The briefing paper, Identifying natural capital risk and materiality, is an information guide for businesses interested in understanding natural capital as a business risk and a material issue. It is the first in a series of shorter briefing papers directed at business leaders, Chief Financial Officers and accounting professionals that follow up on the 2012 report Is natural capital a material issue? An evaluation of the relevance of biodiversity and ecosystem services to accountancy and the private sector.
Natural capital – the stock of capital derived from natural resources such as biodiversity, ecosystems and services they provide – is declining globally. Business operations that have negative environmental impacts can have high, but often unrecognised costs for organisations, investors and society.
„Better-informed decision making, an enhanced and more comprehensive risk-management process, and an increased ability to realise strategic opportunities represent the most important benefits of including natural capital issues in corporate materiality and risk assessments” said Aura Giurcaneanu, Partner, Head of Audit and Assurance of KPMG in Romania. “The growth of the population and industrialization are putting significant pressure on already limited resources, and, according to recent analyses, the global primary production and processing sectors generate significant unaccounted costs as natural capital has not been recognized as a risk to be managed. Including natural capital in strategy and governance structures and connecting it to other areas of business, can lead an organization to mitigation of risks and to strategic opportunities and benefits. These risks should be high on the business agenda.”
Recent analysis estimates that global primary production and processing sectors (forestry, fisheries, agriculture, mining, oil and gas exploration, utilities, cement, steel, pulp and paper and petrochemicals) have unaccounted costs of US$7.3 trillion per year – mostly from greenhouse gas emissions, water use and land use.
The briefing paper outlines how changing definitions of materiality affect the boundaries of materiality assessments, enhancing interest in and justification for natural capital’s consideration in corporate materiality assessments in relation to the three key areas:
- The scope of issues that are material broadening to the environmental and social impacts of organisations, including those related to natural capital
- The stakeholder groups to be included when assessing if an issue is material, extending to bodies such as NGOs and local communities that are concerned about natural capital issues
- The time frame over which business impacts are considered material, incorporating previously unaccounted medium- and long-term impacts and effects on natural capital issues
“Responsible investors are increasingly considering natural capital a material business concern and more and more want to see portfolio companies, particularly in high risk sectors, stay alert of how these -otherwise hidden- business risks might implicate their financial performance,” says Cecilia Repinski, Director of the Natural Value Initiative of Fauna & Flora International.
Incorporating natural capital issues in corporate materiality and risk assessments offers a range of benefits and value to companies: from better-informed decision making by an organisation and its stakeholders, to an enhanced and more comprehensive risk management process, to an increased ability to realise strategic opportunities.
To take advantage of these opportunities, companies are recommended to:
- Define materiality in a way suited to their business model
- Link stakeholder engagement processes to the identification of natural capital material issues
- Specify which natural capital issues are material to the organisation, and develop goals and strategies to manage these
- Connect identified natural capital material issues to their long-term risks assessment process
ACCA, FFI and KPMG work together in a unique partnership to raise awareness and improve the understanding of the accountancy profession’s role in accounting for natural capital.
Rachel Jackson, ACCA Head of Sustainability, said: “Finance professionals within business have to look at the whole picture and natural capital is a fundamental part of that. Accountants need to acknowledge that natural capital can be a material issue and that they have a pivotal role in reducing business impact and dependence on it.”
Dr Stephanie Hime, Manager and Lead Specialist - Natural Capital, KPMG UK Sustainability Services, said: “The changing focus of materiality analyses is the first step to ensuring that natural capital issues are included within corporate risk assessment and disclosures. The briefing paper seeks to provide information for businesses interested in understanding natural capital as a business risk and a material issue.”
Notes to Editors
For a full copy of the briefing paper Identifying natural capital risk and materiality, click here.
For a full copy of the 2012 report Is natural capital a material issue? An evaluation of the relevance of biodiversity and ecosystem services to accountancy and the private sector, click here.
Natural Capital is the stock of capital derived from natural resources such as biological diversity and ecosystems along with geological resources such as fossil fuels and mineral deposits. It provides the ecosystem products and services that underpin our economy and inputs or indirect benefits to business. This report focuses on biodiversity and ecosystems, specific constituents of natural capital that give rise to ecosystem services. Geological resources are not considered as they are routinely included in market transactions and accounting practices.
Materiality is a concept that recognizes that information, if omitted or misstated, can influence the assessments of the users of corporate reports. It defines the point at which information becomes relevant to report users. For example, the Global Reporting Initiative G4 Reporting Guidelines state: “Relevant topics are those that may reasonably be considered important for reflecting the organization’s economic, environmental and social impacts, or influencing the decisions of stakeholders, and, therefore, potentially merit inclusion [in reporting].”
About ACCA (www.accaglobal.com):
ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global body for professional accountants. We aim to offer business-relevant, first-choice qualifications to people of application, ability and ambition around the world who seek a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management. We support our 162,000 members and 428,000 students in 170 countries, helping them to develop successful careers in accounting and business, with the skills required by employers. We work through a network of over 89 offices and centres and more than 8,500 Approved Employers worldwide, who provide high standards of employee learning and development. Through our public interest remit, we promote appropriate regulation of accounting and conduct relevant research to ensure accountancy continues to grow in reputation and influence.
About Fauna & Flora International (www.fauna-flora.org):
Fauna & Flora International (FFI) protects threatened species and ecosystems worldwide, choosing solutions that are sustainable, on the basis of sound science and taking account of human needs. Operating in more than 40 countries worldwide- mainly in the developing world- FFI saves species from extinction and habitats from destruction, while improving the livelihoods of local people. Founded in 1903, FFI is the world’s longest-established international conservation body and a registered charity. Through its global corporate partnerships, within the Business & Biodiversity Programme, FFI aspires to create an environment where business has a long-term positive impact on biodiversity conservation. FFI leads the Natural Value Initiative (NVI) collaboration (www.fauna-flora.org/initiatives/nvi). To date, the NVI has released a series of valuable publications and tools that address biodiversity and ecosystem services within the finance, extractive, pharmaceutical, and agricultural sectors.