Thursday, 17 January 2013

What has Nature Ever Done for Us? The answer is a hell of a lot

What has Nature Ever Done for Us? The answer is a hell of a lot

Jessica Shankleman hails Tony Juniper's latest book as a must-read for sustainability executives and their colleagues

By Jessica Shankleman 14 Jan 2013
What has Nature Ever Done for Us by Tony Juniper

Accessible, knowledgable, and a must read for green executives
Pros: A meticulously researched and compelling argument, backed by a highly readable style

Cons: Some of the arguments and anecdotes will already be familiar to green executives
The word "nature" isn't usually written with a capital letter, but for the Prince of Wales' introduction to Tony Juniper's new book, "Nature" becomes a proper noun.
From the $3.7tr that could be saved through carbon capture by halving the deforestation rate, to the $81bn worth of damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, What has Nature Ever Done for Us? vividly reminds readers about the economic value of our natural resources, and what we stand to lose by ignoring and eradicating them.
Published today, Juniper's sixth book is so clearly written and enjoyably readable that it looks set to become a valuable tool for business leaders and students striving to gain a better understanding of the green economy.
Throughout 12 chapters, each covering a different aspect of the natural world, Juniper delivers fact after fact illustrating just how dependent our economic success has become, and will continue to be, on nature. With an engaging and non-preachy tone, he joins the dots for readers explaining how the impact of human activity on nature could have much wider unintended consequences elsewhere.
One of the more startling examples shows how the dramatic drop in population of India's "natural bin men" – vultures – appears to have inadvertently led to a rise in dog populations, and therefore rabies cases, costing the country around $34bn by some estimates.
The other chapters cover a range of topics, including the value of pollination, fish, and soil, which Juniper says alone could capture 5.5 billion tonnes of additional carbon each year if it were better managed.
Juniper takes a traditional "people, planet, profit" triple bottom line approach, highlighting the emerging trend for businesses to try and integrate the value of natural capital into their business models.
Companies such as Puma, whose environmental profit and loss account seeks to put an economic value on its environmental impact, or Interface, which has pioneered eco-friendly designs and closed loop resource thinking to produce its carpet tiles, will find much to vindicate their approach here.
The book does not focus on many of the more well-known low carbon technologies, such as wind turbines and electric cars, and instead Juniper highlights some of the less celebrated innovations that have already, or could in future, improve our lifestyles while preserving the environment. One surprising example is the horseshoe crab, whose copper based blood is still considered the best substance for testing the sterility of drugs – no synthetic alternative has proved as successful. He  also draws attention to elephants' giant guts, which have helped us to develop more efficient ways of making biofuels, as we better understand how they break down food.
Some of the natural processes Juniper describes are so fundamental to our existence, such as photosynthesis or the story of evolution, that his explanations might strike as a little basic to readers already au fait with the latest environmental thinking. (Anyone whose seen Fatboy Slim's Right Here, Right Now video understands the basic process of evolution, right?)
But nevertheless, both novices and experts can draw lessons from the way Juniper communicates these concepts in an incredibly accessible way. In fact, the book could prove a particularly valuable resource for sustainability leaders who struggle to convince their colleagues and senior management about the value of green projects.

With a foreword by Prince Charles, and its richly interwoven facts and figures, What Has Nature Ever Done for Us? deserves to be a hit with nature lovers and business leaders alike.

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