Turning Nature into an Asset: Corporate Rent-seeking Strategies

Levidow, Les (2020). Turning Nature into an Asset: Corporate Rent-seeking Strategies. In: Birch, Kean and Muniesa, Fabian eds. Turning Things into Assets. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT, pp. 225–257.

URL: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/assetization


Since the turn of the 21st century, financial concepts have become prevalent in managing natural resources. For example, UN institutions have increasingly promoted market-type instruments such as carbon credits, biodiversity offsets, payment for ecosystem services (PES), etc. Such instruments involve financial transactions, meant to reduce or compensate for environmental harm.

Beyond financial transactions, the metaphor of ‘natural capital asset’ has been used to highlight the source of ecosystem services on which all economic activities depend. Together they face threats of resource degradation, resulting from the economic ‘invisibility of nature’ (UNEP 2011: 16; TEEB 2008). To render these assets more visible, natural capital accounting (NCA) has been elaborated for three different contexts: nature conservation policy, tradeable permits, and business strategies. In the latter context, a multi-stakeholder coalition has been devising methods for companies to assess their dependence on ‘natural capital assets’, as a basis for future corporate strategies (e.g. NCC, 2016, 2018). This chapter investigates this process and asks: How does corporate NCA turn Nature into an asset? With what drivers, roles and stakes?

The chapter has the following structure: it first outlines theories of assetisation and their valuation, especially Nature; then agendas for reifying Nature as an asset and the ‘global justice’ critiques of this agenda; then a business protocol to operationalise natural capital accounting (NCA), with specific companies which have done so; then business strategies for stewarding natural capital as ‘shared assets’. It concludes by answering the above questions.

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