UN SDG Report Cards: Optimizing the Conservation System

-Joni Carswell

Take a moment to consider: What will it take to accelerate conservation that drives sustainable change for our natural resources, our economy, and our health?  

Odds are that the land, water, and air wherever you are provide a lot more than a setting for business and your daily commute. Whether it’s energy resources such as wind, sun, and oil, supply chain inputs such as water, soil, and timber, or recreational opportunities such as hiking, hunting and fishing, people’s quality of life, economic prosperity, and the health of natural resources are inextricably linked to one another. 

So, what will it take to accelerate conservation that drives sustainable change for our natural resources, our economy, and our health? That’s the question that drives Texan by Nature in all we do. 

Despite the fundamental importance of natural resources to economic activity, there is a dated perception that conservation and industry goals are at odds with one another. There’s a missing acknowledgment that people’s quality of life, economic prosperity, and the health of natural resources are inextricably linked to one another. All too often, conservation is looked at as a philanthropic endeavor, as opposed to a critical component of sustainable operations or industry, and is looked at as the biggest enemy as opposed to a potential major collaborator and innovator.

So, how do we shift thinking and drive change?

Over the last five years, Texan by Nature has held roundtables, partner meetings, and summits asking these questions. We’ve found common gaps amongst all areas of conservation and industry. We’ve witnessed these gaps in action in meetings and digital communication. From our perspective, these gaps form the barrier to sustainable change and include lack of common language, inconsistent data, standards, and reporting, and lack of collaborative, ecosystem-level thinking.

Optimizing the System

As an Industrial Engineer, I’ve read “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt a few times. The lessons taught in the book, which is focused on manufacturing productivity, are highly relevant to the gaps we see between conservation and industry. One of the biggest lessons from the book is to optimize the whole system, not just an individual process, and that the whole system is only as strong as the weakest link. When considering natural resources, people, and industry as fully linked, we’re better able to view the whole system, focusing on optimizing the weakest areas and driving all parties to act differently. Identifying the weakest links in the current system as common language, inconsistent data, and lack of collaboration has been the foundation of our problem-solving and progress.

Common Language – The first gap we saw and heard was terminology based. Conservation groups might talk about impact while industry talked about return. Both would use ‘sustainability’ but mean something completely different. Breaking down these conversations and offering common definitions helped make progress in partnership conversations and mutual goal-setting.

Consistent Data, Standards, and Reporting – The hardest part for making the business case for change has been lack of standard data, methodologies, and reporting. Over the course of three years we talked to tech providers, academia, research institutes, consulting firms, and corporate leaders – no one had a tool or offering that used consistent, standard data and methodologies to report process improvements as well as local conservation efforts in terms of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) goals. Aligning to the highest level framework available, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) has helped drive consistency in dialogue. However, gaps remain in specificity and application.  

Collaborative, System Level Thinking – Not surprisingly, each leader has a slightly different motivation based on their own mission, department, background. This paired with the lack of common language and inconsistency in data compounds the focus on individual entities as opposed to system level-interaction at the corporation, community, industry, and global level. We’ve found that removing the first two barriers of language and data consistency has helped drive deeper, collaborative discussion and discovery of whole system optimizing opportunities.

So, what does this mean for Texan by Nature, our partners, our world? How do we accelerate conservation that drives sustainable change for our natural resources, our economy, and our health?  

We optimize for the whole system by improving the weak links that our organization is uniquely positioned to improve. One way we’re doing this is the development of our UN SDG report card, a rosetta stone if you will, that articulates local conservation projects in terms of global impact based on United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Standards and the Global Reporting Initiative. Our card provides a common language for conservation, community, and industry based on global standards and verifiable data. It allows leaders to plan for, review, and make decisions about the whole system, including local conservation as a critical component of global environmental sustainability strategy. In short, it helps us make the business case to accelerate conservation and impact the most important bottom line of all: our future.

We welcome all perspectives in our collaborative work to improve the whole system. We’d love for you to join us in accelerating conservation to drive sustainable change. Connect with us here.

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