The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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This coastal estuary in Prince William Sound, Alaska is part of the coastal temperate rainforest stretching from Big Sur to Kodiak Island.
Image by Adrian Dorst.

A Conservation Economy

When the health of ecosystems and communities is not integrated into economic activities, all three suffer. In turn, economic dependence on destructive activities creates apparent conflicts between work, nature, and community. How can we create an economy that effectively meets human needs while regenerating natural systems? An economy which grows organically — and fills new niches — by working with nature and enriching human capacities?

In A Conservation Economy, Economic arrangements of all kinds are gradually redesigned so that they restore, rather than deplete, Natural Capital and Social Capital. This will create extraordinary opportunities for those who foresee and drive these changes. The Fundamental Needs of people — and the Ecosystem Services which sustain them — are the starting point for a different kind of economic prosperity that can endure generation after generation.

While A Conservation Economy functions on a global scale, it can be imagined as a healthy mosaic of Bioregional Economies forged within coherent biological and cultural units. Even in a globalizing economy, diverse Bioregional Economies that are more self-sufficient in meeting their own needs will be more competitive and less vulnerable.

The examples and case studies we have chosen for this website are largely taken from the coastal temperate rainforest bioregion of North America, stretching from Big Sur, California to Kodiak Island, Alaska. The deeper patterns remain relevant for bioregions across the world, whether industrial and urbanized, rural, or sparsely inhabited.

Individuals and businesses flourish in A Conservation Economy by seeking to align their interests with those of the communities and ecosystems around them. In the long-run, and most obviously, this involves getting price signals right by instituting True-Cost Pricing. In the short-run, this means creating new business models (e.g. Product as Service), adopting new strategies (e.g. Resource Efficiency), transforming legal or institutional frameworks (e.g. Fair Trade), or looking at multiple benefits in a synergistic manner (e.g. Green Building). A Conservation Economy is emerging in cities, rural areas, and wildlands; in for-profits, non-profits, and governments; in corner coffeehouses and vast corporations; among rich and poor. Individuals and organizations that see its potential and acquire the skills to build it will create ongoing and enduring economic opportunities. Individuals and organizations that continue to depend on the depletion of social and natural capital will face increasingly unpredictable global commodity markets, tightening laws and regulations, new taxes, public outrage, loss of motivation, and many other symptoms of economic transformation.

Despite the obvious depletion of Natural Capital in the Pacific Northwest, this region retains enormous financial and ecological assets, skilled people, and technical capabilities. The great cities of the region along with its inventive smaller towns are beginning to show serious engagement with the patterns that underlie A Conservation Economy. Significant trends towards Sustainable Agriculture, Sustainable Forestry, Sustainable Fisheries, Renewable Energy, and Ecotourism signal rapidly increasing investment in the sectors of A Conservation Economy.

Over the next few years, new investments, advanced learning processes, and significant political commitment will greatly accelerate this bioregion's transition to A Conservation Economy. As Oregon's Governor John Kitzhaber recently formalized in a sustainability Executive Order applying to state agencies, it is now possible to imagine a tangible timeline — perhaps twenty-five years — within which we will achieve a fully functional Conservation Economy in the bioregion.

Over the long-term, decrease economic dependence on activities that deplete natural or social capital. In the shorter-term, make investments with triple bottom line — economic, social, and environmental — returns. Harness both market forces and changes in laws, taxes, and policies that favor a conservation economy.

Examples of this pattern in action:

Seven ways to becoming more sustainable
Strategies for reducing one's footprint on the environment are detailed in the book Seven Wonders: Everyday Things for a Healthier Planet.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

Sustainable Conservation


Ecotrust Canada

ShoreBank Pacific

Shorebank Enterprise Pacific

Sustainable Northwest

The Natural Step


Anderson, Ray C. Mid-Course Correction: Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model. The Peregrinzilla Press. Atlanta, GA. 1998.

Cowan, Stuart and Sim Van der Ryn. Ecological Design. Island Press. Washington, DC. 1996.

Durning, Alan Thein. This Place on Earth : Home and the Practice of Permanence. Sasquatch Books. Seattle, WA. 1997.

Ecotrust, Conservation International and Pacific GIS. The Rain Forests of Home Atlas. Ecotrust. Portland, OR. 1995.

Elkington, John. Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of 21st Century Business. New Society Publishers. Gabriola Island, BC. 1998.

Frankel, Carl. In Earth's Company: Business, Environment, and the Challenge of Sustainability. New Society Publishers. Gabriola Island, BC. 1998.

Nattrass, Brian and Mary Altomare. The Natural Step for Business: Wealth, Ecology, and the Evolutionary Corporation. New Society Publishers. Gabriola Island, BC. 1999.

Schoonmaker, Peter K, Bettina von Hagen and Edward C. Wolf. The Rain Forests of Home: Profile of a North American Bioregion. Island Press. Washington, DC. 1996.

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Pattern Index

A Conservation Economy

Social Capital

Fundamental Needs

Subsistence Rights

Shelter For All


Access To Knowledge


Social Equity


Cultural Diversity

Cultural Preservation

Sense Of Place

Beauty And Play

Just Transitions

Civic Society

Natural Capital

Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Fisheries


Compact Towns And Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services


Economic Capital

Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

Sustainable Materials Cycles

Resource Efficiency

Waste As Resource

Product As Service

Local Economies

Value-Added Production

Rural-Urban Linkages

Local Assets

Bioregional Economies

Fair Trade

True Cost Pricing

Product Labeling