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Giving stakeholder status to Mother Earth

There is no doubt in our minds that Mother Earth should be given stakeholder status in every aspect of our daily lives, translating to all aspects of our society and economy.  We include a selection of references that address this way of thinking.  

For at least the last 15 years Stakeholder Theorists have debated whether our natural environment should be seen as a Stakeholder.

Nardia Haigh, and Andrew Griffiths (2007, p. 347) identify ‘five interlinking lines of reason’ which have been used in the debate.

Is the Environment a stakeholder?

The natural environment can be affected by a company’s activities and, through channels such as climate change, can have an effect upon the company. (Boutilier, R. 2011). T

The case for; The case against; What about climate change? The pragmatic conclusion.

These lines of reason spring from the following questions:

  1. Is there a moral obligation between organizations and the environment?
  2. Can something without human attributes be a stakeholder?
  3. Is business dependent/partly dependent on the natural environment?
  4. If it is should it consider the environment as a stakeholder?
  5. Is freeman’s broad definition of a stakeholder as someone who ‘can affect or is affected by’ adequate?

Source: Is the Environment a stakeholder?

5 Reasons Why “Mother Nature” is a Key Stakeholder

February 28, 2019/by Bob Willard

Mother Nature is our holding company

The nested-interdependencies model of sustainability, reflects their interdependent reality. It shows that society and the economy are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the environment. The environment is our holding company. If it goes out of business, we all go out of business.

Holding companies qualify as key stakeholders. If we personify the environment / natural capital / ecosystem services as “Mother Nature,” Mother Nature is every company’s ultimate holding company. Therefore, Mother Nature is a key stakeholder for every business. QED.

Mother Nature is too big to fail.

Mother Nature is not only a holding company, she is a big holding company. She provides us with provisioning services such as minerals, food, water, timber, and fiber; regulating services that affect climate, floods, disease, wastes, and water quality; cultural services that provide recreational, aesthetic, and spiritual benefits; and supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis, and nutrient cycling.

In 1997, ecologist Robert Costanza and a team of researchers famously assessed the value of these “free” ecosystem services provided by Mother Nature at $33 trillion / year in 1995. That’s how much we would have to pay to recreate those services if for some reason they didn’t occur naturally. Of course, his methodology and assumptions were immediately criticized for overvaluing, undervaluing and even presuming to monetize the value of invaluable services. So, in 2014, he and his colleagues redid his study and discovered that some of his critics were right. He had undervalued ecosystem services: they were worth $145 trillion / year in 2011. For comparison, global GDP was $75.2 trillion in 2011, roughly half the value of ecosystem services provided that year.

Mother Nature is too big to fail … but she is failing. Her free ecosystem services have been vastly undervalued, taken for granted and abused by business. Why? Because she has not been treated with the attention, respect and care paid to a key stakeholder, especially a big holding company. It’s time to correct that oversight.

Mother Nature’s demise is threatening business

The World Economic Forum (WEF) produces an annual Global Risks report of threats to the wellbeing of economies / businesses within the next ten years. One of the five categories of risks is environmental risks – the five green ones in the close-up of the high impact / high likelihood quadrant in the figure from this year’s report. The environmental risks map well to the four categories of ecosystem services provided by Mother Nature.

Provisioning services: Water crisis – it is classified as a social risk in the WEF report, but its root cause is environmental

Regulating services: Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation; Extreme weather events

Supporting services: Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse

Cultural services: Natural disasters and man-made environmental disasters that threaten spiritually, historically and recreationally significant sites

Mother Nature’s failing ecosystem services can directly or indirectly impact / affect companies and companies can impact / affect Mother Nature’s ecosystem services. She fits the definition of a key stakeholder – perhaps a company’s most important one. Case closed.

Mother Nature’s surrogates are too easily marginalized

Historically, businesses have sometimes included environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) in their stakeholder mix. Examples of ENGOs are the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), the Nature Conservancy, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Environmental Defense and Greenpeace. They do excellent work and act as Mother Nature’s voice on critical environmental issues.

However, when a company includes ENGOs in its stakeholder analyses, it usually assesses the impact that the ENGO might have in the company, not the impact of damaged ecosystem services that ENGOs represent. If the ENGOs are weak or non-existent in the company’s jurisdiction, there is a danger that companies could overlook impacts that destabilized ecosystem services, like climate regulation, could directly or indirectly have on its value chain. She needs to represent herself.

There’s no downside

Let suppose a company gave Mother Nature a seat at its stakeholders table. Often there are individuals representing customers, suppliers, investors and other stakeholders in stakeholder roundtable consultations, so having someone represent Mother Nature would not be a big stretch.

Whoever is tasked to represent Mother Nature could use ecosystem services to frame their point of view. They could start with the five environmental risks to businesses described in the above WEF Global Risks 2019 report and then explore other provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural ecosystem services that might be material to the company. Then the company can decide which ecosystem services should be included on the company’s stakeholder map, either individually or collectively as “Mother Nature.”,part%20of%20the%20business%20environment

Integration Of The Natural Environment Into The Stakeholder Concept

By Jana Igl, Member of gaia-liNc.  October 31st, 2020

Why nature is the most important stakeholder of the coming decade

Entrepreneurial, innovative and staggeringly wealthy: we ignore nature at our peril

Tariq Al-Olaimy, Co-founder, Public-Planet Partnerships.  07 Jan 2020

Sustainability’s Missing Stakeholders: Nature and the Future

Ian Edwards, May 05, 2015

The classic definition of a stakeholder, as defined in the early 1980s works of Edward Freeman, is “any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s objective.”

Explains Freeman more recently: “The 21st century is one of ‘managing for stakeholders.’ The task of executives is to create as much value as possible for stakeholders without resorting to tradeoffs. Great companies endure because they manage to get stakeholder interests aligned in the same direction.