Return on Conservation™ Index: Data as a Driver, A Common Language, and A Decision Maker

By Lauren Hart

Data is the Driver.

This is what we hear every day at Texan by Nature in talking with conservation partners, business members, staff, and close collaborators when prioritizing projects to meet their outlined goals. Data-driven decisions are vital in identifying conservation projects that return explicit positive benefits to our quality of life, economic prosperity, and the health of natural resources.

But, where does this data come from and how can leaders committed to driving sustainable change utilize it?

The best data comes from local sources and is delivered in a peer-reviewed, standardized format that appeals to all types of users.

Data that quantifies the direct and ancillary benefits of conservation projects must be region and project-specific, requiring very close attention to detail and ongoing conversations with scientific experts and local stakeholders. By following this formula of consulting with trusted data sources and experts, defendable and accurate statements can be made by leaders on the positive return of investing in local, boots-on-the-ground conservation, thus pushing the needle forward in driving positive global change for our natural resources and people. With the right data, leaders can make this case utilizing the same language and methodologies commonly used for making decisions within their organizations.

This data can be challenging to locate in a comprehensive and usable manner. To begin addressing this challenge, we worked backward by identifying the most commonly used and accepted reporting standards. Then, we narrowed in on the exact environmental and social impact measurements needed to report on these accepted standards. While this environmental and social impact data may not always be readily available, close interaction with our conservation partners made obtaining this data possible. 

Data is the Language. 

So, how has Texan by Nature employed this formula to communicate the multifaceted benefits of conservation projects around the state to stakeholders across all sectors? 

We began by identifying a standardized goal framework that was followed by not only one stakeholder–but standard goals that have been decided on as priorities for our entire globe to work towards achieving peace and prosperity for people and the planet: The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs). 

We mapped our 2021 Conservation Wrangler Project, Texas Longleaf Team, and all 2022 Conservation Wrangler Projects to the UN SDGs and identified industry-accepted reporting standards to report the environmental, social, and economic benefits of each of the projects. By utilizing these industry-supported standards, we began to put the multi-faceted benefits of local conservation efforts into language understood by conservation, academic, and industry professionals. 

To identify how each project has a positive effect on people, the economy, and natural resources, combinatorial use of peer-reviewed literature, project-specific details, and local stakeholder engagement took place. Without following this formula, vital details about the positive benefits each project delivers would be incompletely illustrated.

To quantify the full economic benefit attributable to the efforts and initiatives of each Conservation Wrangler project, we collaborated with ecosystem service valuation experts: EcoMetrics LLC. Although this was not a formal and complete EcoMetrics analysis, this economic analysis utilized their database of peer-reviewed and accepted economic values to define the monetary benefits of supporting people, prosperity, and natural resources. For example, Texas Longleaf Team (TLT) and TxN identified the multi-faceted environmental and social benefits longleaf ecosystems make towards water resources in East Texas. Through EcoMetrics LLC investigation of the water benefits made by and for longleaf pine, they identified a concatenated economic value of $1,954 per acre per year for the combined benefits that longleaf pine ecosystems make on water, how landowners can diversify their income from the benefits water produces, and thus how those benefits trickle down into benefitting our greater society. 

Aligning each project’s impact to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the associated environmental, social, and economic benefits resulted in the creation of the TxN-led Return on Conservation™ Index (ROC Index). 

Data is the Decision Maker.

Who should be utilizing these indexes and how?

The TxN ROC™ Indexes were created to spur conversation and accelerate funding mechanisms, to answer the question–”what is the quantitative impact?”, to serve as a menu of project explanations and their associated quantitative and qualitative benefits, and to inform data-based decisions on local conservation investment. 

If you work in conservation, these indexes can be utilized to identify existing datasets and reporting standards, visualize standard methods to communicate the intricate positive benefits of local conservation, and serve as an example of the data potential stakeholders or funders may be interested in knowing about your project. 

If you work in the academic and research space, these indexes serve as an example to illustrate highly specific and curated datasets to broad audiences. These indexes rely on your peer-reviewed publications pertaining to regionally-specific data and we aim to continue to illustrate your intricate data points in a standardized fashion. 

If you work for a corporate entity, these indexes can help you make decisions on the best local conservation efforts to incorporate into your sustainability strategy. Through our Texan by Nature 20 program and business member relationships, we understand that every company has unique sustainability goals that pertain directly to your operations. These ROC Indexes are meant to showcase the potential local conservation projects that could push your company forward in achieving your outlined sustainability goals while supporting efforts that provide a positive return locally. Additionally, the indexes articulate benefits generated by local conservation efforts that may not be a current priority in your sustainability strategy, but could be incorporated into your plans to provide a more holistic and ecosystem approach to your company’s strategy for the environment where your employees and customers work, live, and engage.

If you are a Texan, these cards showcase the benefits of local conservation in Texas and how these efforts and initiatives affect people socioeconomically. We hope to illustrate the positive return to Texans’ mental health, properties, and wallets through this intricate analysis, and that your well-being and access to owning private lands and enjoying public green spaces is a priority. 

Data is for Everyone.

TxN created the
ROC Index framework to collect and deliver complex and trusted data on the positive benefits of local conservation efforts in a standardized format. We are excited to see these indexes be used to accelerate the voice of local conservation efforts into a main component of global sustainability strategy. 

As part of our blog series on the ROC Index, we will begin releasing our ROC Indexes for each Texan by Nature Conservation Wrangler project. Please visit the ROC Index portion of our webpage to find more resources on the methodologies used in the creation of these indexes and the ROC Index curated for each of our Conservation Wranglers. 

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. Additionally, TxN is excited to offer this as a service to future Conservation Wranglers and specific Business Member Projects.