There is Money to be Made in Environmental Restoration

This is music to my ears.

A new report is out that shows the investment opportunities in environmental restoration. This is so important to me because when I sit across from a representative of a municipality or a private business, trying to explain to them the importance of stream restoration, forest protection, or land preservation, I am always looking for ways to show how investment in environmental issues now will pay out in the future.

Many people think taking a sustainable and environmental approach is too costly of an endeavor. And I admit that it is often easy to look at the year-end bottom line and forget how environmental opportunities can work out monetarily in the long-term. It can feel like rolling the dice sometimes, but that is why reports such as “Growing Trees and Growing Profit” by The Nature Conservancy and the World Resources Institue are so important.  This piece outlines the very principals I’ve been trying to convey for years and defines the opportunities of what they call a “restoration economy.” While the focus of this report is on tree restoration, it makes the case that a variety of restoration efforts have the capacity to make a positive impact on the economy. And because I am so enthralled by their idea of a “restoration economy” I will include their definition of the idea: “Restoration economy refers to the network of businesses, investors, and consumers that engage in the economic activity related to restoring land.”

Here are a few of my takeaways from this report:

The report outlines a number of innvoative businesses that are coming up with ways to help people save money in response to a changing climate and an unpredictable environment. I work in a county in Ohio that includes a mix of farmers and suburbanites. I hear stories of farmers dealing with unusual rain and weather patterns that are affecting their crop, and developers having to deal with drainage and erosion issues due to increased rainfall. These climate-related problems greatly impact local businesses and farmers resulting in thousands of dollars being spent to fix unpredicted circumstances. Technology that can predict resilience and help farmers and developers better understand their risks increases the implementation of best management practices, which is one of my ultimate goals in the conservation field.

There are also a number of businesses that succeed solely on their ethics and mission as a company to protect the environment. Sustainably produced items or products from companies that commit to protecting land or planting trees are very popular among consumers today. People want to know the story behind their product and to have the opportunity to contribute to the world in a positive way.

Other companies may not originally have their focus on environmental issues, but are required to mitigate practices that are harmful to the environment due to governmental regulatory authority. Regulation is a difficult issue for some, but proper balance and common sense practices should be strived for in order to stay away from the pre-Clean Water Act and the Silent Spring time period. Many companies preserve forestland or limit the discharge of certain nutrients or chemicals due to rules placed by governing authorities. As a result a number of non-profits, government agencies, and private businesses benefit by providing services to these companies to help them comply. In the end, we all benefit from actions that result in a healthier environment.

Private landowners can also make a positive impact on the restoration economy through the placement of a conservation or agricultural easement on their property. These contracts put limitations on the land, mostly in regards to commercial development, in order to protect vital natural resources. And while limiting development may not seem like an economic benefit, these protections guarantee that certain areas of land are available for possible timber production, food production, recreational activity, or open space – and may even increase property values for areas surrounding the protected easement.

And lastly, the report talks about companies that are ensuring that biodiversity exists and that native plants remain available amidst certain challenges. All across the United States we are seeing biodiversity threatened by invasive plant species and diseases that are killing thousands upon thousands of trees. Monocultures result from one plant, not originally from the area, being introduced into an environment with certain advantages against the native plants such as a lack of predators or the ability to overtake and kill the plants around it. We are also seeing bugs that kill a tree from the inside out and cause massive tree deaths in a very short period of time. We need areas of land that are dedicated to protecting native plants with proper forest management.

The major takeaways from this report include the following:

  • Conventional practices don’t always outcompete environmentally conscious ones.
  • The monetary benefits of restoration are often not taken at face value.
  • Long-term investment should be taken into account when making business decisions.

Often times these opportunities can be realized with a little bit of innovate thinking and long-term business modeling. The restoration economy is what I work for every single day and I am happy to see The Nature Conservancy and the World Resources Institute bring this important issue to light.




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