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Enviropreneur Showcase: GreenFaith

In an era of increased environmental degradation and strife, PERC Enviropreneur Institute (PEI) alum Reverend Fletcher Harper and his organization GreenFaith offer a unique look at environmental solutions and activism. Established in 1992 as a small and local organization in New Jersey, GreenFaith has grown to national proportions as an inter-faith environmental organization working with diverse religious groups to promote and mobilize environmental leadership.

Although religion and the environment may initially seem odd bedfellows, Harper is one among many* working to reclaim environmental stewardship as an integral part of the world’s religious traditions. Deep connections between religion and the environment already exist. For example, most of the world’s religions recognize the natural world as a source of revelation or site of sacred presence. Although presented in a variety of ways, human stewardship of this divine creation is part of the religious practitioner’s job description.

While hard science is needed to predict and study the physical properties and changes of the earth, anthropogenic environmental problems also require a close study of the beliefs and actions of those driving the environmental change. GreenFaith is calling on environmental leaders to not only preach good environmental standards, but to act on them. Through the GreenFaith certification program, congregations across the nation have reduced carbon emissions by 30 to 50 percent, financed solar energy programs, and decreased water consumption, to name a few.

GreenFaith has used lessons garnered from PEI to attract new congregations to their certification program by touting the benefits of financial savings. Economic incentives are therefore a major driving force in the “greening” of congregations. Harper points out that economics and religion, counter to popular belief, really are working toward the same objective: human flourishing.

“In the end, GreenFaith isn’t just about teaching people that God wants a healthy environment,” said Harper. “It’s about mobilizing the faith-based sector – one of the largest social networks in the country – to make it actually happen. PERC has helped us understand new tools and perspectives on how to achieve this goal.”

*See the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology for further reference

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Meet Jeremy Gingerich, PERC Enviropreneur

After two weeks of workshops, mentoring sessions, and networking, this year’s 14 enviropreneurs head home to implement the innovative market-based conservation strategies they explored at PERC’s 2012 Enviropreneur Institute. Check out what one enviropreneur, Jeremy Gingerich, has to say about protecting open landscapes in the west and how his time at the Enviropreneur Institute will help him achieve his goals.

 

For more on PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute, visit our Facebook page for pictures from this year’s incredible group.

Don’t know what an enviropreneur is? Find out here.

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Saving Patagonian Grasslands with Market Incentives

Meet Carlos Fernandez, PERC Board Member and the Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia Grasslands Manager. The following is an excerpt from our interview with Carlos in Bariloche, Patagonia:

I am the Patagonia Grasslands Argentina Project Manager for the Nature Conservancy and a PERC Board Member. I had my first encounter with PERC in 2005 when I met Don Leal at a workshop in the Galapagos Islands. Don and I started talking about our passion for fly fishing, both in Patagonia and in Montana. I began receiving PERC Reports and sure enough in July 2005 I attend PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute. It was here that I started to think more seriously about how important markets, contracts, and property rights are if we really want to improve environmental quality.

I moved to Patagonia from Washington D.C. in 2008 to launch TNC’s grasslands program. The purpose of this program is to conserve grasslands on a large scale. Given the fact that here in Patagonia about 75 percent of the land is in private hands, our team is doing a lot of work with private land owners aiming to halt or reverse the desertification of grassland ecosystems. We are working with ranchers, businesses, policy makers, universities, and think tanks. TNC and our partners have a pretty big goal, which is to try to bring sustainable conservation to between 30 and 40 million acres in the next 10 to 15 years.

In 2010, I was lucky enough to be invited to become one of PERC’s Board Members — the first board member representing the enviropreneurs and the first international board member, both of which make me very proud. The Patagonia grasslands program is just one venture where free market environmentalism is working on the ground. PERC’s 2012 Enviropreneur Institute will kick off this weekend. Stay tuned for more innovative ideas from the field.

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Trading Sheep for Grass and Fish in Patagonia

The big brown trout I was fishing for yesterday on the Limay River in Patagonia was nowhere to be found but I did manage to come across an old hang out of Butch Cassidy.

Being from Montana, where the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang pulled off their last job—a holdup of a Union Pacific train—before fleeing to South America, I was happy with this historical catch.

Legend has it that Butch became friends with Jarred Jones who ventured down to Argentina from Texas in 1887 to make his fortune. Jones didn’t find gold but he did manage to open a general store at the mouth of the Limay. The old store, which is now a friendly restaurant, still holds the shops books, old photos, and a frontier atmosphere of a century ago.

Jones earned enough money at the store to purchase two big ranches, which he fenced off with barbed wire—the first to be seen around these parts. Today, barbed wire is strung across much of the 98 million hectares of the Patagonian Steppe to enclose vast quantities of sheep.

Unfortunately, a flock of sheep can gobble up great expanses of native grasses, and in southern Argentina, they’re clearing some serious vegetation. In addition to vegetation loss, overgrazing equates to lost habitat for other animals, and damages waterways with runoff and silt from erosion, which affects the fish, which affects tourism.

Paradoxically, sheep—the slayers of grasslands—could become the saviors of the same landscapes and in turn protect fish and other species. It turns out that because the plants of the grasslands co-evolved with herbivores, such as guanacos, a little munching is good (and necessary) for the flora. It is also true that companies that have environmental components to their business plans and seek to create goods from natural products, including merino wool, would like to see grasslands flourish for the long term. And tourists like me who want to fish and recreate in Patagonia would be willing to pay a price premium for this outcome.

Enter The Nature Conservancy, Patagonia, Inc. and Ovis XXI. Armed with scientific knowledge and market tools, this trilogy is working to conserve more than 15 million acres of land in Patagonia by 2016. Ovis XXI works directly with the woolgrowers. These consultants know the industry, and how to raise sheep without destroying grasslands. The Nature Conservancy brings its science-based knowledge and environmental credibility to help build the sustainable grazing standard through planning and subsequent monitoring of conservation outcomes. And Patagonia Inc. brings the market perspective—buying the wool, networking with others in the supply chain, creating the final products, and using its brand strength to help publicize Patagonian wool.

The majority of the land targeted by the Patagonian Grasslands Conservation Project is privately owned, and remains in large and undivided properties of intact native grasslands. Because most landowners face ongoing political and economic challenges that affect their ability to stay in business, an incentive is needed to gain commitment from landowners to manage resources sustainably. In this case, the carrot comes in the form of a payment to ranchers for grazing less sheep and or for using more modern and environmentally friendly grazing practices.

In November 2011, the first shipment of sustainable wool (29 tons) left Patagonia for Asia to be turned into socks for Patagonia, Inc. So far this scheme has worked to place two million acres under sustainable grazing agreements. Time will tell if the environmental protection purchased by conservationists from sheep ranchers will protect grasslands and associated waterways in the future, but signs look promising. Stay tuned…

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Where Free Markets Meet Faith

In contrast to the historical ideal of Manifest Destiny, in which the conquest of the land was held to be a biblical right imbued to God’s loyal followers, a contemporary breed of religious practitioners are working to combine faith and ecology in new ways. Often found under the movements entitled “ecotheology” or “green faith,” religious practitioners of all denominations and creeds are acting to conserve what they consider to be God’s creation, following tenets many believe are already in line with their religious practices.

PERC Enviropreneur Institute graduates Fletcher Harper (‘07) and Stacey Kennealy (‘10) are looking to these religious groups to take action and work toward improving environmental quality. While there doesn’t seem to be much in common between those placing their faith in markets and those putting faith in the divine, Harper and Kennealy’s interfaith coalition, GreenFaith, recognizes that incentives matter.

GreenFaith’s mission is to inspire, educate, and mobilize people of religious backgrounds to protect the earth as a moral and sacred responsibility. As Paul Schwennesen writes in the latest issue of PERC Reports, however, “simply insisting that people ‘do what’s right’ doesn’t capture the full measure of GreenFaith’s work; the group calls for their members to address the mundane as well as the celestial. Values need to be specific and actionable.”

Thus, GreenFaith has used lessons garnered from PEI to attract new congregations to their Certification Program by touting the benefits of financial savings, as well as engaging new and younger members. The major force driving GreenFaith’s success, therefore, has not been morals, but the promise of growth – and this strategy is having success.

“In the end, GreenFaith isn’t just about teaching people that God wants a healthy environment,” said Harper. “It’s about mobilizing the faith-based sector – one of the largest social networks in the country – to make it actually happen. PERC has helped us understand new tools and perspectives on how to achieve this goal.”

Read the full article here in the spring issue of PERC Reports.

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Bringing market-based solutions underwater

A lot has been written about PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute lately – and for good reason. While many alarmists tout the demise of clean air, protected forests, and endangered animals, enviropreneurs work to find viable market solutions for improving environmental quality. As Co-Director of PEI Reed Watson notes:

What distinguishes enviropreneurs from other environmentalists? One answer is their vision; enviropreneurs see the world in a unique way. They see the prospect for cooperation where others see unsolvable conflict. They see unwritten contracts where others see unwritten regulations. They see new frontiers for free market environmentalism where others see only market failures.

One such enviropreneur, Brett Howell, has taken a dive off Florida’s coast and is bringing market-based solutions underwater. Florida’s coral reefs stretch more than 350 miles and support hundreds of different species of coral and fish.

It turns out, however, that 70 to 80 percent of Florida’s coral habitat has been destroyed over the past 40 years. Staghorn and Elkhorn coral, two species found off Florida’s coast, are even listed under the Endangered Species Act.

In February, Howell and PERC hosted a workshop in Key Largo exploring the question of whether contracts can help save coral reefs.  Howell is working to develop a market for coral reef restoration by identifying who benefits from a coral reef and who is willing to pay for its restoration. Read more about their conclusions and Howell’s next steps here in the latest issue of PERC Reports.

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Q&A with Shira Kronich on Peace Building Through Wastewater Treatment

PERC Enviropreneur Institute 2011 alumna Shira Kronich is working to find solutions to shared environmental problems in the Middle East. As a project manager for the Arava Institute of Environmental Studies in Southern Israel, Kronich coordinates the first UNDP trans-boundary Israeli-Palestinian project, “Peace Building through Wastewater Treatment.” The tensions in the Middle East are exacerbated by the scarcity of clean water, as well as from the polluted wastewater that traverses geopolitical boundaries. By encouraging environmental cooperation, Kronich is working toward peace and sustainable wastewater development.

Q: What is the current situation regarding wastewater in the West Bank? How does this affect Israeli aquifers?

A: The Palestinian Authority’s centralized wastewater collection networks do not service the majority of residents in the West Bank, where only 54 percent of wastewater is collected and about 90 percent of sewage produced  is discharged untreated into the environment. Generally, the cesspits that are used for storing wastewater are unlined―allowing sewage to percolate into the ground and pollute the groundwater. In addition, most of the pits are emptied with vacuum tankers that often dump the waste in open areas or in valleys. Roughly 60 million cubic meters of raw sewage are discharged into the environment in the West Bank every year. This degradation not only poses serious environmental and public health risks, but also causes cross border conflict as the sewage generated upstream in the West Bank flows downstream into Israel. As the raw sewage flows downstream it hinders Israeli attempts to rehabilitate surface and groundwater, further reducing already limited transboundary water resources.

Q: What services does “Peace Building through Wastewater Treatment” provide? 

A: Our project is a pilot program, which if extended, will represent a sustainable and comprehensive wastewater infrastructure solution for Al ‘Oja village in the West Bank. This project is grounded on a decentralized and collaborative approach. Collaboration is envisaged by combining Israeli and Palestinian expertise in wastewater treatment and reuse. The cross fertilization of ideas will allow for both Israelis and Palestinians to resolve the wastewater treatment problem in the West Bank to the benefit of both parties. In short, this project has two outputs: improved wastewater management systems in the targeted communities and promotion of dialogue between Palestinians and the Israeli.

Q: How will solving wastewater disputes help relieve tensions in the region?

A: A guiding assumption for the project is that relationships yield partnerships, regional environmental projects, and inter-municipal agreements and thereby reduce conflict. If such relationships can be replicated, then local communities will share the responsibilities―costs and benefits―from joint wastewater treatment projects. There is great benefit in rethinking the water scarcity situation in Israel and Palestine, not from a national view, but rather from a supra national perspective. The gap in public perception, understanding, and policy is still large in relation to issues traditionally regarded as national, such as water distribution and wastewater infrastructure. The project aims to strengthen dialogue between the Palestinians and Israelis at different levels through the transfer of knowledge and training activities.

Q: What did you take away from PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute?

A: The access to very experienced and knowledgeable professionals for information exchange and guidance was immensely positive. Additionally, it was rewarding to meet new people and broaden my professional network. Market-based solutions and a sounder understanding of the need for incentives, has helped me develop my project and I hope to slowly implement these issues into my work in the Israeli-Palestinian context.

Applications for PERC’s 2012 Enviropreneur Institute are now open. The deadline to apply has been extended to March 12th. For more information, watch the video and visit www.enviropreneurs.org.

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What a difference a year makes

by Brett Howell

As I sit here in Atlanta fully engaged in my Conservation Fellowship at Georgia Aquarium, I am constantly amazed at how much difference a year has made in my state-of-mind, life perspective, and daily activity.  This time last year I had just submitted my application to the PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute, and I spent my professional time doing management consulting work for one government client.  By comparison, so far this week I:

  • Had a Skype conversation with an entrepreneur in Jamaica
  • Talked with a CFO/mentor about the potential for creating coral mitigation banks in Florida
  • Organized a trip to SCUBA dive with The Nature Conservancy in the Dry Tortugas
  • Was invited to speak to an undergraduate class at Georgia State University and to present a seminar at Florida Atlantic University
  • Attended an info session about a social entrepreneurship incubator
  • Strategized about how to design a cutting edge coral planting scientific study
  • Talked about launching a new company with an enviropreneur from PERC’s 2007 class

Last week, I was humbled to have an article about a workshop I had organized as part of my project published in Nature, one of the most influential scientific publications, entitled “Conservation meets capitalism in Florida.”  One participant offered in congratulations: “The fact that you, or someone, got Nature to cover a meeting that may lead to a plan that may lead to action is a little mind boggling, but I suppose it’s a testament to the timeliness and novelty of the approach, and I’m very happy to see it.”

What changed, you might ask?  I became a full-time “enviropreneur” as the Walker Conservation Fellow at Georgia Aquarium.  Wondering what that means?  An “enviropreneur” is dedicated to improving environmental quality through property rights and markets.

PERC is accepting applications right now for their 2012 Enviropreneur Institute.  Not a day goes by when I’m not amazed at how my experience at PERC directly impacts my day-to-day work.  I have a network of peers and mentors to advise me, and I have been fortunate to receive ongoing support from PERC, including for the workshop “Market Approaches to Coral Reef Restoration: Investigating the Viability” that I co-directed with them in Florida and that led to the article in Nature.

Check out the Enviropreneur Institute today. Applications are due March 12th (deadline just extended)!  The application can be accessed here.

Brett Howell is a graduate of PERC’s 2011 Enviropreneur Institute and a Conservation Fellow at the Georgia Aquarium. Visit his blog on environmental entrepreneurship.

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Trade a Tortoise

Two years ago in PERC Reports Todd Gartner wrote about his efforts at “helping the American Forest Foundation develop a market-based habitat credit trading system in portions of Georgia and Alabama. The incentive-based framework will complement other efforts in the region to keep the eastern population of the gopher tortoise off the Endangered Species list.”

Today, Gartner, in collaboration with Josh Donlan and James Mulligan of Advanced Conservation Strategies, are ready to launch their first pilot transactions.

Here is how the gopher tortoise candidate conservation marketplace is being designed and piloted:

  • An interested and eligible private landowner (the “seller”) receives a negotiated payment to conserve, manage, or restore longleaf pine forests capable of supporting healthy populations of gopher tortoises on his or her property. In so doing, the landowner generates gopher tortoise habitat credits.
  • The entity paying the landowner (the “buyer”) receives the habitat credits in return. The buyer may use the credits to offset the impact on gopher tortoise habitat elsewhere, in order to meet a voluntary net zero biodiversity impact commitment.  Or, the buyer can save the credits for later use to meet offset requirements if the species is listed under the ESA. Other buyers may purchase credits simply to spur gopher tortoise conservation.
  • A gopher tortoise habitat credit is the currency that can be bought and sold. The number of credits on a parcel of land is determined via a science-based and peer-reviewed method to ensure a net conservation benefit for the tortoise when used as offsets for future impacts. The credit price includes funds to manage and monitor the habitat, along with a negotiated profit margin for the seller.
  • The USFWS approves the crediting methodology and maintains agreements with buyers and sellers. The agency may also provide federal-level assurances to both the buyer and seller. This regulatory certainty allows buyers to preemptively buy credits that can be used toward offsetting future impacts if the species were to be listed.

With 87 percent of southern forests in private ownership, protecting species like the gopher tortoise requires an innovative approach. The gopher tortoise conservation marketplace is testing a new strategy, which provides financial incentives to private landowners who manage their woodlands for habitat and candidate species.

If you would like to learn more about market-based approaches for conservation, such as the approach Gartner began formulating as a PERC Enviropreneur Fellow, then apply to PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute by March 5.

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Q&A with Enviropreneur Kelly Sands Siragusa on Conservation Banking

Kelly Sands Siragusa is the Conservation/Mitigation Manager for Corblu Ecology, LLC, a private firm in Atlanta, Georgia, that specializes in ecosystem restoration and mitigation banking. Siragusa came to PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute (PEI) in 2011 to focus on emerging market-based approaches for nutrient reductions and water quality improvements for Total Maximum Daily Load implementation. She soon discovered the lessons from PEI applied evermore to existing Corblu projects. In particular, Siragusa has applied insights from PEI to the development of a conservation banking program in the Etowah River Basin for three federally listed fish species.

Q: What are the endangered species issues in the Etowah River Basin? What are the challenges to implementing protection for these species?

A: The Etowah River Basin has experienced tremendous growth pressure from metro-Atlanta and five of the fastest growing counties in the country. As a result, demands placed on water resources and increased urbanization have led to aquatic habitat loss and diminished habitat quality. The three listed aquatic species targeted by this initiative, the Cherokee darter, Etowah darter, and amber darter, are especially vulnerable to land-use changes. Mitigation for adverse impacts has primarily been provided through on-site actions such as stormwater management to minimize impacts and, in some instances, off-site mitigation handled on a case-by-case basis. Corblu identified the need and opportunity for a conservation banking program to provide additional conservation in the watershed.

Q: Why conservation banking?

A: Federal guidance has recommended the use of conservation banks under the Endangered Species Act as a means to conserve listed species in instances where impacts are unavoidable. A conservation bank is basically privately or publicly owned land managed for its natural resource values. In exchange for protecting the land, the bank operator is allowed to sell habitat credits to developers who need to satisfy legal requirements to offset their environmental impacts. In short, conservation banking shifts the administrative burden of managing projects to private entities specialized in the field. Often these approaches provide superior outcomes and are more cost effective than traditional mitigation approaches.

Q: How will Corblu develop a conservation bank to provide listed species protection in the Etowah River Basin?

A: Corblu has worked with the Southeast Ecological Service Center to develop a framework for conservation banking in the basin and to develop the proposed Deerleap Preserve Conservation Bank―the first of its kind in Georgia and the region. The proposed conservation bank will provide protection and management of 940 acres of pristine occupied stream habitat and associated riparian and upland habitat in the headwaters of the Etowah River. The bank is being developed in accordance with federal guidance and will provide conservation credits for the target species.

Q: Did the lessons from PEI in business planning help you gain a more comprehensive understanding of how to participate in these markets?

A: Attending PEI helped me think critically about factors pertinent to establishing sustainable markets and successful projects. The case studies presented at PEI provided real-life examples of project implementation, creative funding sources, and adaptive management. Lessons on the importance of economic incentives, for example, reinforced the need to assure that credit methodology adequately incentivizes participation in the market while also providing the needed environmental benefits. Most importantly, PEI drove home the importance of balancing conservation and business and looking for win-win scenarios for both people and the environment.

Applications for PERC’s 2012 Enviropreneur Institute are now open. The deadline to apply is March 5th. For more information, watch the video and visit www.enviropreneurs.org.

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Apply to the 2012 Enviropreneur Institute

The application window for the 2012 Enviropreneur Institute is now open. This annual, two-week program for environmental professionals will be held in Bozeman, Montana, from June 24 – July 6.

The mission of the Enviropreneur Institute is to empower environmental entrepreneurs in the application of property rights, contracts, and markets to enhance environmental assets. The curriculum features lectures by experts in economics, business planning, marketing, and project management, as well as discussion sessions, field trips, and mentoring sessions with PEI faculty. The program concludes with business plan presentations by each of the fellows.

Check out this video on the Institute:


Fellows receive a $2,000 stipend out of which they pay for their own travel. Lodging and most meals will be provided during the program.

Additional information and the online application are available at www.enviropreneurs.org. The application deadline is March 5, 2012 with final decisions made by April 9. Contact PERC if you have any questions.

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Just Say No to Embalming

In this two minute video the Insitute for Justice points out the injustice of the Government making entrepreneurs “do useless things for no reason?”

Verlin Stoll has built a successful business because he offers low-cost funerals while providing high-quality service.  His business is one of the few funeral homes that benefits low-income families who cannot afford the big funeral-home companies.  Stoll wants to expand his business,  but Minnesota refuses to let him build a second funeral home unless he builds a $30,000 embalming room that he will never use. Stoll and the Insitute for Justice are fighting back.

There are other reasons to think about avoiding embalming fluid writes Joe Sehee, founder of the Green Burial Council and PERC Enviropreneur alum. In “Green Burial: It’s Only Natural” Sehee writes:

In the United States, deathcare has become a $15 billion industry—and a wasteful and toxic one at that. Each year we bury:

—Enough embalming fluid (now made up of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen according to the World Heath Organization) to fill eight Olympic-size pools;

—More steel (in coffins alone) than was used to build the Golden Gate Bridge; and

—So much reinforced concrete that we could construct a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit.

Joe Sehee, Karen Eller, and others have been successfully promoting green burial around the country. You may laugh and think this sounds like just another eco-trend, but it is the way most of humanity has cared for its dead for thousands of years. The idea calls for returning to the earth without the use of non-biodegradable toxins or materials. As Sehee asks, “remember that ashes to ashes thing?”

Green burial is not a new concept, what is new is that it is being done in conjunction with restoration planning and conservation management techniques, providing a new tool for protecting endangered habitat at a time when innovative, market-based solutions are needed.

In the end, economic viability and ecological sustainability are capable of co-existence “and that may be what it’s going to take to make ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’ once again meaningful,” says Sehee.