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Business is blooming: Nature’s vital role in our economy

Posted on 09-03-2018 by Naturalis editors


Many of us are familiar with concepts of economic and social capital. However, we’re missing out on the economic value of the natural world, says Koos Biesmeijer, the newly appointed Professor of Natural Capital at Leiden University.

What is natural capital?

At first glance, the term ‘natural capital’ might seem confusing or even contradictory. Our concept of the natural world is generally at odds with more negative constructs of capitalism’s environmental impact. “I’m going to change that, starting today”, says Professor Koos Biesmeijer at his inaugural lecture as Leiden University’s Professor of Natural Capital on 9 March 2018. Describing natural capital as the foundation for our future, Biesmeijer explains how the economy can benefit from thoughtful and sustainable business practices that make the best possible use of natural resources. 

In addition to his appointment at Leiden University, Biesmeijer is the Scientific Director at Naturalis Biodiversity Center, and has spent more than 20 years researching ecology with a focus on plant pollination. His own research is chiefly concerned with the relationship between human activities and natural capital. “Nature is a treasure chest full of smart solutions, valuable processes and innovative chemistry,” he says. 

Careful use of the world’s resources

That doesn’t mean nature is a tool for us to simply use, Biesmeijer explains, “every entrepreneur knows that you have to cherish capital”, underlining the importance of only using natural raw materials if there are no major long-term risks. He uses the energy transition the world is currently facing as an example. We’re running out of oil and gas, the types of natural capital our wealth is based on, and have had to look to more sustainable ways of generating energy. In other words, the world needs to make smarter decisions regarding its natural capital. 

Economic value for apple growers

After explaining the significance of natural capital, Biesmeijer even assigns a monetary value to it using apples, the best-selling fruit in the Netherlands. Drawing on years of research, he says that half the total value of the Dutch apple harvest can be attributed to pollination. Additionally, better pollination increases the value of apples. Apples that are misshapen or unstable on a flat surface have not been well pollinated – a process that requires a lot of energy for a bee. Apple flowers are particularly complex because they have five stigmas, which must all be pollinated to produce a perfectly round apple. Biesmeijer concludes that the yield of quality apples is maximised when crops are pollinated naturally by insects, and ideally by a diverse variety of different pollinators. Ultimately, this results in more income for the grower. It seems that what’s good for the bees is good for the economy. 

Leiden’s unique collaboration

In his role as Professor of Natural Capital, Biesmeijer aims to contribute to the knowledge, protection and ultimately better use of natural capital, placing the university and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in a strong position as part of future sustainability discussions. So, Biesmeijer urges, the next time you’re enjoying a slice of apple pie, make sure you consider the bees that helped produce it and the natural capital that the world’s sustainable future hinges on.

Posted in Research | Tagged koos biesmeijer,