More government agencies teaming with business to protect forests, farmlands and wetlands, conference board reports

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

NEW YORK, Nov. 13, 2001 — 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% 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.

Public concern about global climate change, air quality, and a clean water supply has increased demand for effective programs to protect and preserve these basic elements for survival. What was once held to be the responsibility primarily of government has come to be seen as that of business, individuals, regional and global organizations.

The report is the seventh in The Conference Board's Innovative Public-Private Partnerships series, supported in part by the Ford Foundation as part of its Partnership for Trust in Government, an initiative of the Ford Foundation and the Council for Excellence in Government.

Why business backs conservation efforts

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. These efforts both raise awareness of the need for land conservation and save huge tracts of valuable land and wildlife habitat. 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. Companies whose brands are intertwined with recreation or environmental concerns — or who simply wish to be socially/environmentally responsible — are natural supporters of public parklands and wildlife habitats.

Conservation organizations are making it their business to be seen as experts to whom business can turn for advice when dealing with site and project selection. The Conservation Fund and the Nature Conservancy are just two of a number of organizations recognized for their insight, expertise, and dependability as partners in joint ventures for both businesses and government.

But the study finds that tri-lateral cooperation between businesses, government and non-governmental organizations (NGO) 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.

"A strong commitment to the environment and a record of good environmental stewardship serve to bolster a company's reputation in the marketplace, which can have a positive impact on relationships with stakeholders, especially customers," says Meredith Armstrong Whiting, Senior Research Fellow, Government Affairs, The Conference Board and author of the report. "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."

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.

Source: Innovative Public-Private Partnerships: Conservation of Forests, Farmlands, and Wetlands, Research Report #1303-01-RR, The Conference Board

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