Valuing Nature & Ecosystem Services: Lessons Learned from Dow & The Nature Conservancy

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What is the value of nature?  Nature provides services that enable our very lives, but these services have rarely been valued in terms that allow us to include that value in key decisions—especially when it comes to business.  Without visibility, they are often traded away inappropriately.  Sustainable development requires that we be able to describe the value in terms that make nature comparable with other alternatives—because when we do so, the natural solution is often the superior—and more economical–solution.

For nearly a decade, Dow and The Nature Conservancy have pioneered an approach to value the services of nature on Dow sites around the world.  New tools and processes—including the Ecosystem Services Identification & Inventory (ESII) Tool– have led Dow to realize a value of more than $500 million–mostly through avoided costs–toward its goal of creating $1 billion by 2025 for the company by valuing nature in business decisions.

On December 2, 2020, Mary Draves, Dow’s Chief Sustainability Officer; Jim South, Director of Corporate Engagement for the Nature Conservancy; and Kevin Halsey, Senior Ecosystem Services Analyst with EcoMetrix Solutions Group joined the Council of the Great Lakes Region for a briefing and dialogue around lessons learned in valuing nature, including the ESII Tool, which is publicly available for use.

To start the session, Mary Draves outlined the approach taken by Dow to specifically value the services of nature on their manufacturing sites, within communities in which the company resides, and in a multitude of business decisions around the world. The documentation and reporting of explicit, tangible financial value–more than $500M since 2015–of ecosystem services is made possible by the development of processes and tools by The Nature Conservancy and EcoMetrix Solutions Group.

Following Draves, Jim South explained in greater detail the use of tools like the ESII tool to assess the value of nature for companies, organizations, and communities. Dow funded the development of the tool which is now owned by TNC and available to the public. EcoMetrix Solutions Group developed the tool and supports training and use of the tool around the world. The initial ESII tool has been developed to assess eight ecosystem services: air quality regulation, climate regulation, erosion control, flood hazard mitigation, water provisioning, aesthetics, water quality control, and water quantity control.  

More than 80 participants from across the Great Lakes Region joined the three experts in a robust question and answer session following the initial talks. One of the most important lessons learned, according to all three experts, is around collaboration. “You can’t do it alone,” said Draves. “At the beginning of this project 10 years ago, Dow and TNC were unlikely partners. A chemical company and a conservation NGO were on two ends of the spectrum, but what we had in common was science and a commitment to sustainability. We didn’t always agree, but we found that by working together you can develop a way to make decisions that are good for business and good for nature.”

About the Speakers

Mary F. Draves

Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President, Environment, Health and Safety, Dow

As chief sustainability officer and vice president of Environment, Health and Safety (EH&S) for Dow, Mary Draves is passionate about using science, innovation and collaboration to drive transformative and sustainable change. Draves has led Dow’s groundbreaking Valuing Nature Goal, which represents the first-ever commitment by a

corporation to formally factor nature into its business decisions. Under her leadership, Dow has enjoyed a highly productive collaboration with The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Together with TNC, she and her team have helped pioneer tools and create a cultural shift that are enabling Dow sites to make a compelling business case for adopting nature-based project solutions. Dow’s aim is to identify $1 billion worth of value to Dow from projects that enhance nature by 2025. Since launching the goal in 2015, the Company has documented more than $500 million of value in nature-based decisions. Link here for more information on Dow’s Sustainability Goal ‘Valuing Nature‘.

Jim South

Director of Corporate Engagement, The Nature Conservancy

As Director on the Corporate Engagement team for The Nature Conservancy, Jim has served as the Project Manager of the TNC-Dow Collaboration since 2012, and has also led TNC’s collaboration with Amazon and Shell.   

Prior to joining the Conservancy, Jim served in senior roles in the District of Columbia Government, and at Accenture, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Deloitte, where he led Supply Chain and Strategy projects for numerous Fortune 50 clients. He has an MBA from Darden and a BS in Economics from Wharton. Link here for more information on TNC’s commitment to help business transform practices.

Kevin Halsey

Senor Ecosystem Services Analyst, EcoMetrix Solutions Group

Kevin Halsey is a senior ecosystem services analyst with EcoMetrix Solutions Group (ESG). He specializes in developing decision support tools that quantify potential change in ecological performance and change in ecosystem service benefits associated with proposed landscape management activities. 

Previously an environmental attorney, Kevin uses his diverse background in environmental science and regulation to help integrate ecosystem service analysis into client decision making processes. Kevin spent 10 years as an adjunct professor at Lewis and Clark Northwestern School of Law, where he taught a course on identifying and managing environmental risk in business transactions. Kevin also spent 8 years teaching courses on ecosystem services and land use for the University of Oregon’s Sustainability Leadership Program. Link here for more solutions from EcoMetrix Solutions Group.

Wetland imagery by Alex Simpson on Unsplash