Forest Valuation in an Era of Climate Emergency

“In the past we could afford a long gestation period before undertaking major environmental policy initiatives.

Today, the time for a well-planned transition to a sustainable system is running out. We may be moving in the right direction, but we are moving too slowly. We are failing in our responsibility to future generations and even the present one”

Late Kofi Annan, Secretary General, U.N.


There are 4 phases in understanding ecological challenges: denial, dispersal, acceptance and creativity. Looking at the data on eco challenges that are currently available on the internet, the world seems entrapped in all the four phases simultaneously.

We know the scale of resource intensity through the extractive economy being practiced globally.

Today, with severe water shortages, large numbers of civil society are in a denial mode in the judicious use of water – a resource more precious than gold. Flowing taps create a deep illusion of plenty. The reality however is completely alarming as is being experienced in 2024.

Waste is a good example of the dispersal mind-set in cities across the world. Waste is shifted to the landfill site in the periphery of the cities causing distress to the people living around it and generating methane gas compounding climate change.

There is a significant opportunity for extracting the residual value of so-called waste to convert it into usable products. For example, food waste is being converted into biogas in many organisations.

The next phase of understanding the eco issues is the acceptance phase wherein people start looking at solutions of managing waste responsibly. In other words, generate less waste by ordering resources precisely and as needed, as opposed to generating waste and adopting end of the pipe line solutions like the installation of Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) and Electrostatic Precipitators in thermal power plants.

We need large doses of creativity so that we reduce the consumption of all resources. This can only happen by architectural and transformative changes.

Another example of creativity is when small restaurants guide customers through static communications, to order food mindfully to avoid food waste, or by training service staff to suggest to the host to prune down the order if the host has over ordered depending on the number of guests being entertained. This approach is a creative approach to mitigate food waste and may be called a top of the pipe line approach. The UN Environment Programme’s Food Waste Index Report 2024 highlights that latest data from 2022 shows food waste to the tune of 1.05 billion tonnes.

I did not have the luxury of going through the 4 ecological phases when I was posted in Port Blair, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and I could feel the sharp edges of resource finiteness while operating the hotel on a daily basis. It was challenging to run the hotel almost 36 years ago when the transport logistics of the islands with the mainland was tenuous, to say the least, as practically all supplies were shipped from Chennai or Kolkata.

During my tenure there I met some enlightened people who shared their concerns about the degeneration of the natural ecosystems of the islands like the corals, mangroves and the tropical forests, all under pressure with the increasing population.

My journey into eco valuation and biomimicry 1988-1992

Innovation is a necessity for all aspects of life, it is different from existing practices. In my case, I was sensitised by the local stakeholders in Port Blair to look at the negative externality of our business. This led to asking many questions and lead to very elegant outcomes- a new concept was developed as ‘Proof of concept” in running the business, as Late Kofi Anan Former Secretary General, U.N said – “I hope corporations understand that the world is not asking them to do something different from their normal business; rather it is asking them to do their normal business differently.”

My journey in the sphere of sustainable development began in 1988 by eliminating single use cardboard food boxes with steel tiffins. In the bargain we symbolically reduced the pulp extracted from the forest.

In 1989, I learnt from my engineer that we had cut approximately 500 trees to build the hotel. I asked him to plant 20,000 trees as a concept of compensatory depository afforestation. We did not find place to plant the large number of trees, hence we planted 1500 trees at the local airport in partnership with AAI – a concept of a regenerative economy. To further this concept, we put up a hoarding with a message- Planting trees is every individual and organisation’s responsibility in the hope of entering the perceptual arena of the mind-set of a wide range of stakeholders-an example of creativity in stakeholder engagement.

In 2005 the UN started REDD ‘Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation’

Robert Costanza, Distinguished University Professor of Sustainability at the Portland State University, Oregon, was the first to estimate the worldwide worth of ecosystem services in 1997, bringing new attention to the field of ecosystem valuation. He and his colleagues calculated that such services were worth $33 trillion annually ($44 trillion present dollars).

As a conclusion, I would like to add that we must learn to imbibe conspicuous conservation and absorb the saying “less is more” as a default standard for living and in the interest of being fair to our future generations.


Niranjan Khatri is the Founder of iSambhav, a veteran hotelier who served with ITC Hotels and strengthened their commitment to sustainability. He continues to be invested in this drive towards green energy and hospitality with responsibility.


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