The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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Amphibians such as salamanders, whose eggs are shown here, are among the most vulnerable to changes in the natural environment.
Image by Adrian Dorst.


Our present economy is systematically contaminating every living cell; destroying and fragmenting habitat; and providing great stress to human populations. At the same time, large numbers of people lack health insurance and access to basic medical services.

The health of people and the ecosystems upon which they depend is inextricably linked. All life is ultimately cellular, and cells all have their limits. They cannot grow too hot or cold, withstand too much or too little pressure, become too acidic or too alkaline. At a certain point, mercury compounds, or DDT, or dioxins overwhelm a cell's vitality, stressing an organism, and eventually impairing its intelligence, reproductive success, immune system, and other functions.

What we do to ecosystems, we ultimately do to ourselves. Environmental burdens are typically borne by the poorest amongst us, those who live near toxic dumps and contaminated sites. The establishment of Sustainable Materials Cycles, with the resulting phasing out of toxic contamination, is a great contribution to Social Equity, environmental justice, and the health of all beings.

When we degrade a forest, a wetland, or a sacred site, we ultimately degrade our very humanity. To maintain a vast system of Connected Wildlands for the sake of other species, is also to maintain our ancient evolutionary home, one that we have shared with all life on this planet for close to four billion years. To restore living systems is to restore our very cells, tissues, memory, and imagination. Nothing could be more selfish, more altruistic, or more necessary.

When we create magnificent parks and open spaces in the heart of the city, we give ourselves opportunities for Beauty and Play. When we slow down, and begin to dwell in Human-Scale Neighborhoods, we rebuild Community and Civic Society, our very sense of cultural identity and participation. When we construct which shine with natural light, use non-toxic materials, and offer unsurpassed indoor air quality, we heal or spirit and directly enhance our health.

Preventive healthcare, emphasizing maintaining health, is cheaper and more effective than waiting for illness to occur and treating the symptoms. Western healthcare should be complemented with Eastern, Naturopathic, and other modalities that have shown themselves to be cost-effective for a wide range of ailments. Health, as a Fundamental Need, must be supported by policies making affordable health insurance and access to medical services broadly available.

Recognize that the health of humans and ecosystems is indivisible. Arrange all economic activities to be conducive to the continued health and vitality of this generation of living beings, and all generations to come. Diversify the medical system and make it more affordable and accessible to all.

Examples of this pattern in action:

Urban Habitat Program
Urban Habitat Program of the Earth Island Institute. The Urban Habitat Program (UHP) functions as a catalyst for the environment and social justice, seeking to promote multi-cultural leadership. UHP believes that socio-economic and environmental problems are connected in their causes, effects and solutions. Poor people and people of color use fewer resources than most, yet they bear the heaviest burden of environmental degradation and pollution.

The United Indian Health Village is an integrated landscape and health clinic, designed to restore native plants, wetlands, and garden food production to the landscape and to nurture the health of the region's Native American population.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:


Headwaters Environmental Center

Ecosystem Approaches to Human Health


Raffensperger, Carolyn and Joel Tickner. Protecting Public Health and the Environment: Implementing the Precautionary Principle. Island Press. Washington, DC. 1999.

Steingraber, Sandra. Living Downstream: A Scientist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment. Vintage Books. New York, NY. 1998.

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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