Nature-based solutions can help organizations meet sustainability targets at lower costs than technological solutions, while offering substantial co-benefits for people and the planet.
The corporate sector is investing in these solutions, recognizing the value they bring to solving the world’s climate crisis. But, investment in this space is still lacking and more needs to be done.
The question then arises: how can corporate leaders ramp up socially and ecologically responsible corporate investment in nature?
Roshni Nadar Malhotra, Chairperson, HCL Technologies, discussed this during a panel on the second day of the World Economic Forum 2022 in Davos.
She was joined by Jim Andrew, Chief Sustainability Officer at PepsiCo Inc., Kahea Pacheco, Co-Executive Director from the Women's Earth Alliance and Ani Dasgupta, President and Chief Executive Officer at World Resources Institute. The panel was hosted by Andrew Steer, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bezos Earth Fund.
Investing in nature
At COP26 it became evident that humans can't address climate challenges if they don’t address nature, as well.
Business leaders are now prioritizing investments in nature, but as a relatively new mission-critical focus, how they approach this is often a challenge.
Malhotra explained that traditionally, corporates have done very well when investing in their people. In
India, for example, investment in technology skills is high. The tech industry is the largest employer of white-collar jobs and graduates aspire to work in this sector.
To move the dial and help corporates engage in nature, they need to “invest in people in nature,” said Malhotra.
"For companies, the single most important investment they can make is in more capacity building for nature. It's about investing in people, whether that’s skills, entrepreneurship, CSR funding, financial acumen, funding or patient capital,” she added.
Bringing employees on the journey
For large organizations, ensuring everyone is brought on the business or cultural journey is a challenge.
HCL Technologies is no exception. It employs over 200,000 people and operates in geographies around the world.
To foster a culture that brings everyone in the organization on a journey of sustainability and responsible practice, Malhotra advised that corporates should create an ecosystem that fosters initiatives like nature-based skills.
“We have the HCL Technologies Academy, which trains or upskills people in nature for those wanting to make an impact in the societies where they live,” said Malhotra.
“Corporates are employers of so many young people and they have the ability to pivot young minds,” she added.
Championing nature outside the corporate
Beyond upskilling, education and company-wide CSR initiatives, corporates can fund entrepreneurship programs for those who want to create nature-based solutions or tech-based solutions that solve climate challenges.
“Corporates can give entrepreneurs patient capital and access to areas of work that they’re interested in, to generate more entrepreneurship,” said Malhotra.
This aspect of investing in the green economy needs to improve dramatically. In India, over the last two years, more than $40 billion has been invested in startups leading to the rise of 40 unicorns and not one was focused on green tech, nature-based solutions or climate action.
To address this current landscape, “the definition of return on investment and risk appetite will have to change,” explained Malhotra.
‘Plant a tree’
For any significant investment, business leaders, stakeholders and investors expect a tangible return on investment (ROI).
But, with investments in sustainability or nature, traditional expectations should not apply – the immediate
ROI is less obvious; it is an investment in the future that will impact the next generations.
Malhotra advised that “corporates should stop looking for a return on investment if they want to invest in nature. Nature takes time.”
She affirmed: “When you plant a tree, by the time it grows up, many CEOs or Corporate Strategy Officers will have come and gone.”
To see the full panel hosted at the World Economic Forum, click here: Accelerating Corporate Investment in Nature World Economic Forum Annual Meeting | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)
To learn more about how HCL’s freshwater conservation initiative read HCL Commits $15 million to address global freshwater insecurity