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How 'natural capital' can give a competitive edge

The global launch of the Natural Capital Protocol was lauded by businesses and organisations last week, finally bringing some much-needed consistency to the market. 

With future natural capital regulation looking likely, the protocol provides construction companies with a clear framework to guide them in measuring, managing and valuing the natural assets they encounter when delivering projects.

“With more developers and infrastructure owners taking a natural capital approach, companies in their supply chain must now follow suit”

The protocol is the latest step forward for the natural capital agenda, which continues to gain momentum. With more developers and infrastructure owners taking a natural capital approach, companies in their supply chain must now follow suit.

What is natural capital?

Natural capital is defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets, including soil, air, water and all living things, which bring both opportunities and risks to companies.

Developing an understanding of the impacts or dependencies a particular development project will have on natural assets is the first step towards realising the benefits that natural capital can bring.

For example, nature-based solutions could improve materials optimisation, cooling, flood control, air and water quality, biodiversity and carbon management.

Above all, working with nature can create spaces that are healthy and enjoyable to spend time in.

Assigning financial values to natural assets can really help integrate these considerations into a project’s design. Implementing a natural capital programme gives construction companies the opportunity to deliver real value to a project for clients.

What construction firms must do

As developers and infrastructure owners look to make significant gains from enhancing their natural assets, their supply chain will be expected to deliver the best options in terms of materials used or steps to improve biodiversity.

This may require construction firms to build greater resilience in their own supply chains, with circular economy principles key to achieving this.

“It will be harder for construction companies to overlook natural capital in their planning”

Greater use of reused or recycled materials, for example, can significantly reduce a project’s impact on natural capital.

Developing an understanding of the concept can bring a number of other benefits, too.

Incorporating a natural capital approach into a scheme’s design to introduce improvements for the local community, such as well-maintained water courses, green spaces and woodland, can help win huge support for a project.

It will be increasingly difficult for construction companies to overlook natural capital in their planning. The protocol is likely to encourage widespread implementation of relevant strategies.

Companies that incorporate natural capital into their plans now will be at a competitive advantage when anticipated regulation is introduced in the future.

Robert Spencer is the director of sustainability for EMEIA at Aecom

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