Mission (gray bloc)

Valuing Nature
Samuel Vionnet
Sustainability Expert and Founder
+41 (0)76 372 90 27

I support organisations to integrate the value of natural and social capital into decision making, by providing innovative methodologies, data and expertise.

780% return on investment

For every US dollar invested by Novartis in each of the four carbon-sink projects, an average of USD 7.8 worth of societal value is created thanks to climate change mitigation, ecosystem services,...

How sustainable is hydroelectricity?

The Las Cruces hydroelectric project in Mexico might lead to a negative outcome for the Mexican if built. A natural and social capital accounting method has been used to assess the project's impact,...

There is no sustainability without a balance sheet

Measuring social and natural capital only makes sense when we consider balance sheet. So far, very few organizations have managed to do this. We only see P&L published. But P&L is like GPD, it only...

Jobs at all costs

The private sector is exploring new ways to measure its societal impact, moving beyond traditional economic indicators. We developed an innovative model based on social determinant of health studies....

Achieving net positive impact using the SDGs

If not already done, you will have to use SDGs for defining your net positive impact. But how to measure it? I discuss four steps to support you in this difficult task: your theory of change, your...

Honey is worth more than you think

The Association mellifera is developing a high impact social project around honey bees. Valuing Nature sponsored the creation of one bee colony and calculated the societal value created by the...

Solving half the world’s problems

This article explores the role of Natural Capital within the SDGs and addresses in particular the connexions that exist between SDGs targets. It provide as well some statistics on the maturity of a...

The Sustainable Development Goals and the Mont Blanc

An innovative analysis of the SDG’s targets is unlocking barriers and triggering efficient actions to reach these goals by 2030. By understanding that these targets are inter-connected and that...

The wider benefit of water recycling in a water scarce region

ENGIE, a global energy company, used a water valuation approach to assess the benefits of a water recycling project with the help of Valuing Nature. It showed that the overall benefit generated per...

Water scarcity is not a problem… Undervalued water is

This article summarizes the outcome of a session held at the World Water Week 2015, managed by Valuing Nature, which explored the benefits and limitations of the use of water valuation metrics and...

And now what? The future of Natural Capital Accounting

This article presents the results of a survey, of executives working for private companies and consultancies, on the trends and future challenges of the Natural Capital Accounting approach.

Valuing Water – The Basics

The basic concepts of water valuation as an ecosystem service are presented in this article. Water valuation can fulfil the need for a Natural Capital Accounting method for the private sector. This...

Why is Investment in Watershed Services the future of conservation?

Successful conservation projects have mostly targeted low opportunity cost areas in remote locations until now. Conservation has now entered a new phase by competing with humans needs. Investment in...

The Opportunity Cost of Biodiversity Loss in the Swiss Plateau

Measures to maintain the biodiversity on the Swiss plateau would generate 136 millions CHF of benefit for the society. It is urgent that we realize that the sharp decline in biodiversity in...

Global Land Use Dataset

Data is critical to assess the reliance of companies on natural capital. A new model is available to fill this data gap with a global coverage of land use related externalities.

The Value of Rain

A study showed how to link water footprint and ecosystem services valuation to identify the value of rain and freshwater in Santa Cruz (Bolivia) region. This study was done in partnership with Forest...

Natural Capital Accounting - An Introduction

Recognizing the benefits we obtain from nature is key to ensuring long term profit while creating shared value. This article presents shorty the interest for the methodology, illustrated by a case...

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Valuing Nature
Samuel Vionnet
Switzerland - Guatemala
CH: +41 76 372 90 27
GT: +502 4490-5633‬

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The Sustainable Development Goals and the Mont Blanc

An innovative analysis of the SDG’s targets is unlocking barriers and triggering efficient actions to reach these goals by 2030. By understanding that these targets are inter-connected and that acting on one might impact others, we are able to identify prioritized actions. Interconnectedness between targets can be identified using a defined cause effect pathway, or theory of change, which is presented in detail below.

Release date: 21.10.2015
Category: Method

The Sustainable Development Goals are like the Mont Blanc observed from another mountain kilometers away. The picture herewith provides a view of the Mont Blanc as seen from the Jura mountain chain facing the Alps, across from the Léman lake. The Jura is a wonderful outdoor playground, providing beautiful panoramic views of the Mont Blanc.

The 17 SDGs can be depicted as the various parts forming the Mont Blanc which, when visible in its entirety, is stunning and desirable.

We see the Mont Blanc clearly although we also see the wide gap in front of us. We will need to find our way, descending from the summits of the Jura, making our way through the countryside of the Canton de Vaud, swimming across the Léman lake (or getting around it), and hiking the Alps to reach the bottom of the Mont Blanc. And only then do we start the climb to the summit. It is a long journey, but a worthwhile destination. We are convinced it is the right destination.

However, common sense would advise us to get a map, as the SDG are only goals. They are not a plan. The journey is as important as the final destination. There are 169 SDG targets, which for any decision-maker would be a management nightmare, without talking of the relevance of the goals themselves. The evolution from the MDGs to the SDGs added 9 goals and as well as more complex objectives and targets, when we haven’t actually succeeded in achieving the MDGs thus far. This is not considered as a common and effective management practice. Choosing the SDG which we value most or which is aligned with our company culture is already good, but far from being sufficient. We need to gain an understanding of the bottlenecks, of the target “hubs” and of the actions that will unlock the highest societal value and contribute the most to the SDGs. Many targets are linked, and they can all be classified within a cause effect chain or “theory of change”. This theory of change will help us reach the Mont Blanc and identify the best actions and activities to reach the summit.

The theory of change is a traditional model which is defined around key activities that require input and subsequently generate output. Output contribute to create outcomes and finally the impact we want to achieve, a sustainable development. The figure below expresses this clearly.

We can map the SDGs’ targets within this framework to:

  • Realize how they are part of the same cause effect chain
  • Identify how targets are linked and focus on the targets that will influence positively the highest number of other targets
  • Prioritize the activities or actions that will lead to the outcomes and impact we want to achieve
  • Identify missing actions that connect and support the targets

This systemic view brings much needed clarity within the SDGs. Let’s illustrate this with goal 6, which states “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. It is composed of 6 targets and 2 sub-targets. By completing the exercise of plotting the targets within the theory of change framework, we obtain the figure below:

We observe that targets 1 and 2, which are related to the access to water and sanitation, are outcomes which contribute overall to reach the level of well-being we are targeting (impact). However, to reach these outcomes, we must work on specific activities represented by targets 3, 4 and 6: increase water use efficiency, reduce water pollution and protect/restore water related ecosystems which provide most of the global water supply. These three targets are about recognizing the value of our built capital (water infrastructures), social capital (institutions) and natural capital (natural ecosystems). They are key assets to invest in, but which are often neglected. Identifying for each watershed which is undervalued and lacks investment is the first step towards the outcome of access to water and sanitation.

To support an efficient investment in those types of capital, we need on the one hand an integrated water resource management plan (target 5) and on the other hand the contribution of key stakeholders, such as international cooperation agencies (target 6A) and local communities (target 6B).

This way of representing the targets of the SDG 6 provides some clarity or a preliminary map to trigger actions. Firstly, we will need to identify which of the activities, related to targets 3, 4 and 6, will be the most relevant for a specific region. Secondly, we will need to ensure the buy-in of key stakeholders (including international cooperation agencies and local communities) around an integrated water resources management plan.

This example has been developed within the SDG 6. By extending this thinking to other goals we can quickly see that those specific targets will contribute to others (and the contrary is true too), for example:

  • Target 2.4 - Ensure sustainable food production systems: Water resource management is key to most of the world’s agriculture production (80% of the world’s water use is for agriculture production)
  • Target 12.2 - Achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources: Water is one of the vital natural resources.
  • Target 15.2 - Sustainable management of forests: Water is one of the most important ecosystem services provided by forests worldwide.
  • And the list goes on…

This short analysis shows the path to unlock actions - and not focus only on bold statements - around the SDGs. I also hope it will stimulate a more practical use of the SDG’s 169 targets, in particular for the private sector. For this sector, it is critical to identify the specific investments required in natural, social and built capital, which will directly contribute to create resilient revenues for their business, and at the same time support SDG’s targets. This is one more link to create between such targets and business objectives. This is important to avoid the trap of “feel good” statements and activities commonly seen in the private sector. The SDGs are simply good business, not philanthropic goals.

Now that we have set a desired summit to reach with the establishment of the SDGs, the next step is asking yourself whether you have your map in hand to reach the Mont Blanc by 2030.

The part 2 of the article will explore the connexion between the 169 targets alltogether following the same principles presented above. 

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