- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Putting A Price On Nature

| Winter 2013-14

Roy Award Honors Dow Chemical and Nature Conservancy Collaboration

Planting a forest to improve air quality may prove to be as cost-effective as expensive new pollution control equipment, according to preliminary results from a novel experiment at a Freeport, Texas chemical plant. Officials involved in the study say this innovative approach could become a test case before the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which has identified reforestation as a potential air quality improvement strategy.

Leaders of an unusual collaboration between The Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest conservation group, and the Dow Chemical Company, a Fortune 100 corporation, told a Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) audience on October 7 that they were encouraged by initial findings validating a dollars-and-cents approach to valuing nature that may help businesses with their bottom line while improving the environment in local communities.

The two organizations were recipients of the prestigious 2013 Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership, an HKS prize administered by the Environment and Natural Resources Program (ENRP) at the school’s Belfer Center.

“We uncovered material benefit from reforestation as an air quality control,” said Glenn T. Prickett, the Washington-based chief external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy (TNC). The pilot project at Dow’s Texas manufacturing plant on the Gulf Coast of Mexico also examined how marshlands can help protect against intensifying storm surges and what interventions might help save a vital river crucial to plant cooling operations that is suffering the effects of drought and increasing water demand.

“This project asks how do you make the economics of ecological systems work hand-in-glove with business decision-making,” said Neil C. Hawkins, Dow’s vice-president for global environment, health and safety, and sustainability at its Midland, Michigan headquarters. The ultimate goal is a company-wide effort to make nature a part of doing business at its 188 sites in 36 countries and to serve as a model that can be adopted by other companies, government, and non-profit groups, said Hawkins.

HKS professor William C. Clark, an environmental scientist who moderated a panel discussion with the winners and served on the Roy Award selection committee, lauded the Dow/TNC collaboration as “an amazingly rich” experiment with the potential for “finding ways society can value the benefits we get from ecosystem services that are not normally incorporated into the marketplace.” But, he cautioned, such projects are “really hard to do,” and over the long run “the number of failures exceed the successes.”

Supported by an HKS gift from the Boston-based Roy family, the environmental partnership award is given every two years. ENRP Director Henry Lee said the key element is “transferability. Will it make a difference? The idea is to encourage public and private entities to work together for a common purpose.” The 2013 recipient was selected from 25 global entries in an 18-month process led by ENRP Assistant Director Amanda Sardonis.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Russell, Christine. Putting A Price On Nature.” Belfer Center Newsletter (Winter 2013-14).