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Resources Magazine: Business Motivations for Conservation

Business decisions have a huge impact on natural resource use and environmental quality, so the ability to influence these decisions presents an opportunity for significant conservation gains. How can conservationists tap into the range of factors that drive business behavior and motivate businesses to invest in conservation efforts?

Not surprisingly, most theories of business behavior emphasize financial motivations. A powerful, but incomplete theory is that businesses do not care about the environmental costs they impose on others because “externalized” costs do not affect profitability. The corollary is that environmentally beneficial behavior can be motivated by the imposition of those costs on firms. The need to internalize otherwise external social costs justifies most modern environmental laws and regulations.

Conservationists can focus their advocacy around new, reformed, or expanded government policies to internalize a broader suite of environmental costs on businesses, regulate or prohibit activities at odds with conservation goals, or subsidize desirable conservation behaviors. This strategy resulted in landmark policy and legal innovations in the 1960s and 1970s, and it continues today. But lobbying government to enact such policies is not the only strategy available to conservation advocates.

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About James W. Boyd

Jim Boyd is a senior fellow at Resources for the Future and director of RFF's Center for the Management of Ecological Wealth.

Views expressed above are those of the author. Resources for the Future does not take institutional positions on legislative or policy questions. All information contained on Common Resources is intended for informational and educational purposes and may only be used for these purposes. Please see RFF's Terms of Use for further information.

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