Creating a Return on Conservation Index: Texas Longleaf Team

Creating a Return on Conservation Index: Texas Longleaf Team

Imagine a tree that lived half a millennium– that’s the longleaf pine! As the tree matures, it spreads its roots far and wide creating a network that extends up to three times the height of the tree and can store carbon for centuries, even after the tree has died. This incredible biomass makes it an important species for carbon sequestration. The longleaf pine once blanketed an estimated 3 million acres of Texas. Today, only 2% of these stunning longleaf pine savannas remain.

The Texas Longleaf Team (TLT) works to promote the maintenance and restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem on private and public forestlands as well as its cultural, and economic values. In 2021, the project was selected for Texan by Nature’s Conservation Wangler accelerator program. Here, we found that like many of our conservation partners, TLT would benefit from the quantification of social, economic, and environmental benefits of the project. 

As TxN worked on zooming out and demonstrating the tangible values that local conservation projects provide society and the globe, TLT had the perfect project to pioneer the TxN Return on Conservation (ROC) Index.

Lesson Learned: Record your Data

In working with TLT, we found that their team had recorded data for acres restored, locations impacted, and funding in an ArcGIS database. TLT’s proactive decision to record these critical data points since 2014, was an important resource in developing the first TxN ROC Index because it illustrated 8 years of longleaf pine restoration data. Through rigorous research, working with local experts, using Texas A&M Forest Service’s comprehensive Texas Statewide Assessment of Forest Ecosystem Services, and other peer-reviewed literature, the TxN+TLT team completed the data sets necessary to demonstrate the project’s value. Utilization of a wide breadth of resources was vital in the creation of this resource and remains a required standard for TxN moving forward in the mapping of environmental and economic benefits. 

To authenticate the economic and environmental impact highlighted by the ROC Index, TxN worked with third-party economic evaluation experts, EcoMetrics, ensuring values were unbiased and met current industry standards.

“The Texas Longleaf Team has benefited greatly from the cooperation with Texan by Nature to develop the ROC Index. It’s helped us better explain the impacts of our work in terms of ESG. Our Team has received close to $1M of unexpected corporate funding through this effort, supporting over 2,000 acres of ecosystem restoration. We also recognize the card as a model for communicating the impacts of ecosystem restoration for sister efforts throughout the Southeast.”

–Jenny Sanders, Natural Resource Project Contractor, Texas Longleaf Team

Make The Business Case

To attract and activate investments from industry in conservation, we need to make the business case.  By validating our value proposition (nature-based solutions) with verifiable data and tangible returns (environmental impact and economic value), the case is made. Investments in local conservation are not simply philanthropic or public relations dollars spent. These can be investments that reduce costs, drive sales, and attract employees. When businesses invest in conservation they act as catalysts creating a ripple effect of positive change on the environment, economy, and society as a whole. 

As some of the world’s largest businesses begin to explore carbon sequestration models that favor project funding over carbon credit purchasing, the TxN ROC Index make the case for local conservation projects like TLT. The cards illustrate the catalytic effect of project funding of local conservation. Data tells the story by beginning with a high-level overview of the project’s impact, digging deeper into reporting standards, and then citing economic proxies used. This verified method removes greenwashing risks that businesses, sustainability teams, and conservationists seek to avoid.

Replicate Opportunities

Beyond garnering investments, these cards also serve as a roadmap for other projects working with similar resources to replicate these economic and environmental impacts. The replication of the TLT model has the potential to make a big impact in a state like Texas where 94% of the land is privately owned. Projects focused on landowner relations, forest management, sustainable forestry, carbon sequestration, and more can study how TLT achieved and articulated positive impacts in these categories, and then achieve a positive impact themselves.

Additionally, conservation organizations can learn from TLT’s decision to record data from their projects via GIS and accepted standard practices to account for the impact of their projects. With strategically collected data, the true value of their efforts can be accurately quantified. 

The value of ecosystem forest restoration projects, much like the roots of the longleaf pine, extends beyond just a tree on the ground. When businesses invest in local conservation projects, the returns are reaped by both people and the planet in the form of ecosystem services, jobs created, costs avoided, education received, and more. 

If you’re interested in reviewing TxN ROC Index for TLT or other local conservation projects, click here