Our vision is to put a price on nature's services -- a price that reflects their true value.
In a world where ecology and economics seem to inhabit two very different realms, it is easy to forget that the words, at least, share a common root: the greek word oikos, meaning home or household. In translation, economics means "rules for the home," ecology is "knowledge of the home," and ecosystems are the systems that underpin the "functioning of our home". There is wisdom in this etymology. For our planet to thrive, our economic systems need to be in tune with our ecosystems.
Unfortunately, notwithstanding the words' common ancestry, it now seems that the "rules for our home" have become desperately disconnected from both the "knowledge of our home" and the systems that make life on that home possible. As a result, ecosystems are increasingly under stress, threatening the long-term ability of people and societies to survive and thrive on the planet. Add to growing consumption and increased human numbers the twin challenges of climate change and accelerating natural resource scarcity, and you have a recipe for problems. Which brings us back to the common root of the various concepts: the world is looking for solutions based on the understanding that ecosystem preservation is a critical foundation for ongoing economic prosperity, rather than an impediment to economic growth.
Indeed, without functioning ecosystems and the many services they provide (such as clean air, clean water, pollination, healthy soils, and biodiversity) economic prosperity (let alone growth) is impossible. The truth is that natural systems have for eons been delivering essential services for free. Just imagine what would happen if electric utilities didn't charge for their services. First, electricity would be overused (it already is), and secondly there wouldn't be money to invest in the cables, technicians, and generators that make the provision of that service possible. That is exactly what is currently happening with the ecosystems that make up the world's largest "public utility".
In part, the problem is one of both values AND value. It is a problem of an economic system that gives greater value to forests once they are burned down and turned into soy fields than when they are left standing. Economists refer to this as a problem of "externalities"; the services of nature have for too long remained "external" to the economic system.
On a more positive note, existing and emergent markets for ecosystem services have the potential to address some of these global environmental challenges, while also enabling the continuation of global economic growth in a more ecologically sustainable manner. The recent successes of markets for carbon and other environmental commodities (e.g., SO2 and NO2) have demonstrated the potential of market-based solutions to internalize the costs of pollution, natural resource exploitation, and unsustainable development into our economic system.
EKO is a business based on the premise that as natural resources (together with nature's services) become increasingly scarce, tremendous value will be created via investment in the maintenance, creation, and restoration of functioning ecosystems. In other words, as the world turns to market-based solutions to internalize environmental externalities, there will be various economic threats and opportunities. These changes will bring with them huge strategic opportunities for patient, ecologically-minded capital to profit from currently unrecognized environmental value. Just as importantly, the changes will play an important role in preserving the ecosystems needed for our future.
Back to the Future
Writing in the 1400s, Galileo Galilei explained it in this way:
"What greater stupidity can be imagined than calling jewels, silver, and gold 'precious' and earth and soil 'base'? People who do this ought to remember that if there were a greater scarcity of soil as of jewels or precious metals, there would not be a prince who would not spend a bushel of diamonds… to have enough soil to plant a jasmine in a little pot, or to sow an orange seed and watch it sprout, grow and produce its handsome leaves, it fragrant flowers, its fine fruit."
Even in this, he was way ahead of his time.
- Businesses' engagement in voluntary actions to reduce their impact on Earth's ecosystems can be an engine of positive change in two ways: it can be a source of new opportunities for business, and a means of preserving our natural assets for future generations.
- —Jonathan Lash, President World Resources Institute
- Irrigation of the land with seawater desalinated by fusion power is ancient. It's called "rain."
- —Michael McClary
- A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.
- —Greek Proverb