business and environmental communities.  Resilience includes the ability to prepare for, withstand, and bounce back after an adverse effect, like a hurricane or super storm. 

Careful management of natural capital and the ecosystem services that flow from this capital is crucial to ensuring that sustainability and resilience can be achieved.

What is the Business Value of Natural Capital?

Nature provides trillions of dollars worth of inputs and services annually that are vital to long-term business success and global economic growth. As threats to the world’s critical ecosystems multiply, so too do business risks.

For an in-depth overview of ecosystem services, see Corporate Ecoforum Valuing Natural Capital Initiative, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, and Corporate Ecosystem Valuation.

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