Our strategies are based on years of experience gained from seeing what works or fails in policy and with government agencies and by finding approaches that we believe other organizations are neglecting. Our work areas are described below as well.
IMPROVE POLICIES THAT ALLOW PRIVATE INVESTMENT OR STEWARDSHIP TO EXPAND OR SUPPLANT PUBLIC OR CHARITABLE CONSERVATION WORK.
About three-quarters of land in the U.S. is privately owned or held by tribes, and many of those landowners have a long history of effectively stewarding their lands and waters. On the investment side, $8 billion in private capital has already gone into conservation over the last decade, and more than $3 billion in additional private assets are looking for conservation projects that have not yet found a home.
Government agencies and conservationists often undervalue the importance of predictability and speed to private landowners and businesses. Predictability means a business’ ability to correctly predict what it takes to get a permit, receive a contract, or achieve a public goal, or how an agency will regulate a resource in the future. Speed is important because delays mean more interest to pay on borrowed money, a lapse in getting a return on investment, and sleepless nights.
Privately-led or -financed conservation efforts will always be more innovative and speedy than most government efforts. And if there is long-term growth of a successful and profitable private model of conservation, those businesses and investors become advocates for conservation – a new ally for a greener and more prosperous planet.
Read our report, Nature, Paid on Delivery, about state initiatives to use Pay for Success contracts to deliver environmental results.
Transforming government policies to focus on what matters – outcomes.
Most major conservation laws – for example for endangered wildlife, clean water, and environmental planning – were written at a time when data on conservation outcomes were hard to come by, difficult for the public to find, and difficult to understand. In that data-poor world, laws and programs had to focus on procedural outcomes – steps that must be taken and documented to meet program requirements or to remain in compliance. This includes grant and cost-share programs like the $4 billion USDA spends every year on farm-based conservation work. That and many other programs require evidence of a written plan, but not whether the plan was implemented or had the desired effect.
In contrast, today we live in a world full of data and analytical tools. While scientists may not always agree on how to measure an outcome, they are often able to understand the results of many types of actions. We need to rebuild our policies so they focus on delivering those results and outcomes as cost-efficiently as possible. This approach could transform endangered wildlife recovery, bring an innovative water quality toolkit to market, and help modernize efforts to offset the environmental harm that often accompanies infrastructure development.
Eliminating the organizational barriers that prevent public agencies from adapting to 21st century solutions.
There is no shortage of great ideas to improve conservation, but most public agencies have been unable to implement even a fraction of those ideas. For example, behavioral economics insights can transform incentives for conservation; open data and electronic reporting can vastly improve monitoring and enforcement; structured decision making can lead to more transparent and defensible decisions; and adaptive management can allow agencies to better manage uncertainty in ecological systems.
The lag between ideas and practice is significant and increasingly detrimental to conservation. The reasons for the gap are many, including inadequate funding for public agencies, risk aversion within the agencies, unimaginative thinking, and the near absence of dedicated teams within agencies to drive innovation. We will strive to reduce or eliminate these and other barriers, so that agencies can take advantage of modern solutions that improve conservation outcomes.
Endangered Species Conservation
The U.S. Endangered Species Act remains the organizing tool for conserving most of America’s imperilled wildlife and has ample flexibility to accommodate better outcomes for wildlife, including by encouraging the regulated community to invest in conservation. To achieve this goal, our work focuses on improving the regulations, policies, and practices under the Act. In addition to traditional approaches to advocacy, we take advantage of data science to provide a better, more objective understanding of where the Act is succeeding and failing. We are actively working on projects to improve recovery planning, interagency consultations, and permitting of infrastructure and other land use activities.
Water Quality Improvements
Clean water – for people and nature – is the most tangible part of conservation that affects almost everyone, everyday. A shower, the hot water in your coffee, the cooling water that keeps power plants from overheating and our lights on. Our work focuses on innovative financing and partnerships that allow more interests to work together in pursuit of the most cost-effective and rapid ways to improve water quality and to ensure that water supplies can be trusted by all who depend on them.