Working with respect for natural capital

The Natural Capital Protocol (NCP) was launched in June. It is a practical, standardised approach for companies that want to take the impact of their activities on natural capital into account when taking decisions.

The NCC (formally the TEEB for Business Coalition) is helping the business community to take more account of natural capital. The new Protocol for this purpose, which is full of examples, tips and tools, is practical and can be interpreted individually by any company that wants to use it. It is also a transparent tool which can be used for commercially operating government bodies and other organisations. The Protocol is to be accompanied by sector guides, tailored to specific sectors. Two are already available, namely for the agrofood sector and for the apparel sector. A sector guide is being created for forest and forestry services and the intention is for another one to be drawn up for the built environment. In addition there are theme-based supplements, for example for the financial sector (drawn up by, among others, the Association of Investors for Sustainable Development [Vereniging van Beleggers voor Duurzame ontwikkeling] (VBDO)).

Development of the NCP
The Natural Capital Protocol (NCP) has been developed by an international coalition of companies and trading organisations, nature organisations, academics and government bodies. An initial version of the Protocol has been tested by fifty companies throughout the world, and ten of these have carried out an intensive and detailed pilot. These include AkzoNobel, Caring (Puma) and Skanska. AkzoNobel, for example, asked itself the question: 'How can we not only present our economic development in our annual report, but also information about our natural and social capital, so that we can include this in our decision-making?' and experimented within that framework with the drawing up of a '4-dimensional profit and loss account'. Skanska, a large globally operating construction and development company, developed a biodiversity tool to substantiate its tenders more effectively by asking what the impact is of the intended construction project on natural capital. The Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership described this and for other cases.

Implementation: data needed
A protocol is great, but the important thing is, of course, the implementation. The largest possible number of companies and government bodies has to participate. Ensuring that this is the case is one of the tasks of Martin Lok, who is a member of the Advisory Council of the National Capital Coalition (NCC) and Natural Capital Programme Manager at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy: "Taking account of natural capital in decision-making must change from best practice to standard", he says. When determining the impact of business activities, the availability of data plays a crucial role. Business people know how much water they use, or metals, or anything else for that matter, but do not realise how much impact these have. How much is available and how quickly will it run out? "What is more, it is not just a question of collecting (relevant) data, but also making it available in usable form. How to organise that smartly is still largely uncharted territory. In this respect initiatives like the Atlas of Natural Capital are an important first step and an opportunity to learn. The next step is to bring together the 'stewards' of the government and the business community, in other words the statisticians of the CBS and company strategists and accountants," Lok explains.

The NCP method of working
The basic approach used in the Protocol is comparable with the 'Deming cycle', which is a well-known concept among change managers. The process comprises four phases in which the company involved looks for answers to the following main questions:

  1. Why should we be bothered with natural capital?
  2. What exactly are we going to do? - Define, determine the company's dependencies and impact, formulate objectives.
  3. How and what are we going to measure and evaluate? - Qualify/quantify, physical or monetarily, monitoring changes.
  4. How are we going to change our operations/production on the basis of the above analyses?

More information 
All the available information about the Natural Capital Protocol can be found at

  • The website of the NCC. The NCC is an international public-private partnership between, among others, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, IUCN, ICAEW (international organisation for chartered accountants) and government bodies. Financing is provided by the programmes of the International Finance Corporation (private branch of the World Bank) and a number of large foundations.
  • The website of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership
  • Martin Lok is a member of the advisory Council of the National Capital Coalition (NCC) and Natural Capital Programme Manager at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs.

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