Natural Capital

It is SWEEP's mission to place natural capital thinking at the heart of business and policy decision making.

What is Natural Capital?

Natural capital is a term used increasingly by government, businesses and community organisations when talking about the environment… but what does it mean? The Natural Capital Coalition defines it as:

Natural capital is another term for the stock of renewable and non-renewable resources (e.g. plants, animals, air, water, soils, minerals) that combine to yield a flow of benefits to people.

All this means is that any part of the natural world that benefits people, or that underpins the provision of benefits to people, is a form of natural capital.

So, natural capital is a way of talking about any element of the environment that shows we understand that it has a benefit – often multiple benefits – to us. This might be a financial benefit (a value), or it might be a benefit to society or health and wellbeing or conservation.

A big challenge for people who make decisions about our environment is knowing which benefit is most important? If decision-makers valued our environment if a purely financial way, many important benefits are overlooked. For example, a forest would be worth the value of the timber it provided, or the value of the land. Other benefits such as carbon sequestration, habitat provision, spaces for people to enjoy fresh air and recreation – and many more –  would not be taken into account.

This is where natural capital approaches can be used. This term describes a way of thinking that shows an understanding of the many and varied benefits the natural world brings and making decisions based on a more holistic view of its ‘value’.

Whole catchment water management

Natural capital supports our businesses and lifestyles in many ways as well as having wider implications for wildlife and the health of the planet. Click on the image to take a closer look.

Take a look at our compilation of resources that can help you apply, or learn more about, natural capital and approaches.

Natural Capital approaches

Looking at our environment from an economic perspective can help businesses and organisations make clearer, better-informed decisions about how they interact with the natural assets we all depend on.

The natural capital approach: ecological and economic perspectives

SWEEP Director Professor Ian Bateman, and Dame Georgina Mace, Professor of Biodiversity and Ecosystems, and Head of the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London gave a talk emploring some of the emerging methodologies used to measure natural capital and enable us to assess and measure ecological services and benefits more fully in economic analysis.