Instructor: Jim Tolisano
The ICONs Responsible Finance Initiative: Our capstone experience will examine the intricate connection between finance, business, and the conservation of nature. Our work as conservationists must include measures to ensure that funds directed to development projects minimize, avoid, or offset any adverse impacts to the integrity of critically important ecosystems. At the same time, we need to ensure that sufficient funds are in place to finance conservation programs that can help sustain and enhance habitat connectivity, reduce risks from exotic and invasive species, maintain hydrologic function, and ensure overall ecosystem resilience on private lands and adjacent public or protected areas. Our work in this semester’s capstone project will examine two critically important aspects of conservation finance: (a) measures adopted by banks, investors, and other institutions to manage the impacts from development projects that they finance; and (b) the diverse strategies used by governments, NGOs, and businesses to raise funds to support nature conservation.
Increasingly, financial institutions are responding to this first aspect of conservation finance by requiring borrowers to achieve specific environment-social-governance (ESG) standards, and governments and businesses are developing the capacity to abide by them. The development and use of such standards in the lending and investment sector can also be a critical ingredient in the shift to a more “green economy”. This economic shift can also then create the framework for the second aspect of conservation finance by rewarding financial and development decisions that increase incomes and local economies. The outcome from these new investments and policies can create a diverse source of funds for conservation programs, including tax deductions or deferrals; sales from certified timber and non-timber forest products; nature-based tourism; small-scale specialized agriculture; and income derived from still emerging markets such as certified carbon credits; biodiversity offsets and species banking; Spring 2016 ES Capstone Experience – ICONS SFI 2 wetland mitigation banking; water quality trades; transfers of development rights; and conservation easements. New models are necessary to show how these two approaches - the use of standards by financial institutions and their clients, and the dedication of market driven funds to finance conservation - can produce important results to reduce ecological, social, and financial risks.
Students in the spring 2016 capstone experience will carry out a critical analysis of conservation finance practices being developed in one or more national context in order to establish lessons learned to guide the ICONS SFI. The students in the capstone experience will select one national context and then carry out the research necessary to describe the characteristics of a sustainable finance program for the country or state in which their research is focused.
Watch the capstone presentation on YouTube.