KNOWLEDGE MAP Back to overview

Natural Capital

Which related terms are important?

Natural capital knows a number of related, frequently used terms: ecosystem services, biodiversity, externalities and no net loss.

Ecosystem services

Nature provides mankind in an almost unnoticeable manner with all sorts of services. Dunes protect low-lying countries against flooding and forests capture CO2. These services are called ecosystem services. We depend on these services and we impact them at the same time. There are four types of ecosystem services:

  1. Production services, such as food, wood and fresh water;
  2. Regulating services, such as water management, pollination and climate regulation;
  3. Cultural services, such as recreation and inspiration; and
  4. Supporting services, such as soil production and photosynthesis.

Haines-Young & Potschin (2013), p. ii.

DuurzaamDoor (2014), p. 30. (in Dutch)

PBL & WUR (2010), p. 11. (in Dutch)


Biodiversity is the variability among living organisms within species, between species and between ecosystems. High biodiversity increases the effectiveness of ecosystem services. This positive relationship has been found for the ecosystem services carbon sequestration, water purification, soil fertility, natural pest regulation, and pollination.

ERM, IUCN, PwC & WBCSD (2011), p. 9.

Wageningen UR (2014), p. 9.

The world’s 3,000 largest publicly traded companies had US$ 2.15 trillion per year estimated global environmental costs from the impacts on the environment of their economic activity. The majority of unpriced natural capital costs are from greenhouse gas emissions (38%), followed by water use (25%), land use (24%), air pollution (7%), land and water pollution (5%) and waste (1%).

No high impact region-sectors generate sufficient profit to cover their environmental impacts. Region-sectors most at risk include coal power generation in Eastern Asia and Northern America, wheat farming in Southern Asia, and cattle ranching in South America and Southern Asia.

OECD, Glossary of Statistical Terms.

Trucost and TEEB for Business Coalition (2013).

More information on the externalities of companies on the website of UNPRI.

No Net Loss & Net Positive Impact

No net loss means that business activities do not harm biodiversity and ecosystems. The ultimate goal is that companies actually contribute to the preservation and restoration of natural capital (net positive impact). This improves business operations by means of innovation and increased efficiency. This requires subsequently avoiding, minimizing, restoring and offsetting any damage to biodiversity and ecosystems. No net loss is a central concept in the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 (see Selection of European legislation). 

More information on the websites of Platform BEE (in Dutch) and the European Commission.

IUCN (2015).