Ecosystem Services (9/12/11)

“Humanity needs nature to thrive.” For Peter Seligmann, who delivers that line, and Jib Ellison, who shares the stage with him at this Climate One panel, the abundant services provided by nature too often go unrecognized. So what are those services?, asks Climate One’s Greg Dalton. In basic terms, replies Seligmann, CEO, Conservation International, ecosystem services are what we get from the natural world. He assigns those services to one of four categories: provisions – food, freshwater, and medicine; regulating – climate, flood control on coasts; supporting: the soil and nutrient cycles; and cultural – the places we live, the places that shape our belief systems. All of them are essential for people, he says, but “we’ve lost track of the relationship that we have with nature and ecosystem services because we don’t think about our foods coming from a forest or a farm; it comes from the supermarket. There’s a real disconnect now.”Jib Ellison, CEO, Blu Skye, a sustainability consultancy, emphasizes that business is just as indebted to the natural world. “If you think about all the goods and services that you can buy in a store, all of it ultimately is coming from somewhere down the line out of nature.” “The big companies in the world with visionary leaders are realizing,” he says, “that the security of supply to serve their customers is at risk.” The grave threat to natural systems around the globe has convinced both men of the need for environmentalists to preach beyond the converted, and to engage with business, including giants such as Wal-Mart. “What I’ve always felt,” Seligmann says, “is that if the environmental community focuses on the fifteen percent of the world that are true, ardent environmentalists we’re losing, losing, losing. We’ve got to make the tent big enough for everybody. Over time, that creates trust.” An absolutely critical element to get us there, says Ellison, is transparency on costs. “The sustainable economy is only going to come under one condition: When the lowest-priced good –the lowest-priced T-shirt at Wal-Mart – is lowest priced precisely because it does the least harm,” he says. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit

by Climate One