Skip to main content

Early career ecologists, why engage with the corporate sector?

I was first exposed to the notion of corporate engagement when I read a New Yorker piece that featured interviews with Peter Kareiva and Mark Tercek.  Peter is former Chief Scientist at The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Mark is a former executive at Goldman Sachs and now CEO of TNC.  TNC and other big conservation NGOs have really advanced the field of corporate engagement in conservation.  TNC recognized that land conservation wasn’t enough to meet targets given pervasive (non-local) challenges like climate change, non-point pollution and land degradation outside of reserves.  They had to find partners and those partners were on the other side of the conservation aisle. They are big companies like Dow, Shell, Unilever and Monsanto.

Arguably, decisions made by large companies have profound implications for the future of our planet, and these need sustainability for their bottom line.  This new bottom line is sustaining rather than increasing market value and longevity–something that can’t be done without healthy ecosystems intact.  There are only a couple institutions that can act unilaterally and play the role of social designer in the US.  These are big companies and the armed forces.  Both are poised to act swiftly and at scale.  Only one has private capital which can act as a great multiplier of public funds.

Engaging with big business offers an opportunity to have tremendous impact on the decisions that are made by these companies.  One reason NOT to engage is the hope that deep pockets will provide untapped basic research funding.  Instead, probably the biggest reason to engage is that companies are redesigning nature and they are doing so in many cases without deep knowledge of design principles–ecological design principles.  Are we up to the task of applying theory to co-produce better futures?  This question is for you to answer if you are brave enough to step outside the ivory tower and help shape the future of conservation in ways that were not imaginable when I was in graduate school.

Leah Gerber is Founding Director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, where she leads a team of talented staff and scholars to build Arizona State University’s capacity to solve our most pressing conservation challenges of the 21st century. In her spare time, she is a Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Sciences in the School of Life Sciences, a Faculty Affiliate in the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes and a Senior Sustainability Scientist in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. Gerber is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Career Award, a Fellow with the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program and the Ecological Society of America, and lead author of the UN Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.