Why we're seeing the beginning of a multi-billion dollar ecosystem marketplace

Eric Holst

A little-noticed announcement by the U.S. Department of Interior in late 2015 reflects an emerging paradigm shift in natural resource conservation – and the role market-based solutions will play as the nation ramps up efforts to save America’s imperiled species and landscapes.

The new initiative to launch a Natural Resource Investment Center comes as the federal government seeks to develop creative private-sector financing opportunities for environmental protection that will, in turn, spur economic development.

The center will tap markets to boost landscape-wide conservation efforts. It will primarily focus on water resources, but also seek private-sector investments to protect habitats on public and private lands.

Today’s conservation programs fall short

Today, the bulk of mitigation for environmental impacts occurs through programs that allow industries to pay a fee, or through conservation projects that developers conduct themselves. 

While many of these programs deliver environmental benefits, uneven accounting and a lack of public transparency make it uncertain whether the result is a “no net loss” of the natural resources affected.

But other solutions are emerging today that could deliver more conservation benefits and more accountability – and eventually help build the major ecosystem marketplace America needs. The first building blocks are already in place.

The ecosystem marketplace of tomorrow

Case in point: habitat exchanges that encourage farmers, ranchers and other landowners to create, maintain and improve wildlife habitat on their property, while earning financial credits for their efforts.

Habitat exchanges are unique from other programs in that they use the same scientific accounting tool to quantify both impacts and offsets. With more robust accounting and much needed transparency, they seek to go one step farther and guarantee a net benefit to the ecosystems that have been affected.

Other solutions are emerging today that could deliver more conservation benefits and more accountability.  

By offering a new revenue stream for landowners, and a faster and more standardized process for industry to move projects forward, habitat exchanges have already proven they can create a win for people, wildlife and the economy.

And as the nation begins to approach conservation in new ways, we think they are the right thing at the right time. 

A new mindset for environmental protection

Secretary Sally Jewell, the former president and chief executive officer of outdoor equipment retailer REI and a former commercial banker, understands why the private sector is key to solving America’s environmental challenges.

Her announcement in December came on the heels of President Obama’s new conservation strategy, and at a time when the federal government is increasingly looking to private investments to support conservation projects.

With more advanced tools and more attractive investment opportunities headed our way, this nation will begin to drive more dollars into the ecosystem marketplace and generate returns that benefit us all.