The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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A beautiful old farmstead in Mendocino County, California.
Image by Katy Langstaff.

Long-Term Profitability

Short-term business decisions do not ensure the long-term viability of living systems or human communities. They also fail to deliver profits over the long run.

A Conservation Economy is designed to be reliably prosperous, generation after generation. This requires Green Businesses and Communities to make decisions on a much longer time scale – decades or even centuries. On such a time scale, it is possible to imagine re-establishing an old-growth forest, restoring salmon runs, reweaving the urban fabric, or undergoing a profound cultural transformation.

Studies of companies with great longevity show that they share several key features: a commitment to ongoing learning, adherence to a well-articulated set of core values providing a sense of identity, and a fiscal conservatism that allows them to act flexibly as opportunities arise. Many of these companies are publicly held, and have been able to convince their shareholders that their strategic focus on growing long-term value is consistent with short-term returns. In contrast, maximizing profits for a single quarter can be accomplished with mere accounting tricks, and has become a suspect business practice in the wake of recent accounting scandals.

Environmentally or socially destructive activities are not compatible with long-term profitability. As taxes, policies, and the pull of the marketplace all make such activities increasingly expensive, it becomes critically important to anticipate and avoid them well ahead of time. Long-Term Profitability implies a careful stewardship of people, place, and capital, creating enduring forms of value.

Green Businesses and Communities must continually reinvest in themselves in order to enhance their capacities; build their social, intellectual, and economic capital; diversify; and prepare for ongoing transformation.

Ecotrust has established its own endowment, The Natural Capital Fund, in order to help diversify and stabilize its funding stream. The Natural Capital Fund makes investments in the Conservation Economy, seeking long-term returns. Its most significant holding is The Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, a 50,000 s.f. brick warehouse in Portland's Pearl District dating to 1895. It has been restored using Green Building techniques and houses a vibrant mix of businesses, non-profits, and local governments that have all made a strong commitment to a conservation economy.

Focus on creating value over the long-term by honoring the needs of ecosystems and human communities. Develop financial and learning strategies that support this support this kind of value creation.

Examples of this pattern in action:

The Ecotrust Natural Capital Fund
To spur the creation of the necessary institutional capacity for the development of the conservation economy, Ecotrust has created the Natural Capital Fund. The Fund makes investments in key sectors, businesses and projects which significantly enhance the capacity for appropriate development and conservation in the coastal temperate rain forest region. The Fund is intended to serve as a catalyst, leveraging other investments through partnerships, joint ventures and other collaborations. As the ventures mature and are able to access other sources of funds, such as bank financing, the Fund investment will be recovered and redeployed.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

ShoreBank Pacific

Shorebank Enterprise Pacific


de Geus, Arie. The Living Company. Harvard Business School Press. Havard, MA. 1997.

Elkington, John. The Chrysalis Economy: How Citizen CEOs and Corporations Can Fuse Values and Value Creation. Capstone Publishing. Oxford, UK. 2001.

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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