GILLIAN CROWLEY: My name is Gillian. And this summer I had the opportunity to work for the Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy was founded as a land conservancy. Its job is to protect nature by protecting land for nature's sake. Its main directive was to protect biodiversity.
More recently, however, the Nature Conservancy has created a new mission to protect land for nature and people. It's not just about protecting nature for nature's sake, but protecting it with the understanding that people will inherently benefit from protecting nature. So this begs the question, how does the Nature Conservancy choose the land to preserve that's going to have the greatest benefit to people?
A recently developed method for determining the conservation value of a piece of land is conservation return on investment, which measures the ecological and financial costs, benefits, and risks of investments or preservation projects so that conservancies can rank, prioritize, and evaluate them. It essentially tells you how much people will benefit from a specific land preserve and also nature.
The Nature Conservancy has adopted this into its strategy assessment tool. A strategy assessment tool helps cohesive conservation planning using spatial data analysis to assess benefits to nature and people. It essentially helps the Nature Conservancy pick where they should preserve land.
Now, this is what pops into your head when you think about return on investment. You think about money. You think about profit maximization. You think about financial gain, Wall Street, and generally evil things for a preservationist.
Return on investment is not commonly associated with preserving forests and trees, but rather making your tree grow ever bigger. Conservation return on investment is indeed an economic term, but instead of maximizing your financial gain you're trying to maximize your conservation benefits. And these benefits range from watershed production, scenic value, recreation value, stream flow, and also biodiversity.
So that meant that the big problem I faced this summer was framing. How do I frame conservation return on investment and the strategy investment tool in such a way the Nature Conservancy staff trusted it and me and believed that we're actually going to use the tool to bring the greatest benefits to people in nature? So my first action was to take a survey. I really wanted to figure out what Nature Conservancy staff in New York knew about the tool, about conservation return on investment, and how it's going to be used.
And I found that first and foremost people really didn't know very much about the tool. They honestly heard that it existed, but didn't know anything more than that. And so one of the big things I needed to do this summer was explain it.
I also found that about 50-50% of the people had not heard of conservation return on investment. And if they had they were also a little doubtful about it. And people also really wanted to know about how this tool was going to influence decision making in the Nature Conservancy.
So after the survey, I published to the Nature Conservancy in New York a spotlight, which is essentially an update to all major conservancy staff within New York state that usually talks about things going on, new projects. And so this one was devoted all to the strategy assessment tool. And largely, my goal with this update was to tell people about the tool, explain to them what it was and what it was going to do for the Conservancy.
We talked a little bit about where the data was coming, various-- as I said, it's from New York state-- but we really, really tried to avoid using the word conservation return on investment. We didn't mention it at all in fact. We talked about how the strategy assessment tool was calculated, how strategy assessment works, but we never used the word conservation return on investment just because people had a really negative association with it.
Instead, I addressed conservation return on investment interviews that I conducted with key members of different divisions across New York state. So I talked with policy people, executives, philanthropy, preservation and conservation protection staff. And first, I just wanted to make sure they understood the goal. They're going to be the ones working with it and working with their colleagues so I wanted to make sure that they understood the strategy assessment tool.
And then we delved into conservation return on investment. Some people knew what it was, some didn't, depending on what their job was. But at the end of the interviews, I found that people really trusted it and understood that it's about making environmental benefits to people, not about maximizing your profit, which it's a non-government organization. They're not supposed to maximize their profit.
So I left the Nature Conservancy this summer with a communication plan in place because the tool actually hasn't been finished yet. It's still in the rolling out stages. And they're going to incorporate the interviews that I conducted and have those. I talked to lead discussions with their colleagues about the tool itself and return on investment. And they're also going to be working on videos, like little information videos that are going to be rolled out.
And I hope that when the tool is completed, it will succeed in its goal to help the Nature Conservancy protect land that's going to have the greatest benefit to nature and people.
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Gillian Crowley presents on The Nature Conservancy, New Paltz, NY, as part of a series of TED Talks for COMM 3080, "Capstone Course in Environmental & Sustainability Communication: From the Lab to the World."