CHARLESTON - Dow Chemical Co. Vice President Neil Hawkins thinks valuable natural assets ought to be preserved - but he believes businesses should have a bigger, more specific picture of the value involved.
Letting them know what nature is worth to their bottom lines and to the communities around their facilities is important, Hawkins reasons.
Officials at The Nature Conservancy agree with Hawkins, who is Dow's vice president of sustainability and environment, health and safety. That's why they are involved in a five-year partnership funded by $10 million from Dow to provide what Hawkins calls "an economic and scientific approach to valuing nature at a company's site."
Dow Chemical Co. Vice President Neil Hawkins, right, and Rodney Bartgis, West Virginia state director for The Nature Conservancy, talk at an event recently in Charleston.
Most economic models for placing dollar values on nature are not precise enough for a company to use in determining how much a specific asset - say, trees around a plant or a river adjacent to it - are worth, Hawkins explained. Developing the types of analytical tools he wants is "a first of its kind partnership" aimed at "developing a new paradigm."
One concrete example of what could be in a model of the type being developed involves a Dow plant near the Gulf of Mexico, he added. A wetland area beside the plant has value in many ways, including protecting the plant from storm surges caused by hurricanes. That gives the wetlands a concrete dollar value for the plant.
What Dow and the Conservancy want is to develop a model that can be used by companies to understand the value to their businesses of plants, animals, water, ground and the air at specific sites. Having that information could convince business leaders to place more emphasis on conservation.
"If you don't have economic models for valuing (nature), business will never build it in," Hawkins stressed during a recent Conservancy dinner in Charleston.
Dow and the Conservancy have worked together on several conservation projects in the United States, Asia and South America. That helped lead to the new partnership, in part because the Conservancy's scientists and economists have precisely the type of expertise needed to develop the models Hawkins wants.
While Dow officials hope to build lessons learned from the collaboration into their business decisions, both Hawkins and the Conservancy see a much wider benefit. With support from Dow, the Conservancy "will use lessons learned, collaborative scientific analyses, and its own conservation experience to pursue wide-spread use of these conservation tools by other companies," the organization explained in a statement on the partnership. One goal is to prove "environmental conservation isn't just good for nature, it can be good for business, too."
Hawkins said all involved understand a need for precise, reliable models.
"We've got to get some scientific rigor in this," he stressed. But he also is confident Dow and the Conservancy can get the job done. "My assumption is we'll get a pretty good product in five years, because I want to apply it."