Our communication network spans globally, but the ties between decision-makers and scientists are not strong enough by Ella Boswell

Between January 1st and July 29th this year, humanity used up all the resources which can be renewed by our planet in one year [1]. As a biologist,

I can tell you that forty per cent of insect species are expected to go extinct in the next few decades [2]. Here lies the problem: I can tell, but I rarely do. Decision-makers do, but can rarely tell. Communication and co-operation between decision-makers and scientists is rapidly needed if we want both nature and business to survive.

One of the main barriers to this communication is the lack of transferable language between these two professions – believe me, I’m trying to learn both. Luckily, a concept exists which may bridge this gap: natural capital, ‘the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things’ [3]. It enables scientists to translate knowledge into the language of the business, allowing natural capital to be included in financial decisions; for example, pollination is estimated to save the UK up to £430 million each year [4]. Accurate, science-based decisions can be implemented, leading to real, observable benefits for both the environment and business.

Presently, sustainability targets seem to be based on the demands of the consumer.

Whilst these demands usually have well-founded intentions, they are often based in pseudo-science and so can be sadly misguided. Take palm oil, for instance: the banned Iceland supermarket advert pledging to remove palm oil from their products sparked a boycott amongst consumers, leading companies to follow suit (Sainsbury’s now claims that 98% of its palm oil comes from a certified sustainable source [5]) Having looked into it further, I would actively choose products with palm oil in them over supposed ‘sustainable’ alternatives. Oil palm trees have the highest yield – so, the lowest carbon footprint – of any major oil crop [6], and ‘sustainable’ badges are often expensive, benefiting companies that can afford huge mono-cultures instead of small, biodiversity-friendly farms [7].

Removing unsustainable palm oil products was either a nation-wide, corporate exercise in virtue signalling, or an unfortunate misunderstanding by some well-intended companies.

The natural capital framework allows these necessary conversations between scientists and business to occur, bypassing the need for misinformed decisions being made based on public lobbying. It also equips business with the knowledge of how protecting nature can benefit them, so they need not rely on the well-intended public to make their business decisions for them. It enables scientists to speak the language of the decision-makers – an exercise which ought to have been implemented long ago.

  1. Global Footprint Network, 2019. Earth Overshoot Day was July 29 [online] Available at: https://www.overshootday.org/ [Accessed 16/8/19].
  2. Sánchez-Bayo, F. and Wyckhuys, K.A., 2019. Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers. Biological conservation, 232, 8-27.
  3. World Forum on Natural Capital, 2019. What is Natural Capital?’ [online] Available at: https://naturalcapitalforum.com/about/ [Accessed 16/8/19].
  4. UK National Ecosystem Assessment, 2019. UK National Ecosystem Assessment [online] Available at: http://uknea.unep-wcmc.org/Resources/tabid/82/Default.aspx [Accessed 16/8/19].
  5. Sainsbury’s, no date. Leading the way on sustainable palm oil. [online] Available at: https://www.about.sainsburys.co.uk/making-a-difference/our-values/our-stories/2017/leading-the-way-on-sustainable-palm-oil [Accessed 16/8/19].
  6. Basiron, Y., 2007. Palm oil production through sustainable plantations. ​European Journal of Lipid Science and Technology​, ​109​, 289-295.
  7. Azhar, B., Saadun, N., Prideaux, M. and Lindenmayer, D., 2017. The global palm oil sector must change to save biodiversity and improve food security in the tropics. Journal of Environmental Management​, ​203​, 457-466.
  • One of the main barriers to this communication is the lack of transferable language between these two professions – believe me, I’m trying to learn both. Luckily, a concept exists which may bridge this gap: natural capital, ‘the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things’  Know More Information Know More Information It enables scientists to translate knowledge into the language of the business, allowing natural capital to be included in financial decisions; for example, pollination is estimated to save the UK up to £430 million each year [4]. Accurate, science-based decisions can be implemented, leading to real, observable benefits for both the environment and business.