All businesses, either directly or indirectly, depend upon natural capital. Natural capital is the stock of capital derived from natural resources such as biological diversity and ecosystems, in addition to geological resources such as fossil fuels and mineral deposits. It provides the many inputs and services that underpin human societies and economies.
At the same time, current economic activities are eroding natural capital. For example, the use of fossil fuels is driving climate change; the growing demand for products such as palm oil is a key driver of deforestation and biodiversity loss; and population growth and the need to feed growing numbers of people puts intense pressure on both terrestrial and marine ecosystems. These are trends that are likely to worsen in the future if a state of business-as-usual continues.
In view of these trends a number of businesses have stated publicly their aim to have a ‘net positive’ impact on various elements of natural capital. For example, home improvement retailer, Kingfisher, aims to have a net positive impact on forests by 2050, while metals and minerals company, Rio Tinto, recognises the high-impact nature of its operations on biodiversity, and uses the concept of net positive impact to plan how it can minimise its impacts and contribute to healthy ecosystems at the project or site level. These companies have an ultimately restorative ambition – that their operations should not reduce and destroy the natural world, but contribute to and enhance it.
The concept of net positive impact is simple at a high level – to do more good than harm – but highly complex to apply in practice.