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ecosystem services

Green vs. Gray Infrastructure: When Nature Is Better than Concrete

Infrastructure is essential for economic growth. But as governments debate the future of sustainable development at the Rio+20 conference, there is one infrastructure solution that can provide a good return on investment: nature.

People often don’t think of forests, wetlands, coral reefs, and other natural ecosystems as forms of infrastructure. But they are. Forests, for instance, can prevent silt and pollutants from entering streams that supply freshwater to downstream cities and businesses. They can act as natural water filtration plants. As such, they are a form of “green infrastructure” that can serve the same function as “gray infrastructure,” the human-engineered solutions that often involve concrete and steel. This example is not alone (see Table 1).

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Brazilian Business and Ecosystem Services Partnership Launches

Last week, experts from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and our colleagues from Brazilian businesses and organizations gathered at the Botanical Garden in Rio de Janeiro. While the scenery was beautiful, none of us were there to smell the flowers. We were launching a new initiative designed to help Brazilian and international companies incorporate ecosystem services into their business strategies.

WRI, the Brazilian Business Council for Sustainable Development (CEBDS), and the Center for Sustainability Studies at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (GVces) launched the Brazilian Business and Ecosystem Services Partnership (PESE) with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). PESE partners Brazilian companies with sustainability institutions to develop business strategies that improve both corporate performance and stewardship of Brazil’s ecosystems, most notably in the Amazon.

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Eco-Compensation in China: Opportunities for Payments for Watershed Services

Water supply and availability could be the most pressing problem restricting China’s economic growth in the next 10-15 years, according to a new report by the Asian Development Bank. Not only are water resources limited (only about 30 percent of total water resources are available for use), but many surface and groundwater sources are suffering from severe pollution.[^1] The Chinese government is now looking to invest in new ideas to improve water quality and supply, and WRI is using its water quality trading expertise to explore the potential of market-based methods to improve water quality and increase the supply of clean water from Chao Lake, the fifth-largest lake in China.

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Bringing Ecosystem Markets to Scale in the Southern United States

For the most part, Ecosystem Markets still linger in the early stages of development. There is much more theoretical work to be done to set up environmental credit markets, including carbon offsets and payments for watershed services. But more pilot projects can also help these markets evolve and show how they might work in the real world.

Development pressures in the U.S. South often mean that forests are worth more cut down than left standing. In the U.S. South alone, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that suburban encroachment will convert approximately 31 million acres (approximately 14 percent of 2010 southern forest area) of southern forests to development between 1992 and 2040.

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Payments for Watershed Services: Pilot Projects for Watershed Protection

Forested watersheds of the southern United States provide numerous services to the region. At no cost, they purify water, control flooding and erosion, and provide places for people to relax and have fun. Yet despite their value, many watersheds are under threat from development and poor land management.

“Payments for Watershed Services” (PWS) programs are one strategy to keep watersheds healthy. Through a PWS program, landowners receive financial incentives to conserve, sustainably manage, and/or restore watersheds to yield the kinds of benefits described above.

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How Businesses Can Integrate Ecosystem Services into Performance Systems

Over the past decade, more companies have recognized the value that healthy ecosystems provide to business. Proactive companies have started managing their connection to ecosystems in order to avoid being blindsided by unexpected risks arising from the degradation of ecosystems.

Today, many managers want to know how ecosystem service considerations can be integrated into business performance systems. This issue is addressed in the World Resources Institute’s new report, Nature in Performance, a guide that helps business managers incorporate ecosystem service considerations into environmental management systems, sustainability reporting, and other performance systems.

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“Candidate Species” Marketplace Can Help Protect Gopher Tortoise Habitat

This piece was written with Josh Donlan and James Mulligan of Advanced Conservation Strategies.

Hundreds of imperiled wildlife species across the country are candidates for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), yet landowners currently have very little financial incentive to protect them.

WRI’s new issue brief, Insights from the Field: Forests for Species and Habitat, released jointly with Advanced Conservation Strategies, details the insights from a pilot market-based initiative to conserve one such candidate species, the gopher tortoise, and the southern forests on which it relies. This pilot can serve as a model for conservation across the country, most notably for other ESA candidate species like the lesser prairie chicken and greater sage grouse (see box).

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Insights from the Field: Forests for Species and Habitat

This issue brief reports on the mechanics of and lessons learned from a conservation incentive program focused on the gopher tortoise. Its aim is to inform the successful design and implementation of other candidate programs emerging throughout the southern forests and greater United States.

WRI Helps Launch First Eco-Audit of Mesoamerican Reef

This week, two of my colleagues, Ben Kushner and Lauretta Burke, travelled to Mexico and Belize, respectively, for the launch of a new multinational evaluation of reef management by governments, NGOs, and the private sector. The launch events took place in Belize City, Belize; Cancun, Mexico; Guatemala City, Guatemala; and Tegucigalpa, Honduras; and were the result of nine months of collaboration to develop indicators and gather data for this first-ever eco-audit of the Mesoamerican Reef.

The Mesoamerican Reef, the largest reef in the Atlantic Ocean, is home to over 500 species of fish and harkens back over 225 million years. The research included input from more than 40 organizations and 100 people. WRI provided technical assistance to the Healthy Reefs Initiative and local partners.

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