Taken in Mar de Cortez, Baja California Sur, Mexico. —Cecilia Simon, 2014 Fellow


Resources about the practice of market-based conservation.

How lessons from tech-savvy, high-impact organizations could help environmental conservation.

Over the last decade, I have watched conservation hit a wall. Traditional tactics used over the last quarter century are proving inadequate against the demands placed on our freshwater ecosystems. Right now, more than half our nation's waters are impaired. While we have all the ingredients for success: willing landowners, well-intended agencies, capable locals and millions of dollars of annual investment, we are not gaining ground at the pace and scale that's desperately needed.


In an effort to bring conservation into the 21st century and create collaborative solutions that will accelerate the pace and scale of restoration, we at The Freshwater Trust are continually asking: “If we landed on Earth today, and we were in charge, what would we build to make this situation better?” Then we go out and just build it. Here's what we've learned:

1. Integrity matters. Do not take shortcuts. There is great opportunity at the intersection of the economy and the environment to render significant gains for both. Flat out, it has to be done right — and that is on you.

2. Standardization matters. The legal, financial, and biological mechanics of the 1st deal has to look like those of the 50th and the 50,000th and beyond. Markets built as if in Kazakhstan will not live long. And, on a related note, durability matters. Markets only help when they can reliably do thousands or millions of deals.  

3. Use a floodlight. There is a ton of distrust of markets within the environmental community —don’t simply say you will set it up right, do it. And shine a spotlight on the things that are not working. The sooner you do, the sooner the problem is fixed. Don't wait for somebody else to figure this out and get back to you with a plan. They are not working on your timeline.

4. Things that are hard to do now do not get easy; they will just change. The barriers to setting market mechanisms in motion are vast; once you untangle one problem, you have the next one to look forward to.

5. Trust your own instincts. There was no "How To" book for Aldo Leopold, Steve Jobs, or Jackie Robinson. Or anybody else that really mattered. So don't look for one--write it yourself.

About the Author

Joe Whitworth (2003 Fellow) has been responsible for strategic direction of The Freshwater Trust for more than a decade, growing the organization's budget tenfold during that time. He is focused on the next generation of conservation tools at the intersection of technology and finance to get results on the ground. In addition to formal advisory roles in B Corp, foundation and government settings, he is a patented inventor, author of a book with Island Press on quantified conservation, and served as founding board chair of the Council for Responsible Sport. Joe has also served as a guest lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He holds an B.A. from Dartmouth College and a J.D. from Lewis & Clark College with an emphasis in natural resources and water law.