What's the Walton Family Foundation Mean by 'Conservationomics'?

The underlying principle behind the Walton Family Foundation's grantmaking has been to support "conservation solutions that make economic sense." This largely means that the foundation supports conservation groups that also have a community or local economy aspect. Considering that all communities rely on natural resources to survive, supporting ecological systems is a great way to also support the economy. To convey their grantmaking stance, the Walton Family (see Walton Family Foundation: Grants for Conservation) has coined a new word: Conservationomics, a portmanteau of conservation and economics.

The idea behind conservationomics is not new. Environmentalists have long acknowledged the connections between robust ecosystems and human health. Economists too have been working on conservation issues for decades, largely in a field called "ecosystem services valuation." The idea here is that dollar values can be placed on the services provided by nature (such as food, tourism, and protection from flooding and erosion). These values can then be used in cost-benefit analyses or to convince policymakers to invest in natural resources.

Admittedly, conservationomics is a much more fun word than the phrase "ecosystem services valuation." The Walton Family Foundation likely has a better marketing team than the economics departments of academia. However, whatever folks want to call it, the ideas here are very much important to conservation, and the Walton Family happily funded more than $91 million in environment initiatives in 2012.

A look at the Walton Family Foundation grants can help further clarify the concept of conservationomics. In 2012, nearly $10 million over two grants went to Conservation International for its SeaScapes program, which empowers communities to better care for their marine resources. More than $3 million went to the Ocean Conservancy to help communities recover from the 2010 BP Oil Spill. Some $10 million went to supporting fisheries catch share programs, and another $6 million-plus went to developing seafood marketplace incentives. 

It's obvious that the Walton Family Foundation is committed to its concept of conservationomics. This is a good thing. Developing ways to communicate the value of the environment so that communities reinvest in their natural resources is good for everybody. New markets, new communication strategies, and stakeholder engagement will all be important to developing the field of conservationomics.