November 14, 2016|By Julie G. Barker and Jena Thompson Meredith| Partnerships

Julie: Why do businesses partner with the Fund?

Jena: Today’s most innovative companies know that making a lasting, positive impact on conservation and community will drive business success.

Working with business, we are creating more sustainable supply chains aligned with business values; investing in communities where customers and employees live, work and play; and expanding stakeholder, employee and customer engagement.

With each partnership, we demonstrate that smart, collaborative conservation can drive responsible economic development that’s good for the environment and good for people.

Julie: How did the Fund partner with business when you first joined the organization?

Jena: Much like we do today. Since day one, The Conservation Fund has been guided by the belief that environmental protection and economic vitality are inseparable. It shapes the daily work of every team across our organization. When I joined in the early 2000’s, we worked closely with the forest products industry to protect environmentally sensitive forestlands, energy companies to help address climate change and utilities to protect watersheds for constituents downstream.

Julie: Can you think of any specific milestones or moments that made you particularly proud?

Jena: Our expertise in carbon programs and sustainable forestry enabled the protection of 74,000 acres, and the restoration of 32,000 acres with 10 million trees. Each one of these achievements simply would not have been possible without our partnerships with business.

A recent example: Through our partnerships with C&S Wholesale Grocers, Dell, The North Face, and many others, we restored enough land to help take the Louisiana black bear off Federal list of threatened and endangered species.

1114 Black Bear Cub c Tony Campbell copyThe Conservation Fund and its business partners contributed to the recovery of the Louisiana black bear. Photo by Tony Campbell.

Julie: I’ve heard you talk about how sustainability solutions will continue to be driven at the local level. Can you share your insights?

Jena: Every day, we need to increasingly embrace local and community-based strategies that create jobs and improve quality of life. Consider the example involving local and organic food sectors. Sales of organic products saw double digit growth last year to $43 billion. That’s five percent of all food sales. Yet, only 1% of our land base is certified organic. And it may be too costly for farmers to increase that number at scale. 

If we’re to be successful, we need to focus on a system wide approach that includes land conservation, the farmers and ranchers, and markets.

In order to protect the farmer, we’ve learned you need to protect the source at the community level. It’s going to require innovation and entrepreneurship from the private sector—and a commitment from each of us to rethink and redefine how we create new markets for local and organic food.

Julie: How is the Fund partnering with community farmers and small business owners?

Jena: Since 1993, we have provided more than $22 million in bridge financing to conserve 100 family farms.

In New England, for example, that equates to 10,000 acres of permanently protected farmland.  From the top of Mount Sugarloaf in the Connecticut River Valley—nearly every farm you see here been protected. 

1114 CT-River-Valley sugarloaf-mt reggie-hallWith bridge financing from The Conservation Fund, local conservation groups have conserved 100 family farms throughout New England and the Connecticut River Valley. Photo by Reggie Hall.

We’ve also learned, protecting the farmland is not enough. We must also help create jobs, and places for the farmer to sell her goods. If we don’t, the farmland may not stay in production.

Recently, we provided financing for the construction of the Boston Public Market, which is Boston’s first year-round indoor farmer’s market.

BPMblog 1Our Land Conservation Loans program helps famers access new markets for their goods, including the 28,000-square-foot, year-round Boston Public Market, which works with 37 local vendors to bring fresh, local goods to New England. Photo by Chuck Choi.

Everything sold here has to be either grown or produced in New England. This market has created 165 jobs. Each month, the vendors are netting approximately $1.2 million.

These are just a few examples of how we’re helping to protect the source and build the market.

Julie: If you could sum up your experience at the Fund, how would you describe it?

Jena: I’ve learned that we absolutely can’t achieve our ambitious conservation goals without leadership from the business community. I’ve learned that when you have a chance to do positive things together, it can be really fun and rewarding. There’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm, excitement and talent in every one of our business partnerships.

Leading companies, including C&S Wholesale Grocers, CSX, Dell, The North Face, U-Haul, UPS and many others, recognize their ability to give back and see a clear opportunity to engage employees, customers and stakeholders in their efforts. When you can harness this for good, it’s incredible and catching.