- Shareholder capitalism has been built on the destruction of the natural world.
- We must place the natural world at the centre of any new model.
- It’s time to move towards a rights-based stakeholder approach.
As companies realign their purpose to serve all stakeholders ethically, it is essential that we are also inclusive of all non-human stakeholders; that economies prioritize our ecology, that rights take precedence over revenues, that our wellbeing is centered around improving the well-being of natural systems, and that our partnerships are regenerative for the planet.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting and the introduction of the Davos Manifesto. It also marks the year that China will host the UN Biodiversity Conference in October (CBD COP15) with its philosophy of ‘ecological civilization’. If we are to reimagine scorecards for companies and governments as serving all stakeholders, then we are called to enter the ‘Ecozoic era‘ – a term first coined by the cultural historian Thomas Berry in 1992. He was describing the geological era that the earth should be entering; one in which human civilization lives in a mutually enhancing relationship with earth and all other life.
Shareholder capitalism and profits have been built upon the destruction of the natural world. Too often the cost has been borne by the indigenous communities who have been the traditional stewards of these ecosystems, and the most marginalized human communities whose livelihoods are entirely dependent on them.
If corporations are willing to go beyond economic generation and serve their purpose in “fulfilling human and societal aspirations as part of the broader social system” and champion a “shared and regenerative economy” for all its stakeholders, as advocated by the Davos Manifesto, then we need to prioritize the most vital social and economic stakeholder for survival and regenerative development: planet earth.
From human-centric stakeholders to planet-centric stakeholders
Just as a company should consider all its human stakeholders and have a commitment to creating genuine, shared and sustained value for all, we need be inclusive of all non-human stakeholders. Whether it concerns individual products and services, supply chains or overall business models, corporations should identify the natural stakeholders that would be significantly impacted, involved in, or integral to the success of its operations.
These impacts should be assessed based on whether they are currently destructive or sustainable for natural stakeholders, and commitments made to mitigate unintended harm, and ensure reparation for species and ecosystems already affected. A firm commitment should then be made to make decisions that only create shared and regenerative value for all throughout a company’s business operations.
Corporate partnerships for sustainable innovation are almost always human-centric rather than planet-centric, and they often focus on creating ‘less immoral’ products and services rather than regenerative ones. Therefore, ‘solutions’ often miss out on the opportunity to integrate nature as a critical stakeholder and partner, which later becomes the cause of even more ecosystem damage.
Corporate global citizenship requires companies to engage in collaborative efforts with other stakeholders to improve the state of the world, and there is no better entrepreneurial stakeholder than the natural world. Nature is an entrepreneurial system whose ecosystem services are “valued” at more than $100 trillion, and which has been conducting research and development for billions of years. The cost equivalent of humanity replicating nature’s systems is incomparable.
Paradoxically, if one considers how advancing gender inclusion to its full potential could add $28 trillion to global GDP by 2025—how many economic, social and ecological opportunities are we losing by not being environmentally inclusive?
From parasitic to regenerative
The Nature Action Agenda calls for a movement to disrupt business-as-usual approaches, halt biodiversity loss by 2030, and restore the planet’s vital systems. To do so, we need a fundamental shift from businesses and governments in our foundational relationship with nature.
In the natural world, we can find different types of ecological relationships, whether they are mutualistic relationships between species (win-win), commensual relationships (win-neutral), or parasitic relationships (win-lose) – although, even in nature, parasitic relationships can sometimes serve the long-term interests and the broader health of an ecosystem.
Unfortunately, the predominant relationship that businesses and governments have with their primary natural stakeholders is often parasitic, and one that has proven to be destructive for all ecosystems. In the coming UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, our challenge is to shift our primary relationship with the natural world from a parasitic to a collaborative and regenerative relationship with our planetary stakeholders.
There is already an incredible new wave of innovators who have taken the approach of forming public-planet partnerships with their natural stakeholders, whether that’s partnering with ocean currents to clean the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, partnering with bees from a colony that can collect 4 billion environmental data points annually, partnering with animals to help predict and adapt to natural disasters, or even forming conservation partnerships between trees and monks.
A rights-based stakeholder approach
A rights-based approach should be at the core of any stakeholder approach— whether a corporation or government undertakes initiatives to conserve, learn from or restore nature, to integrate nature-based solutions, or to actively partner and collaborate with nature.
These approaches are essential, but should not be an offset mechanism for business-as-usual. They must go hand-in-hand with rapid reductions in carbon emissions, and the integration of human rights into the entire supply chain, as called for by the Davos Manifesto.
This means the application of principles such as the ‘gold standard’ being developed by the Indigenous People’s Major Group for Sustainable Development to center the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, uncontacted peoples, and all women.
An inclusive stakeholder approach for nature also calls on governments and corporations to invest in the development of frameworks that protect the legal rights of nature so that the planet cannot be exploited, and so that stakeholder value is shared across species and ecosystems.
As we enter a defining decade for biodiversity restoration, are we prepared to redefine our relationships with our most critical non-human stakeholders for the sake of humanity itself?