Last week, experts from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and our colleagues from Brazilian businesses and organizations gathered at the Botanical Garden in Rio de Janeiro. While the scenery was beautiful, none of us were there to smell the flowers. We were launching a new initiative designed to help Brazilian and international companies incorporate ecosystem services into their business strategies.
WRI, the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS), and the Center for Sustainability Studies at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (GVces) launched the Brazilian Business and Ecosystem Services Partnership (PESE) with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). PESE partners Brazilian companies with sustainability institutions to develop business strategies that improve both corporate performance and stewardship of Brazil’s ecosystems, most notably in the Amazon. Industry leaders including Anglo American, Grupo Maggi, PepsiCo, Vale, Votorantim, and Wal-Mart are among the first to join PESE.
PESE builds upon ideas established by the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the first-ever global audit of the condition and trends in the world’s ecosystems. As the assessment revealed, human well-being and corporate performance depend upon specific ecosystems and the services they provide—things like clean water, forest products, pollination of crops, climate control, recreation, and more. Because companies both impact and depend upon ecosystem services, protecting ecosystems is crucial to corporate bottom lines. PESE will help businesses create practices that foster growth while conserving or improving ecosystems.
PESE will develop environmentally sound business practices in part through local application of the Corporate Ecosystem Services Review, or ESR. This five-step method, developed by WRI in collaboration with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and the Meridian Institute, helps managers proactively develop strategies to manage business risks and opportunities arising from their companies’ dependence and impact on ecosystems. An estimated 300 companies have conducted an ESR to date. The method has allowed these corporations to uncover profitable new business initiatives while protecting or restoring ecosystems.
Take Mondi, Europe’s largest pulp and paper company. It developed a cost-effective program to remove invasive plant species in and around its forestlands in order to increase freshwater supplies, reduce fuel costs, and strengthen relationships with local communities. Similarly, cement manufacturer Cemex figured out new ways to improve stakeholder relations and return on investment by restoring mines and quarries.
PESE offers an opportunity to replicate these successes in Brazil. Over the course of the next 12-14 months, each PESE corporate partner will be among the first companies in Brazil to execute an ESR of its own.
By participating in PESE, these companies will receive guidance, technical assistance, and analytical input throughout every step of the ESR. CEBDS, GVces, and WRI will host a series of workshops and provide technical assistance in between trainings, ensuring support at a pace that matches companies’ needs. PESE will also enable WRI’s international network of businesses and experts to share insights, strategies, real-world experience, and lessons with Brazilian corporations. This international collaboration will occur via ongoing workshops, webinars, conference calls, and major global events.
The end result should be a win-win for Brazil: Innovative business practices launched under PESE will boost corporate performance while also conserving and restoring valuable ecosystems.