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Sustainability Science

Conservation That Matters to People

Cutting-edge research that connects the dots between conservation and human well-being.

"Sustainability." It's the environmental buzzword of the 21st century. But it's often used to mean "consume less" without acknowledging the fact that using nature sustainably can be the basis for prosperity.

The Nature Conservancy's Sustainability Science Team bridges that gap by working to identify the conservation strategies that can make the most difference to nature and people.

The team—consisting of 6 of the Conservancy’s leading scientists—produces cutting-edge research and analyses to help quantify the value of nature, make conservation more effective and connect the dots between conservation programs and human well-being. We leverage this innovative work through collaborations with Conservancy field programs at test sites around the world.

Specific areas of work include:

Measuring nature's benefits to people: We utilize economic analysis to improve conservation strategies, including: 

Water funds: We're taking a bright idea—protect the upstream habitats that supply water to major urban areas—and helping to implement it all over the world;

Economics of oyster restoration: We're showing that oyster restoration on the U.S. Gulf Coast will not only put more oysters on plates, it will provide economic benefits to communities.

Urban conservation: Nature in the city isn't such a wild idea; in fact, it may just be where the future of conservation lies.

Return on investment (ROI): Conservation costs money, so let's make sure we're getting the biggest "bang for the buck" out of our investments.

Companies valuing nature: We work with businesses to develop science tools that help them understand how conserving nature can positively impact their bottom lines

The team consists of:

Jennifer Molnar, director
• Tim Boucher, conservation geographer
• Jon Fisher, spatial scientist
Timm Kroeger, senior environmental economist
Rob McDonald, senior scientist for sustainable land use
Sheila Walsh, senior scientist, ecosystem services 

Recent publications by team:

Hoekstra, J.M., J.L. Molnar, M. Jennings, C. Revenga, M.D. Spalding, T.M. Boucher, J.C. Robertson, T.J. Heibel, with K. Ellison. 2010. The Atlas of Global Conservation: Changes, Challenges, and Opportunities to Make a Difference. Ed. J.L. Molnar. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kroeger, T. 2012.  Dollars and Sense: Economic Benefits and Impacts from two Oyster Reef Restoration Projects in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA.

Leisher C, Brouwer R, Boucher TM, Vogelij R, Bainbridge WR, et al. 2011. Striking a Balance: Socioeconomic Development and Conservation in Grassland through Community-Based Zoning. PLoS ONE 6(12): e28807.

McDonald, R.I., J. Fargione, J. Kiesecker, W. Miller, and J. Powell. 2009. Energy sprawl or energy efficiency: climate policy impacts on natural habitat for the United States of America. PLoS One 4(8):e6802.

McDonald R.I., Green P., Balk D., Fekete B., Revenga C., Todd M. & Montgomery M. 2011. Urban growth, climate change, and freshwater availability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(15):6312-6317.

To learn more about the work of the Sustainability Science Team, email Jennifer Molnar

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