Natural capital and companies

The Gulbenkian Oceans Initiative seeks to promote business solutions that add value to the business sector while optimizing the sustainable management of natural resources. By identifying that companies systematically exclude natural capital from their decision-making processes, we have developed the project “Natural Capital and a sustainable business strategy”

This project, based on four strategic stages – 1) Know; 2) Analyse; 3) Adopt; and 4) Lead – aims to facilitate the adoption of natural capital accounting by the Portuguese business sector.


1st Know

What is natural capital?

Natural capital is the stock of Earth’s natural assets (water, soil, air, rivers, oceans and forests, etc.) that yield a flow of benefits to society such as food, drinking water, pharmacological and medicinal resources, renewable resources for energy production and the space to carry out sports and playful nature activities. Other major yet invisible benefits include temperature regulation, carbon sequestration and oxygen production.  These are vital for human well-being and for a sustainable global economy.


What is the main problem between natural capital and companies?

The benefits provided by natural capital, together with other well-known forms of capital (e.g. human, financial, manufactured, intellectual and social) underpin the production processes and economic activity.  While companies are extremely knowledgeable about the value of their manufactured and financial capital, natural capital is usually not accountable within our economic system, thus, excluded from crucial top-level management decisions. If we don’t acknowledge the value of an asset, being it financial, natural or of any other type, it gets extremely difficult or even impossible to manage it efficiently. With many businesses relying considerably on natural assets both directly and through its supply chains, it gets fundamental to understand and value these dependencies as well as the impacts these activities may have on a (un)sustainable provision of natural capital.

The economic invisibility of natural assets leads to a general inefficiency in business management, excludes significant risks and opportunities from decisions and bring the financial stability of the corporate sector into question.


To learn more about this topic, download our brochure “Blue Natural Capital – and a sustainable business strategy” (only available in Portuguese), which was based on the results of a survey answered by 201 Portuguese maritime organizations. 

“Blue Natural Capital – and a sustainable business strategy” in Portuguese only – (PDF 1MB)


2nd Analyze

What is the best answer to this problem?

Natural capital accounting helps solving the problem of the economic invisibility of natural assets in the context of business decision making. It is defined as the process of identifying, measuring and assessing the impacts and dependencies between natural capital and economic activities.

The Natural Capital Protocol, (the Protocol), launched in July 2016 by the Natural Capital Coalition, is currently the most robust tool to value a company’s natural capital. Built on existing tools and methods, the Protocol allows any company in any economic sector to account for natural capital. It was specifically designed so that managers can better inform their decisions, guiding them through four phases: “why“, “what” and “how” to account for natural capital and finally, in the “what’s next” phase, explain how the results can be successfully integrated into the decision-making processes.

Have you already downloaded the Natural Capital Protocol? Please do it here.


What are the benefits of using and applying the Natural Capital Protocol?  

The benefits attached to natural capital accounting are many, such as: reduce costs by realizing productivity and efficiency gains in the use and/or exploitation of resources; increase revenues by creating new business opportunities that integrate innovative and sustainable products and services; enhance brand image by increased transparency; attract customers by strengthening their trust with the company; improve access to finance by attracting investors and lenders who are currently much aware about the social and environmental performance of companies; and offer innumerous benefits to local communities and natural ecosystems which are increasingly expose to negative externalities. Finally, corporate natural capital accounting helps companies to optimize their risk management processes.


What is the applicability of the Natural Capital Protocol?

  • Strategic planning
  • Supply-chain assessment
  • Operational, financial and legislative related decision-making
  • Reporting of non-financial information


Learn the capacity-building and training tools of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation


Open information session about the Natural Capital Protocol 
Date: June 22, 2016
Know more


Training program “Natural Capital Protocol” 

September 27, 2016 – 1st workshop
Know more (PDF 265kB)


October 26, 2016 – 2nd workshop
Know more (PDF 265kB)

The “Natural Capital Protocol” training, promoted in partnership with BCSD Portugal, was attended by approximately 40 companies (large and SMEs) from 31 different economic sectors.


Learn about other available training tools

Natural Capital Hub – online platform that provides information on natural capital – case studies, news, events, etc.

Natural Capital Application Program – This program aims to support companies to apply the Protocol through webinars and other relevant materials, as well as to introduce them to teams of trainers and consultants. To access the program, free of charge, simply fill out the registration form.


3rd Adopt

Natural Capital Challenge 

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the BCSD Portugal are promoting the “Natural Capital Challenge” until June 2017 in order to accelerate and facilitate the adoption of the Natural Capital Protocol.

The “Natural Capital Challenge” is open to all companies that have participated in the Training Program “Natural Capital Protocol”.


4th Lead

Radar of Pioneering Ideas – Natural Capital 

Following the “Natural Capital Challenge”, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation will publish and present a “Natural Capital – Radar of Pioneering Ideas” in September 2017.

We expect this event will: i) recognize and value pioneering companies in the field of natural capital accounting, enhance their image among relevant stakeholders and position them as a reference in the field of sustainable business solutions; ii) boost the emergence of market followers.

Updated on 17 october 2017

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