The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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The uneven distribution of poverty: This map of Seattle shows the plight of the inner city, from maroon (65-100% of the population living in poverty) to green (0-10%).
Image by Lita Buttolph.

Just Transitions

Enormous amounts of wealth are tied up in economic activities that are not likely to play a significant role in a conservation economy. Many people perceive a significant stake for themselves — personally and economically — in perpetuating the status quo.

Allocations of resources in the current economy depend on a complex set of historical circumstances. First Nations in British Columbia are actively fighting for recognition of traditional territories currently under control of the provincial government. Farmers along the Snake River and in the Klamath River Basin have based their investment decisions for generations on the availability of affordable water. Fossil fuel use has been predicated on the perceived ability to emit unlimited quantities of carbon dioxide into the air at no charge.

A Conservation Economy requires a vast shift in investments and resources to redress historical injustices and lay the foundation for a non-toxic, Resource Efficient, renewable, and equitable society. The key issue is how to make a Just Transition from the current economy to a conservation economy. First Nations and other groups suffering from historical injustice need the opportunity to negotiate fair restitution and regain sufficient resources to meet their needs. Individuals and businesses invested in unsustainable practices require a viable exit strategy, allowing them to bring their skills and assets to new uses in a conservation economy.

A just transitions strategy implies that no one is left behind in designing a pathway to a conservation economy. Those most invested in activities inconsistent with a conservation economy should be given fair compensation for their holdings and provided new opportunities. This allows communities to shift from the divisive question of "Why make any changes?" to "What would it take for each member of the community to embrace change?"

Leadership on just transitions has been provided by the Oil, Chemical, and Atomic Workers Union. Beginning in the early 1990s, the union recognized the declining role of many of its core occupations and gave its members job retraining, preparing them for work in new fields. In another instance, substantial federal assistance was given to displaced forest workers in the Northwest during the 1990s, giving them new skills in restoration and related fields.

Redeploy skills and assets from the current economy to the conservation economy, offering training and compensation where necessary. Redress historical injustices through transparent dialogue and negotiation.

Examples of this pattern in action:

Public Health Institute
Just Transition is a process to ameliorate the conflict between jobs and the environment. It brings organized labor, the traditional environmental community and the people of color environmental justice movement together to develop policies and relationships to avert clashes. Through a process of dialogue and common projects these groups are defining a policy of Just Transition that calls for financing a fair and equitable transition for workers and communities in environmentally sensitive industries as we necessarily move forwards towards more sustainable production.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

Canadian Labor Congress

Health Care Without Harm


Labor Institute. Just Transition. Labor Institute. New York, New York. 2002.

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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