Book Excerpt: Strategic Corporate Conservation Planning

A Guide to Meaningful Engagement

Since our earliest successes as a species, humans have grown the economy at the expense of the environment, liquidating natural capital to create value. As the impacts of economic growth manifest in the alarming deterioration of ecological functions and wildlife communities, a growing call from investors, employees, and customers is driving leading corporations to prioritize strategies that protect and conserve the environment. Stewardship initiatives aligned with corporate purpose are generating a variety of values from increased employee engagement, to growing investor confidence, to strengthened ESG reporting. In her new book, Strategic Corporate Conservation Planning, Margaret O’Gorman, President of the Wildlife Habitat Council, provides important guidance for corporations seeking to co-create solutions with environmental organizations to address business challenges and strengthen environmental outcomes. Read an excerpt from the book below.

Chapter 2: Understanding Business Drivers

When companies engage in meaningful conservation and stewardship projects beyond one-off pilot partnerships or arms-length philanthropic investments, they do so for a business reason. Arcelor Mittal’s efforts at Burns Harbor were done to support its community-engagement efforts that secure its social license to operate in the Calumet Region. Without a supporting business reason, corporate conservation efforts are constantly at risk of losing support and being discontinued. Across business sectors and company size, there are a number of common business reasons (or drivers) to explain why companies engage in meaningful and integrated conservation efforts, strategically using nature.

These business drivers are an expression of the multiple ways to place nature-based efforts within a corporate framework. They show that conservation action can address a variety of business needs, contributing to numerous business challenges or opportunities. This chapter will explore these compelling motivations that bridge corporate priorities to conservation action and provide examples from across industry sectors. Whether working to implement a conservation action at a business with a single location or operation, or developing a strategic corporate conservation plan for a multinational corporation, identifying one or more business drivers will help to answer the question “Why?” and will bring more support and resources to the stewardship effort, creating a place for corporate conservation that is sustainable over time and across budget cycles.

The common business concerns that can be addressed with conservation action:


  1. Mitigate biodiversity impacts.
  2. Inform better remediation remedies.
  3. Permit acquisition & renewal.
  4. Secure social license to operate.


  1. Improve government relations.
  2. Increase employee engagement.
  3. Address climate change.
  4. Implement nature-based solutions.
  5. Improve lands management and realize cost savings.
  6. Position for talent acquisition.


  1. Inform reporting and disclosures.
  2. Provide a sustainability goal and performance metric.
  3. Create meaningful community engagement.
  4. Frame corporate investment in education.
  5. Satisfy SRI and shareholders.
  6. Drive action along supply chain / circular economy.

While there is an entire professional community dedicated to encouraging companies to account for the dollar value of nature as it relates to the corporate balance sheet, a strong case can be made that business opportunities leveraging nature-based programs can benefit the bottom line in simpler and more pragmatic ways. Framing corporate conservation within a business need is not about putting a price tag on nature or about monetizing the ecological services provided by nature. These business drivers likely do not make a direct contribution to the profitability of a business but are instead indirect contributions to overall financial success and reputation. Nature based efforts can, through smart and creative design, be extensively leveraged. Like the conservation project at Burns Harbor, they can contribute to site goals, corporate goals, and community goals.

The business drivers can be split into three categories of impact on a company: operational, business management, and corporate citizenship.

The former Lafarge quarry in Normandy, France is now a wetland and a site of high biodiversity value and a positive feature in the community. (photo by author)

Operational Business Drivers
In a business, operations are where value creation happens. Operations is the manufacturing site, the quarry, or the power plant. Operations is different from marketing, financial management, and accounting or other corporate functions. Operations, unlike corporate headquarters, are more likely to impact the community with noise, dust, traffic, or other emissions that cannot be contained onsite. Operations are key to conservation action, as they tend to have bigger footprints and higher potential for meaningful action.

Many operations—particularly at manufacturing and extractive sites—are governed by regulations from a variety of agencies and institutions. These regulations are designed to protect the environment, consumers, and employees and to hold the business accountable for how they manage their processes, as well as how they use and dispose of raw materials, waste, and by-products. Businesses that have a direct impact on the natural world operate under regulations that address these impacts. The extractive, chemical, and building materials sectors operate under more-stringent environmental regulations than companies further along the supply chain. The energy sector maintaining rights of way for electricity distribution and transmission is responsible for compliance with land-management regulations that secure this critical infrastructure. Environmental regulations differ across the world but generally provide business with direction on how to avoid or mitigate their impacts. Some environmental regulations can cause companies to make poor decisions with respect to nature, as sometimes happens with utility companies and their perennial issues with tree maintenance. But there are many ways to make good decisions and use nature-based action to achieve and exceed compliance.

Management Business Drivers
In the majority of companies, managers have responsibilities beyond a single regulated operation. They have responsibility for their employees, for relations with government, for maintenance of nonoperational lands, and for the many reports and disclosures that a company is required to file. Many managerial concerns can be addressed with nature-based approaches that will contribute to the smooth running of the company. Because these concerns focus on issues other than direct impacts on biodiversity, the conservation approaches will be designed less around risk and remediation, and more around people, employees, communities, and budgets.

GM’s Technical Center is a nationally significant building designed by Eero Saarinen. It has adopted native planting but in a historically sensitive way. (photo by author)

Corporate Citizenship
Corporate citizenship is the extra mile a company goes to illustrate its standing as a member of the local community and the global society. Corporate citizenship efforts can be focused around sustainability and reporting on goals and actions for reducing energy use, emissions, and waste. They can also be focused around community, providing education programs, access to lands, or simply donations to local sports teams. Nature-based corporate citizenship efforts will be focused more on nonregulatory, voluntary actions rather than on specific operational impacts or management needs.

Many corporate citizenship efforts are today framed as corporate sustainability. Corporate sustainability has many definitions. It can be seen as the maturation of corporate social responsibility. It can also be viewed as eco-efficiency, driven by the need to cut costs through reduced resource use and in so doing to minimize impacts on the planet. In a third understanding, corporate sustainability is a suite of actions a company takes toward meeting financial and development goals as established by multilateral bodies such as the IFC and codified by such instruments as the UN Global Compact.

From Strategic Corporate Conservation Planning: A Guide to Meaningful Engagement by Margaret O’Gorman. Copyright © 2020 by Margaret O’Gorman. Reproduced by permission of Island Press, Washington, D.C. Available now at Island Press; use code OGORMAN and receive 20% off your order.

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