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Accounting for Nature

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Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily was in a storytelling mood yesterday afternoon.

Co-founder of the Natural Capital Project, Daily told some amazing tales of ecosystems threatened by development - and rescued by a new business model - as the fifth presenter in the Moos Family Speaker Series, co-sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the U of M College of Biological Sciences.

The premise behind the Natural Capital Project is simple: Nature provides valuable life support to humans in the form of goods (such as forest products) and services (such as flood control and recreation). Why not assign economic value to those goods and services, so they can be factored in dollars-and-cents terms into management decisions?

"It's a little scary to think about valuing something as complex and deeply meaningful as is embodied by nature," Daily told her audience. "But if we don't pay attention, if we make decisions without accounting for nature, we lose sight of our greatest gift."

Daily described a variety of initiatives in which the Natural Capital Project - a partnership of Stanford University, the World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment - is doing just that. The project has developed a planning tool called InVEST that creates a detailed picture of the extent to which nature's services are protected (or not) under various scenarios applied to a particular setting. Governments, nongovernment organizations, and for-profit businesses around the world  are starting to use InVEST to guide decisions about how to meet human needs while protecting nature's integrity, too.

Like to learn more? Check out the video of Daily's talk, "Harmonizing People and Nature: A New Business Model."


 

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