• Matt Sykes

Trade, back to First principles

As my uncle would say, we need to come back to first principles. Our lives depend on light, water, soil, air, plants, animals and of course people. It’s all reciprocal. Businesses have an opportunity to pause and think about the life support systems that Nature provides, and which make business possible in the first place. We can, and must, look at these ‘ecosystem services’ at a regional level but also a local, business-level.

Sunrise at Geelong sea baths, recreation is one of the many daily 'ecosystem services' provided by Nerm / Port Phillip Bay

In last week’s blog, I gave the example of Port Phillip Bay which provides water filtration services to a value in excess of $11 billion, based on the annual processing of 5000 tonnes of nitrogen. Let’s then think about the feeder rivers, creeks and thousands of stormwater drains that are the source of that nitrogen. Ok, keep coming back … to the stormwater drain right at the front of your office or home. Come back further still, through your carpark, garden, doorstep, kitchen sink and bathroom. Perfect. We’re starting to look at a complete ‘living’ system which connects our business’ daily use and relationship with water, with iconic water bodies like Nerm / Port Phillip Bay. It also connects our business to the daily ‘business’ of the plants and animals within them. You see, Nature is everyone’s business. We’re IN business WITH Nature.

That’s what we mean when we say, coming back to First principles. In my experience, First Nations leaders are acutely aware of these interdependencies, and of the cultural ‘blind spots’ embodied in the way most of us manage our businesses. I say cultural because they’re learned but fortunately culture evolves.

So, how can we balance the books in a way that reflects a fairer and more accurate exchange goods and services between all stakeholders?

With our clients we work with tools like circular economics so that we can measure how much we give back to community, nature, culture and the economy as well as how much we take. We also look at the interplay between culture and Nature through tools like ‘bioregions’, that is areas of land and water which share commonalities in geomorphology, geology, hydrology, flora and fauna.

Which bioregion does your business sit within? Which ecosystems is your supply chain most connected to?

Both businesses and customers expect a fair trade in their exchange of goods and services. That’s reasonable. So, why is it any different in the exchange between business and Nature?

Just think, if you take advantage of your biggest supplier by failing to pay for the full price of their contribution, they’re going to let you know about it. They might even stop doing business with you. It’s fair to say that Mother Nature is sending some pretty strong signals that we are not living up to our end of the bargain. Rather than risk compromising the working relationship any more, let’s take ownership of the problem and renegotiate the terms of contract.


Eigenraam, M., McCormick, F., and Contreras, Z. (2016) ‘Marine and Coastal Ecosystem Accounting: Port Phillip Bay’. Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Victoria. Accessed on August 22 at

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