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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Jan/Feb 2002 : Timelines

Teaming Up to Protect Land

Public/private sector partnerships may be conservation’s best defense.

More government agencies are linking up with business and public groups to protect the environment, according to a new report from The Conference Board.

Americans committed more than $17.5 billion for land conservation between 1998 and 2000, with 85 percent of the nearly 500 measures on state, county and local ballots winning approval. Still, the United States loses 3.2 million acres of privately-owned forest, farmland and wetlands every year.

Government agencies charged with oversight of the nation’s open spaces have begun to work with the private sector to apply non-traditional resources to the issue. Conservation organizations are also making it their business to be seen as experts to whom business can turn for advice when dealing with site and project selection. These efforts both raise awareness of the need for land conservation and save huge tracts of valuable land and wildlife habitat.

However, the study finds that tri-lateral cooperation between businesses, government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is relatively limited. Most partnerships now involve NGOs and businesses only. One of the advantages of tri-lateral cooperation is that government offers long-term land management capabilities that conservation groups and businesses are not prepared to provide.

Complicating matters is that these partnerships aren’t always met with enthusiasm. Closer relationships between businesses and NGOs sometimes create splits within the environmental community, with anti-business groups criticizing colleagues for cooperating with corporations. But the study finds that working with business groups can increase the resources spent on conservation and land purchases.

“The most challenging aspect for businesses wishing to participate in the conservation process is identifying and selecting a partner that is a good cultural fit,” says Meredith Armstrong Whiting, senior research fellow, government affairs, The Conference Board and author of the report.

A variety of cause-and-effect factors combine to create effective partnerships that are good for all participants. For example, agreements between timber companies, state and federal government agencies and conservation groups provide for both public and private reforestation and forest management projects while at the same time protecting the public interest and conservation values.

Four Case Studies
3M has four domestic Nature Conservancy projects underway and plans to expand its philosophy globally as soon as possible. Kathy Reed, 3M’s vice president for environmental technology and safety services, says: “Our first step was to develop criteria for the kind of organizations we wanted to support. It was important to work with groups with values similar to those of 3M. Our objective was to produce long-term impact on sustainability or biodiversity that would be appreciated for at least 50 to 100 years . . .”

Eastman Kodak supports a variety of local and regional conservation efforts. Hays Bell, vice president for health, safety and environment for Eastman Kodak, says: “Our philosophy is that it is always better to work out an agreement on a conservation project locally. That way we are more comfortable that company goals for any given project are met.” Bell adds: “There is a great advantage to working with a partner organization with a strong national and even international structure. For example, we work closely with the Central and Western New York chapter of the Nature Conservancy on specific projects related to our local/headquarters operations, but we are also represented on the Conservancy’s International Leadership Council and have chosen to support several international programs.”

General Motors has also developed a thoroughly integrated partnership with the Nature Conservancy, with programs ranging from senior GM executives serving on the Conservancy board and corporate councils to donation of GMC trucks through a credit card that accumulates points for their purchase. GM also underwrites land conservation projects in Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, California and Texas in the U.S., in addition to projects in China, Indonesia, Brazil and Venezuela. GM has committed more than $10 million for Conservancy programs since 1994, and recently pledged an additional $10 million for a major climate change/carbon sequestration project in Brazil.

Tying education to conservation, the Coca-Cola Foundation contributed $1.5 million through the National Park Foundation to construct Discovery Centers in 12 national parks. The “Proud Partners of America’s National Parks” is the National Park Foundation’s newest corporate stewardship program. Through this program, American Airlines, Discovery Communications Inc., Ford Motor Co., Kodak and Time magazine are working with the NPS and the foundation to improve America’s parks system in a variety of ways.

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