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Money Can Grow on Trees: What’s Good for Nature is Good for Business

We brought together an expert panel, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, to ask whether working in tandem with nature is the soundest investment that business can make.

Capitalists don’t care about the environment. Industry, agriculture and commerce have long exploited nature’s resources. The pursuit of profit pays scant regard to the underlying cost of using up the planet’s capital.

That’s the familiar story that we hear about capitalists. But a growing number of voices are claiming that big business and nature in fact make perfect partners.

Harnessing the processes of nature, they argue, is simply good business sense. Forests, for example, perform carbon capture worth £2.3 trillion a year. Nature not only does this for free, it executes it with greater efficiency than any supply-chain manager could dream of. A Texan chemical plant, for instance, recently discovered that it could keep its ground ozone levels down by planting a forest nearby, for the same cost as erecting a new smokestack scrubber which would have done the same job.

This is simply one example of how business can thrive through collaboration with nature. But the question is, can such solutions be developed on a mass scale? Or is this vision of business and nature working hand in hand across the globe just a case of wishful green thinking?

Intelligence Squared, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, brought together some of the world’s leading conservation experts, along with voices from the worlds of finance and industry, to ask whether working in tandem with nature is the soundest investment that business can make.



Matthew Taylor

Chief Executive of the RSA and soon-to-be Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation

Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and soon-to-be Chief Executive of the NHS Confederation. Former head of the Number 10 Policy Unit under Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Tony Juniper

Sustainability adviser

Sustainability adviser and former executive director of Friends of the Earth. He is the author of What Has Nature Ever Done For Us: How Money Really Does Grow on Trees; What Nature Does For Britain and Rainforest: Dispatches from Earth's Most Vital Frontlines. He is is co-author with HRH Prince of Wales of Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World. Earlier in 2019 he was appointed Chair of Natural England by former Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

Nick Dearden

Director of the World Development Movement

Director of the World Development Movement, which campaigns in the UK on global justice issues. He is strongly opposed to any moves to put a price on nature. Dearden was formerly the director of the Jubilee Debt Campaign and corporates campaign manager at Amnesty International UK, and is a regular contributor to the Guardian.

Peter Kareiva

Chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy

Chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, and cofounder of the Natural Capital Project, a pioneering partnership between The Nature Conservancy, Stanford University and WWF to develop credible tools that allow routine consideration of nature’s assets and ecosystem services. He previously worked for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.

Jeremy Oppenheim

Senior partner at McKinsey

Leader of McKinsey’s global practice on Sustainability and Resource Productivity. In 2014, he took a year’s sabbatical to head up the New Climate Economy project at the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, whose report Better Growth, Better Climate has been described as “Stern 2”. A former senior economist at the World Bank, he is the author of Resource Revolution: Meeting the World’s Energy, Materials, Food and Water Needs and advises leading corporations on how to integrate sustainability into the heart of their business models.

Lucy Siegle

Ethical living columnist for The Observer

Ethical living columnist for The Observer and author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? and Green Living in the Urban Jungle.