Why Laurene Powell Jobs Wants to Put a Price on Nature

Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire widow of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, is an active philanthropist who cares about environmental issues (see IP's Profile). However, she's not one to go all warm and fuzzy for wildlife. Instead, she's taking a hard, practical look at incentives to protect nature.

Natural resources feed people, build businesses, and create new products. Nature is thus not only inherently valuable — it's also an asset that companies and countries should include in their accounting ledgers. Powell Jobs takes note of all this in an article she wrote titled "Ian Khama and Placing a Value on Nature" for her media site Ozy. In 2012, Powell Jobs attended the Summit for Sustainability in Botswana, hosted by President Ian Khama. There, she learned about Botswana's efforts to measure its natural capital and integrate those values into governmental and corporate planning. As she points out, nature is worth a lot — with natural resources offering humans something on the order of $33 trillion per year globally.

If people can get away from thinking that nature is free and limitless, then they may be more inclined to invest in the sustainable use of resources. Economic guidance can then suggest price mechanisms that set acceptable levels of pollution and natural degradation. How much would you be willing to pay to avoid polluted air and water?

Many governments, businesses, and nonprofits are getting on board with the idea of valuing nature. These groups include Conservation International, where Powell Jobs is a board member. The non-profit Conservation International has become increasingly interested in green accounting and natural capital in the past few years. Grantees interested in conservation should take note of Powell Jobs and her stance toward valuing nature. Powell Jobs also is the founder of the Emerson Collective, a nonprofit working on a variety of social issues including conservation. Finally, she's worth $11.5 billion and has been increasingly active in the philanthropic field lately. That money has to go somewhere — so it could be your conservation project she's looking for.