Common Interests: Private Sector Engagment with the MA

A multi-national agribusiness is trying to decide whether aquaculture activities are worth long-term investments. A national mining company needs to make strategic decisions regarding where to invest their limited exploratory resources. An entrepreneur, provided with the opportunity to obtain micro-financing wants to develop a business based on creating a market for local fruits. All of these private sector decision-makers stand to gain direct benefit from the results of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA). How? The Assessment will provide insights and information that will illuminate the complex interactions between ecosystems and people, information invaluable when considering choices such as those above. In addition to providing data regarding current trends and the nature of these interactions, the MA will assess the effectiveness of policy and decision-making responses and make suggestions for how responses can be applied more effectively in the future.

The fundamental conceptual underpinning of the MA is better understanding of the interrelationships between human well-being and the goods and services provided by ecosystems. Understanding these linkages can strengthen decisions taken in the private sector. But as much as the MA can provide beneficial information, private sector involvement in the MA process is in fact critical to the success of the Assessment. From the outset of the design process that led to the formal launch of the MA by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in June 2001, involvement of representatives of the private sector has been a high priority in the MA process.

Based on consultations with private sector representatives, several specific aspects of the MA have been identified from which the private sector can benefit:

  • Establishing Benchmarks Business plans and decisions require attention to detail concerning current market climate and future predicted conditions. The MA will provide information on the current state of ecosystems. These benchmarks will include information about current characteristics of ecosystem processes and how ecosystem conditions and processes have changed over time and might be expected to change into the future. Such information can be of critical importance in the context of site assessment processes and cost-benefit analyses.
  • Methodological Development The design and implementation of the multi-scale scenario approach of the MA provides valuable opportunities for “lessons learned” and general insights that are applicable to business strategy development. Specifically, the MA will be pioneering new methods of incorporating changes in ecosystem goods and services into global models and scenarios. The MA scenarios will provide important new perspectives regarding the interplay between ecosystems, economics and social dynamics.
  • Option Generation The MA process will clarify how consideration of ecosystem goods and services can affect decision-making within the private sector. It will also assist private sector decision-makers to gain insights into potential response options that might be considered and implemented by governmental decision-makers, e.g., use of markets to manage water services from forest lands.

There are also a number of reasons why private sector engagement in the MA is crucial to the success of the Assessment. Most obvious, perhaps, is the capacity of decisions taken by private companies to affect ecosystem goods and services. Because of research and development funding, for example, industry associations and companies are important sources of data, expertise, and methodologies. The private sector is also experienced and essential for defining scenarios or “plausible futures” concerning changes in driving forces such as technology development and deployment. Private sector perspectives can certainly help inform assumptions made in the deevlopment of scenarios regarding the use of markets to influence the use of ecosystem goods and services. Last but not least important, the private sector has the capacity to assist in the implementation of policy options that will be developed by the MA.

The World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is an early proponent of the Assessment, and has played a central role for the MA in the coordination of outreach and engagement with the private sector. WBCSD participation began with the exploratory steering committee that established the MA, and continues through the participation of three individuals on the Board who are affiliated with the WBCSD through their companies or organizations. In addition, the WBCSD has hosted two workshops that brought private sector leaders together with the leaders of the MA. The first took place during the technical design phase and the second, held in January 2003, focused on providing private sector input into the scenario development process, a key element of the MA.

Outside the WBCSD, the MA has gained valuable input toward its development from other Board members and advisors with private sector connections. The MA has also been providing information and briefings for a number of international business networks and associations including the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association, International Forestry Roundtable, the Electric Power Research Institute, the American Petroleum Institute and the International Council on Mining and Metals.

Key opportunities for involvement of private sector representatives in the MA will be forthcoming as the formal peer review process commences in early 2004. The MA organizers are extremely interested in soliciting review comments from private sector representatives. If you have interest in reviewing all or part of the forthcoming MA reports, please contact Valerie Thompson (

John Ehrmann, Senior Partner at Meridian Institute, coordinates private sector and OECS outreach for the MA Engagement and Outreach unit of the Secretariat. He can be reached at 

© 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment