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The Science Behind Valuing Nature

Conservancy Scientists and the Dow Collaboration

By Darci Palmquist

How might corporations do business differently if they knew the full value nature brings to their bottom line? That’s a question The Nature Conservancy is trying to answer through its collaboration with the Dow Chemical Company.

And to get to those answers, the Conservancy is doing some groundbreaking science — science that will change the way conservation does business, too.

The Dow - Nature Conservancy collaboration has already made progress toward a next generation sustainability approach for business.

"As a scientist, the Dow collaboration is really exciting," says Jennifer Molnar, director of the Conservancy’s Sustainability Science program. "It requires new thinking and creative problem-solving. And what we learn here will have benefits far beyond Dow — we'll be able to apply these tools and information to other companies and in other areas around the world."

Molnar is leading a small team of scientists and economists — some of the Conservancy’s brightest minds — in tackling the big conservation-related questions the Dow collaboration raises, such as:

  • How can a company account for the value of water to its business operations and help find solutions to sustain water flow — not just for the company, but for other water users as well as nature? 
  • Can corporate investment in large-scale tree planting both help a company meet air-quality compliance standards and provide new incentives for funding forest restoration?
  • To protect facilities from natural hazards like hurricanes, when should businesses invest in “green infrastructure” (like a coastal wetland) instead of or in addition to building “grey infrastructure" (like a seawall)?

Through three analyses at Dow’s installations along the Texas Gulf Coast, Conservancy scientists will explore answers to these questions — and benefit conservation as well as the natural resources Dow depends on, says Molnar.

Each year, Dow and the Nature Conservancy release a report on the progress of the collaboration:

In 2013, the collaboration received the Harvard Kennedy School's Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership.

“This collaboration gives us a chance to apply conservation science information and tools in new ways in a business context, with Dow pilot sites as laboratories to test these new applications,” she explains.

“By integrating information about the value of nature into Dow’s decisions, we can identify ways that investing in nature makes business sense,” she adds. “And the methods and tools we develop can then be used by other companies — as well as by conservationists — to better understand the value of nature.”

“Ultimately, we're hoping our science can help make a business case for conservation.”

Continue reading about the questions Conservancy scientists are analyzing as part of the Dow collaboration, keep up with news about their research, and hear them speak at events around the globe.

Darci Palmquist is a senior science writer with The Nature Conservancy.

Page Last Modified: April 2014
Page Originally Posted: January 2012

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