Together now: Good governance and better business discussed at the World Ocean Summit

Sarah HoytBy Sarah Hoyt (MEM/MBA ’16)

Leaders in business, government, academia and nonprofit convened in San Francisco at The Economist’s World Ocean Summit last week to address the role of ocean health in a thriving global economy. I was fortunate to attend, representing Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Fuqua School of Business. Over the two days I witnessed an impressive troupe of nonprofit visionaries, technical experts and business leaders engage in honest conversation about global issues that impact the ocean – overfishing, deep-sea mining, food security and pollution, to name a few. Their task was to identify and catalyze actions to resolve these issues.

hoyt_wos_photoImpassioned and optimistic leaders from the public to the private sector collaborated across to break through the barriers separating the problems from the solutions. Experts examined how governance structures can improve within national waters calling on nations in the Atlantic Ocean to facilitate information sharing through technology. Representatives from the fishing industry and nonprofit leaders brainstormed ways to address the demand for overfished marine species in key global regions and how to stop destructive fishing. Technology experts put forth ambitious ideas about financing schemes to incentivize sustainable practices among artisanal fishers, thus investing in the future value of seafood.

As I kept my ear to the ground, I not only recognized the tremendous effort and courage put forth by Summit delegates, I noticed two action items that require further attention:

1.      Missing data is a critical factor preventing meaningful global solutions and was not formally addressed at the Summit. In particular, more and better data accompanied by greater access to data will help solve issues not just in understanding how humans impact the ocean, but also in motivating multilateral programs and businesses to step out of philanthropic management and into strategic ocean stewardship action. Getting the appropriate and relevant information, however, is expensive and time consuming. Storage, analysis, management and communication also require significant resources.

A forum such as the World Ocean Summit could help advance ongoing data collection efforts, especially with regard to prioritizing information needs and synthesizing how businesses plan to use the data. The bottom line for business and governance was clear to me: data will contribute to our more precise valuation of the ecosystem services upon which marine industries – not to mention our global health – depend. This will, in turn, support the business community in integrating marine resource stewardship and conservation into broader management strategies.

2.      The ocean economy must develop valuation mechanisms for marine ecosystem services. Such “natural capital valuation” was introduced, but not addressed. The term “natural capital valuation” permeated nearly every conversation and every working group session. The Economist team that organized the event was smart to invite leaders in this space from Trucost and the Natural Capital Coalition. These leaders spoke about the need for filling knowledge gaps, integrating valuation schemes into business models and standardizing both the regulatory space and marketplace as critical to truly refining the way businesses value nature. Top consulting firms also highlighted existing work by companies to value natural capital and integrate these values into business management decisions.

These solutions, however, are so new and terrestrially-focused that I found myself wondering how the connection to the ocean can be made. If I had these same thoughts, were business leaders at the summit also concerned about the underdeveloped nature of these schemes? Are valuation mechanisms appropriate or even possible for ocean management? Leaders in corporate ecosystem service valuation needed to step out of their comfort zone and discuss the direct applications of their work to sustainable ocean business management.

Two days is an ambitious time frame to solve some of the world’s most complex problems and the World Ocean Summit platform is perhaps too high-level for the technical conversations needed to build actionable solutions. Nevertheless, the intersection of business and the marine environment is ripe for action. Now is the time to address the tough issues like data collection and ecosystem service valuation. The interdisciplinary group represented at the Summit must come together beyond these two days to develop, pilot, measure, amplify and integrate solutions toward a sustainable ocean economy. I look forward to the next World Ocean Summit and hope that, in the meantime, influencers from multiple sectors will collaborate to break down barriers and work toward solutions pioneering a sustainable ocean.


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