Puma to settle scores with nature – but will it all add up?

Puma the sportswear manufacturer has revealed details of its environmental P&L, the first step to a full sustainability accounting. This is not the first time it has been attempted, as the examples of Bulmers, Forum for the Future and Anglian Water show. But it is the first time such a large company has done it and publicly said that it matters.

There are a number of interesting features of this atempt:

  • the CEO has publicly said that valuing ecosystem services is important to the business as it will prepare the business for inevitable future regulation
  • it underlines that the nearer the supply chain gets to nature, the greater its impact. This is probably quite widely applicable across quite different sectors and true for social as well as environmental impacts.

However there are some disappointing aspects to the initiative as well. The assumption appears to be that future regulation will materialise, because otherwise ecosystem services will be destroyed. However it needs wisdom on the part of politicians if regulation is to be applauded, rather than the next act in the tragedy of the commons.

Perhaps most troubling is the expectation that sustainability somehow involves netting off gains (such as financial profit) against losses (to the environment or society). This sounds very logical, until you realise that this is exactly the thinking of orthodox economists. And it has led us to the desperate situation we are in today.