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I've often wondered why the environmentalist and the corporate heads are always at each other's throats instead of sitting down and working things out. I know all about the stale arguments of “the greedy corporations don't care about the environment" and environmentalist are left- wing tree huggers with no concern for economic growth and jobs.

An article titled " Paying for Nature "from Time Magazine, makes me think that things are looking up now that Dow Chemical wants to put hard numbers on exactly how much the environment is worth to business. The chemical giant announced five year $10 million collaboration with Nature Conservancy (TNC) to tally up the ecosystem cost and benefits of every business decision. In years past, this information was only known to a few ecologists trying to figure out the dollar amount of the atmosphere. The threat of government action has prompted an increasing number of companies like Coca Cola to examine their ecological numbers just as closely as they would any part of their balance sheets. In 1997 study in the journal Nature estimated the value of the planet's ecosystem services: forests and oceans, airing climate regulation, even culture and recreational benefits to be $33 trillion, which is nearly twice the global's gross national product. The authors came to their conclusion by calculating what the public was willing to pay for certain ecosystem services like waste treatment and pollution cleanup.

It's funny that we only value something when we measure it. The World Wildlife Fund found that a coffee plantation in Costa Rica learned that the extra bee pollination from trees was worth an additional $62,000 a year to them. They were used to razing those trees to allow cattle grazing to supplement their income, but it only generated $24,000 a year.

Dow and TNC have already been involved in a smaller ecosystem service project in Sao Paulo. About 9 million people of that city got their drinking water from a nearby Cantareira System in Brazile's Atlantic's Forest. The logging, agriculture, and ranching industry had to be convinced that deforestation damages the water quality and the wild life that depends on it. They found out that the deforestation can lead to soil erosion, creating turbid water that requires more intensive and expensive treatment downstream. They also learned that conserving the upstream land is a cheaper way of protecting downstream water quality and prevents having to build costly treatment plants. New York did this in the 1990s by purchasing over 70,000 acres of upstate to avoid the need of a $6 billion treatment plant. It didn't take long to convince Dow Chemical because they donated $1.5 million into restoring 865 acres surrounding the Cachoeira reservoir. This joint effort will generate carbon credits, create green jobs for the locals but it will also cut the amount of sentiments flowing into the waters systems by over 60%.

Both Dow and TNC expect water to be the initial focus of their joint venture. A Dow Chemical plant in the Netherlands has recycled 2.6 million gallons of municipal wastewater a day for its operations. They found this to be cheaper and greener than tapping the river water.

In 2007 Goldman Sachs released the report showing that companies that were considered leaders in environmental social and government policy tended to outperform the general stock market and their peers. Coca-Cola has invested $30 million in watershed programs around the world, replenishing for communities and nature the equivalent of 31% of the water used in its finished beverages in 2010.

A growing population will demand more resources, so the smart companies will learn to value ecosystem services, not just exploit them. The CEO of Dow Chemical, Andrew Liveris, said “It’s not a choice to play in zero- sum game anymore. "The economy and the environment are independent." And there are united by one color: green.

*February 23,2011 issue of Time Magazine*** Paying for nature by Bryan Walsh pages 62-65