The conservation gains from TNC-corporation collaboration have provided an incentive to promote corporate sustainability and future partnerships between conservation NGOs and the private sector. The two examples elaborated on in this blog illustrate the movement of big businesses towards corporate sustainability. Critics against TNC claimed that TNC ignored and silently supported its partners in unsustainable projects like oil drilling in Texas in 2003. The disparagement from other environmental groups like Greenpeace correctly pointed out the drawbacks in management at TNC, but it did not negate the positive benefits that corporate relationships bring to the environment and businesses. Their innovative strategy of utilizing market-based conservation potentially faces the risk of creating a free-rider problem where business partners can acquire credits to pollute the environment in other places.

However, TNC has promoted the value of nature in business decision-making processes, a valuable asset to conservation movements of the 21st century. A non-confrontational, market-based conservation approach is an innovative solution of environmentalism that can create both conservation gains and negative effects on nature. TNC has reformed its governance and tightened up its corporate partnerships to maintain its mission of working with businesses to value nature. Accounting the benefits of natural resources into business decision-making processes can result in a win-win outcome for both nature and business, as long as all the parties uphold social responsibility.


Criticisms against TNC’s partnerships

As TNC has expanded its conservation efforts and become one of the world’s largest environmental groups, TNC has faced some major condemnation towards its corporate partnerships with oil companies, chemical producers, and the mining and logging industries. In 2003, a three-part series in the Washington Post called upon the accountability of TNC’s governance and conservation approach.[1] Collective evidence against TNC proved that the organization sold its name and logo to companies for symbolic environmentalism to earn profits. In the first series, the reporters accused TNC for letting corporations donate to conservation projects and get pollution credits in return.[2] Moreover, TNC remained silent to avoid losing their reputation and credibility as two members of its business council, BP and Exxon Mobil, have been involved in the Alaska oil drilling since the early twentieth century.

Another primary criticism comes from environmental organizations who do not want to work with big corporations like Dow and Coca-Cola.[3] Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network represent groups of environmentalists actively calling out the mistakes of TNC’s corporate partnership projects for their lack of transparency and responsibility. In a 2009 report titled Carbon Scam, Greenpeace raised tough criticism towards TNC’s forest carbon project in Bolivia.[4] With the participation of General Motors and American Electric Power, the project did not take into account the livelihoods of local people who depended on the forest for their survival.

The above critics against TNC disclose that TNC has made land-deal decisions instead of science-based conservation. TNC did not react or raise its voices when the government and public were holding its partners accountable for their environmental impacts. The collaborations between TNC and big corporations contain loopholes for businesses to practice greenwashing. However, the above criticism does not take into account the fact that TNC has changed some parts of business activities and persuaded many managers to include natural capital into their production inputs.   

[1] Ottaway, David and Joe Stephens. “Nonprofit Land Bank Amasses Billions”. The Washington Post, May 4, 2003.

[2] Ibid

[3] Birchard, Bill. Nature’s Keepers: The Remarkable Story of How the Nature Conservancy Became the Largest Environmental Group in the World. John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

[4] Ibid, 187-189


Since industrialization, environmental history has linked corporations to the surge of unsustainable ecological footprints and environmental crises. Businesses have relied and continue to rely on natural resources to generate mass production and mass consumption. It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that the idea of corporate sustainability emerged as a consequence of the first global United Nations Conference on Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972.[1] Non-government organizations (NGOs) play an essential role in promoting sustainability among businesses as a key to conservation collaboration among all stakeholders.[2]

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is an environmental NGO that has led the movement of cooperation with the private sector to understand the value of natural resources. By partnering with corporations, particularly the ones with large environmental footprints, TNC has changed these corporations’ practices and facilitated the goals of corporate sustainability. TNC approaches conservation by integrating science and non-confrontational, practical market-based solutions. By setting corporations on board, TNC has been successful in protecting larger biologically important areas, which benefits all stakeholders.


Traditional nature-based conservationists have denounced the approach of working with big corporations to create green values, which can trigger greenwashing. The concept of greenwashing describes companies who claim their organizations are environmentally responsible just for the marketing benefits but create few positive impacts on nature.[3] Reporters have blamed some of TNC’s corporate partners for pursuing greenwashing practices instead of real corporate environmentalism, such as BP, Exxon Mobil, The Dow Chemical Company, and American Electric. Thus, a study of critical examples of TNC-corporation partnership needs to be conducted to evaluate their practices and establish whether or not TNC achieves its conservation goals.

This blog will provide a study of TNC’s approach to collaborating with big corporations to mitigate the environmental impacts of business activities and recognize the value of nature. TNC’s collaborations with The Coca-Cola Company and Dow Chemical will present two examples to evaluate major outcomes of its conservation projects and chronicle the global movement of valuing natural ecosystem services. Finally, the blog will examine a story of how TNC responded to critics against its corporate relationships through their environmental crises.

[1] Dyllick, Thomas, and Kai Hockerts. “Beyond the Business Case for Corporate Sustainability”. Business Strategy and the Environment 11, 2002: 130-141.

[2] Kong, Nancy, Oliver Salzmann, Ulrich Steger, and Aileen Ionescu-Somers. “Moving Business/Industry Towards Sustainable Consumption: The Role of NGOs.” European Management Journal 20, no. 2 (2002): 109-127.

[3] Bowen, Frances. After Greenwashing: Symbolic Corporate Environmentalism and Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

TNC’s responses and changes

TNC’s executive boards have considered criticism towards its corporate relationships and governance issues as feedback to improve better strategies and more successful protection of nature. TNC has chosen to revamp internal governance and examine every procedure of all collaborations with its business partners. Leaders of TNC have responded that the if nobody changes the business behavior of big corporations whose production dependent on natural ecosystems, the future of the earth can become gloomier.

Regarding the environmental scandal in 2003 reported by the Washington Post, former president Steven McCormick decided to improve TNC’s internal management by asking the question of what legitimate criticisms TNC should alter and improve.[1] This crisis became a good opportunity for TNC to reform its governance and review its practices. The whole organization started to stop its four main practices including resource extraction on nature preserves, employee loans, conservation buyer deals, and cause-related marketing. In response to Greenpeace’s argument about the environmental oversight in 2009, Mark Tercek, the current CEO of TNC, articulates that TNC is open and respectful for all kinds of constructive criticism and dialogues among environmental organizations for the sake of protecting nature.[2] Indeed, environmental progress necessitates the exchange of different opinions, discussions, and tough criticisms.

TNC has explained the framework of TNC’s approaches to collaborating with the private sector through the publication of its Principles of Corporate Engagement.[3] The document lists ten requirements that TNC and its partners must follow to ensure common conservation goals. TNC requires companies to prove their commitment to conservation and environmental sustainability through their changes in policies and business practices. This legal document holds companies and TNC responsible to meet its conservation priorities. Any conservation activity must generate more benefits than risks to nature. Ultimately, this framework exemplifies TNC’s efforts in advancing social and environmental responsibility from the lessons learned of the previous crises and challenges.

[1] Birchard, Bill. Nature’s Keepers: The Remarkable Story of How the Nature Conservancy Became the Largest Environmental Group in the World. John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

[2] Tercek, Mark. The Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature. New York: Perseus, 2013.

[3] “Principles of Corporate Engagement”, The Nature Conservancy, accessed March 6, 2016,

Dow Chemical’s ecological footprints prior to its collaboration with TNC

Since The Dow Chemical Company began its operation in 1897, it has become one of the world’s largest multinational chemical corporations.[1] Dow has expanded its business and networks across the globe, producing specialized chemicals, plastic materials, and agricultural products and services. The history of Dow Chemical reveals that this company has participated in many pollution incidents, court cases, and enforcement actions mandated by US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Many environmentalists named Dow as one of the world’s largest polluters because of its lack of environmental oversight.

In 1915, Dow’s Midland facility began discharging chemicals and waste into the Tittabawassee River without any permission.[2] EPA’s assessment of the Midland facility showed that Dow violated three federal environmental laws including the Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Clean Water Act.[3] For nearly a century, hazardous pollutants from that incident have contaminated the groundwater and other natural resources, which negatively impacts wildlife and people who live near the Tittabawassee River. A few decades later, on September 11, 1957, a national catastrophe of radioactive waste leakage occurred at the Rocky Flats facility, managed by Dow from 1951 to 1975.[4] The officials of Dow Chemical and the Department of Energy covered up the environmental and health effects of this incident on the local residents from the public for at least thirteen years. The plutonium contamination of the Denver metro area’s soil and air became top secret in the company’s environmental history.

The other half of the twentieth century was marked by the involvement of Dow in producing chemical compounds that supported the agricultural and military imperialism utilized by the U.S in control of the developing world. In the 1960s, Dow contributed to the production of Agent Orange, a substance that America sprayed over the land of former South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.[5] This substance has stayed in the soil and water sources like rivers and lakes, moved into the food chain, and caused disastrous impacts on natural and human environments for many generations in Vietnam. For the next decades, Dow produced pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers for the imperialist relationship between the U.S and Central American countries. In 2007, Nicaraguans sued Dow for having its pesticide products like DBCP used on banana plantations since the 1970s and 1980s.[6]  As Dow expands its facilities throughout the U.S and over many countries, the company keeps releasing and producing more chemical waste, which causes tremendous damage to human and environmental health.

[1] Katz, Rebecca S. “The corporate crimes of Dow chemical and the failure to regulate environmental pollution.” Critical Criminology 18, no. 4 (2010): 295-306.

[2] Ibid

[3] US Environmental Protection Agency. “Dow Chemical Company Settlement”. Accessed by April 20, 2016

[4] Cohen, Andrew. “A September 11th Catastrophe You’ve Probably Never Heard About”. The Sep 10, 2012. Accessed by May 11, 2016:

[5] Katz, Rebecca S. “The corporate crimes of Dow chemical and the failure to regulate environmental pollution.” Critical Criminology 18, no. 4 (2010): 295-306.

[6] Bohme, Susanna Rankin. Toxic injustice: a transnational history of exposure and struggle. Univ of California Press, 2014.

What is The Nature Conservancy (TNC) ?

Since its foundation in 1951, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has been one of the  NGOs leading the conservation approach purchasing lands and important natural areas.[1] With a purchase of 60 acres of a river gorge in New York and Connecticut, TNC obtained the first land acquisition in 1955 to natural lands from development projects.[2] This event provides an example of how TNC has utilized legal instruments, such as direct ownership, lease, contract, and trusteeship agreement, to protect land and water resources. By the end of 1950s, the organization’s main focus centered at the movement of natural land protection.

CT Boundaries Map 2011 Nov 9_Final

Since the early twenty-first century, TNC has expanded its conservation projects around the world by working closely with many international organizations and national governments. In 2003 in southern Chile, TNC partnered with Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, and Chilean environmental organizations to save 147,500 acres of biologically diverse rainforests in the Valdivian Coastal Range.[3] In the same year, TNC helped The National Park Service increase the size of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park through land conversion.[4] Besides land protection, TNC takes an active role in conserving other natural ecosystems at a landscape scale. In 2009, TNC succeeded in bringing together six nations to develop a coalition that runs the Coral Triangle Initiative to restore marine and coastal resources in the Pacific Ocean of South East Asia. These recent stories display how TNC and its partnership can create an intersection between the natural world and the business world.

[1]  Griffith, James and Charles Knoeber. “Why do corporations contribute to the Nature Conservancy?” Public Choice 49. 1986: 69-77.

[2] Birchard, Bill. Nature’s Keepers: The Remarkable Story of How the Nature Conservancy Became the Largest Environmental Group in the World. John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

[3] The Nature Conservancy. “History and Milestones of The Nature Conservancy.” Accessed by May 1, 2016

[4] Ibid

TNC and The Dow Chemical Company partnership

By the end of the twentieth century, Dow Chemical initiated fundamental changes, articulating sustainability goals as part of its values. Since 1995, the company inaugurated the first attempts at reducing its own ecological footprint through the establishment of 2005 Environment, Health & Safety Goals.[1] Using science and technology, experts from Dow have promised to address global challenges, given the support of its partnerships with government agencies, NGOs, and top academic institutions. Among Dow’s partners, TNC has been involved in one of the biggest collaborative projects that Dow is leading to meet the “Valuing Nature” Goal, one of its seven 2025 Sustainability Goals.[2]

In 2011, TNC started to work with Dow on a six-year collaboration, developing assessment tools for the valuation of nature and promoting conservation solutions as part of a global business strategy.[3] TNC has helped Dow conduct field research at different pilot sites within various ecosystems and created a technical tool called the Ecosystem Service Identification and Inventory (ESII), which can be used widely by Dow’s managers and staff.[4] In the first three years of the partnership, their initial research work in Freeport, Texas and Santa Vitoria, Brazil the analyzed costs and benefits of potential nature-based solutions that benefit business, society, and nature.[5] TNC has addressed how Dow benefits from or impacts natural habitats and local community and examined how nature can serve as a solution for the environmental problems caused by Dow’s existing projects in the context of climate change impacts. During the second half of the TNC-Dow collaboration, TNC is facilitating the process of training Dow’s managers and engineers to apply the new tools and landscape conservation approaches throughout multiple projects.[6] All of the case studies highlight the opportunities for Dow to balance economic and environmental trade-offs.

In return, Dow and its Foundation have contributed a large amount of grants to TNC’s conservation projects in Michigan and Brazil. Since 2011, with one and a half million dollars from Dow Chemical, TNC is carrying out the Cachoeira Restoration Project, which aims to restore 865 acres near the Cantareira Water Reservoir.[7]Besides financial support, Dow has helped TNC utilize the ESII tool and other analyses of the collaboration for other companies working with TNC.

[1] The Dow Chemical. “Footprint, Handprint, and Blueprint”. Accessed by May 1, 2016

[2] The Nature Conservancy. “Working with Companies: Dow Announces Business Strategy for Conservation.”

[3] The Nature Conservancy and The Dow Chemical Company. “2015: A Year in Review – Working Together to Value Nature”.  February 2016.

[4] Ibid

[5] Tercek, Mark. The Nature’s Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature. New York: Perseus, 2013

[6] “Understanding Dow’s Nature Goal – What is Dow’s 2025 Sustainability Goal around “Valuing Nature”?” The Nature Conservancy. Accessed April 2nd, 2016.

[7] See note 2

[8] “Importance of Corporate Sustainability – The Dow Chemical Company”, The Nature Conservancy, accessed by March 6, 2016,