Assessing the impact of agricultural production on biodiversity and ecosystem services

Independent consultant on a NERC Valuing Nature Network collaboration ‘The right value for externalities’ with the Cambridge Centre for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL) and the Natural Capital Leaders’ Platform. Work was focused on two projects assessing the impact of agricultural water use on ecosystem services by two different multinational companies. The projects were completed working alongside an environmental economist.

Identifying impacts – the first project aimed to understand the impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem services of commercial wheat growing, and the second the impact on water of almond and tomato production. This required identifying the baseline biodiversity and ecosystem service provision for the study region, to then determine the size and direction of the impacts that agricultural production was having on them. Biophysical measurements were identified in the scientific literature (e.g. soil carbon) so the impacts on services could be quantified. This impact was then estimated in monetary terms by bundling impacts together and using the size of the impacted habitat as a proxy for the suite of services typically provided by the habitat (using secondary data sources).

Outcomes – the biophysical impacts of business operations were quantified using secondary data sources, but the actual impacts were not possible to assess using footprinting or mapping approaches without regional data, which could not be supplied. However, the estimation of the cost of the externalities of wheat production was possible. These projects contributed to the formulation of E.Valu.A.Te, a web tool and game that helps corporations use an ecosystem approach and natural capital valuations when assessing the environmental externalities of their operations.
Further information: The E.Valu.A.Te reports are available here