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A Stable Ecosystem - embedding in company thinking

In 1986, stakeholders from around the world came together in Ottawa, Canada, for the First International Conference on Health Promotion. Emerging from this conference was a charter for action to achieve Health for All, which identified eight fundamental conditions and resources for health (the ‘prerequisites for health’). We review these eight prerequisites – and discuss what they mean 28 years later. In this, the fifth of our Ottawa blog series, we consider A Stable Ecosystem.

A STABLE ECOSYSTEM. The structure and function of a healthy ecosystem should remain relatively stable over time, including in the face of a disturbance. If something does disturb or damage the ecosystem, it should be able to recover reasonably quickly.

Ecosystem goods and services are the benefits people derive from ecosystems, and they are indispensable for human health. They include provisioning, regulatory and cultural services. Human health and wellbeing depend on these services, from provision of food and water to regulation of pests and pathogens that cause disease.

Changes in ecosystem services affect livelihoods, both directly if they are no longer adequate to meet social need, and indirectly through reduced income and migration. They could potentially give rise to political conflict. The types of health effect caused by their degradation vary with the local population’s dependence on them, and with factors such as poverty, which can reduce access to food and water.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was commissioned by the UN Secretary General in 2000 to ascertain the consequence of ecosystem change for human wellbeing. It found that human actions are depleting natural capital, putting a strain on the planet’s ecosystems and their ability to sustain future generations. The changes in policy and practice to reverse this trend are substantial.

Currently, only relatively few companies consider their impacts and dependencies on ecosystem services. Some in the mining sector, for example, take a proactive view as incurring losses through regulatory action for damage and gaining disrepute for bad practice can directly compromise shareholder value. But the inclusion of ecosystem services as a key risk for corporations is becoming more prevalent in an array of sectors, and the assessment of impacts is considered leading practice.

We can understand why: they are essential to business. There is growing pressure from NGOs and thought leaders, and the financial services sector is also interested in understanding and avoiding environmental risk. This is with good reason, as increasing competition for shared resources, such as water, could present an operational risk for companies and projects. If the shared impact of a resource is not considered, it could lead to that access being curtailed, either through regulatory action, public pressure or the resource simply dwindling. The dependency of human health on stable ecosystems is complicated, from the emotional attachment to certain species, to the direct dependency on its resource. Corporations’ impact on ecosystems can only likely be put in further in the spotlight as pressures on them compound – there is an increasing need to include impacts and embed them in decision making.


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