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Planet Protectors

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— November 15, 2017

Planet Protectors

  • The Nature Conservancy takes an innovative approach to environmental protection
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Planet Protectors

It all started with a loan. In 1955, The Nature Conservancy provided $7,500 to finance the purchase of a 60-acre tract of land along the Mianus River Gorge on the New York/Connecticut border, protecting it from development.

More than 60 years later, the nonprofit, which has grown into one of the largest environmental groups in the world with more than $6.7 billion in assets, continues using loans and land acquisition as a principal conservation effort. To date, the Virginia-based nonprofit has helped fund the protection of more than 21 million acres in the United States and more than 103 million acres around the world.

Managing director of public policy Lynn Scarlett notes that the focus on supporting conservation efforts that benefit people and the planet, as well as “advancing science-based solutions to protecting lands, water and wildlife in both rural areas and cities through collaborative processes,” has helped the organization thrive and distinguish itself from other environmental advocacy groups.

Jim Gibbons, president of Natural Organics, Inc., the maker of the Nature’s Plus brand of supplements, says he is proud of the company’s partnership with The Nature Conservancy, under which Natural Organics is donating a portion of profits to the environmental group.

“Our goals are very much aligned,” Gibbons says. “We strive to source pure and organic ingredients, and seek business partners with stellar sustainable practices and environmental records, which helps our customers and the environment.” Those efforts are a byproduct of the company’s corporate environmental responsibility policy, which spells out methods “to ensure the preservation and protection of the environment,” as the policy reads, “and the diversity of life that exists within.” Gibbons expects to involve Natural Organics employees in beach cleanups and other Nature Conservancy projects.

Environmental Impact
The Nature Conservancy has earned a reputation as an organization that gets results—for good reason. Its list of accomplishments is impressive and far-reaching.

In the US, the group was instrumental in acquiring lands that led to the creation of Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, more than 44,000 acres with some of the largest sand dunes in North America; The Nature Conservancy also protected more than 160,000 acres in the Adirondack Mountains, conserving the last tract of privately owned timberland. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, the nonprofit mobilized 500 volunteers to restore an oyster reef off the coast of Alabama.

The organization’s efforts are also evident elsewhere in the world. In Kenya, The Nature Conservancy provided $3.5 million in funding to the Northern Rangelands Trust to work with local cattle ranchers to improve grazing practices, purchase cattle for market at premium prices and provide funding to local communities for conservation, healthcare and education. The partnership has helped boost household incomes and, as a result, elephant poaching in these territories has declined 40% over the last three years.

The initiative was part of a new program called NatureVest. The initiative, which launched in 2014, builds on The Nature Conservancy’s previous efforts to leverage private capital for conservation projects with a goal of sourcing at least $1 billion in impact investment capital to fund measurable conservation outcomes. Introducing an impact investing unit that creates and executes investable deals around the world that offer financial returns for investors and dividends to the planet helped The Nature Conservancy earn the 2006 FT/IFC Transformational Business Award from the Financial Times and International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group. “The Conservancy has developed financial acumen that helps bring creative, market-based measures to advancing conservation results,” notes Scarlett. Environmental Advocacy 2.0 Creative strategies for funding conservation work are more important than ever. From the beginning, the organization has relied on strategic partnerships to achieve its goals. Its first public partnership, with the Bureau of Land Management in 1961, involved co-managing an old-growth forest in California; in 1965, a gift from the Ford Foundation allowed The Nature Conservancy to hire its first full-time, paid president.

In addition to partnership with government agencies and corporations, the nonprofit relies on donations, grants and other contributions to fund its mission. From 2014 to 2015 (the latest data available), funding from dues/ contributions and government grants declined. And, while The Nature Conservancy is a bipartisan organization, there is no guarantee that its conservation objectives will receive government support in the future.

Scarlett insists that the organization is prepared to continue fighting to achieve its mission of “conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends.” “Many achievements have resulted through environmental advocacy over the past century. In the US, the air and water are cleaner [and] some species and their habitats have been protected,” she says. “But environmental protection worldwide is a continual journey—new challenges emerge and growing populations put more pressures on resources.”

To address those pressures, Scarlett believes multinational conservation partnerships, corporate sustainability and financing that extends beyond public sector funding will be essential tools of next-generation environmental advocacy.

“Increasingly the Conservancy and others are also advancing policy frameworks that support conservation partnerships, market-based incentives that help support and spur stewardship among landowners, businesses and others,” she says.

A Planet for the People
The Nature Conservancy also recognizes that decisions about the environment also impact the people who inhabit it. To that end, Scarlett says, “[The organization] accomplishes tangible conservation results that benefit the environment, local economies and communities by working closely with ranchers, farmers, indigenous peoples, fishing communities, businesses and others to find solutions that protect, restore and enhance habitat while also ensuring continuation and improvement of people’s livelihoods.”

In Australia, the organization launched the Australian Balanced Water Fund, an investment-driven solution to balance the water needs of farmers, communities and nature in the Murray-Darling Water Basin, one of the largest and most productive water basins in the world. The ecosystem is home to many threatened species but suffering from the impact of climate change and allocation of water entitlements. The Fund works with farmers to acquire and manage permanent water rights, donating a portion of the allocations to the environment, ensuring long-term conservation of the watershed and the species that call it home while still meeting the needs of farmers who rely on the water for their livelihoods.

“[Conservation] underpins sustainable economies, public health and offers many other benefits to people, and this connection between people and nature is taking on increasing importance in environmental advocacy,” Scarlett says.

Taking care of people and the planet might sound simple but a science-backed approach to conservation is not universally popular. “While most of our advocacy focus is on advancing bipartisan conservation solutions, we will continue to be vigilant about proposed measures that might undermine strong conservation funding and practices,” Scarlett says.

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