Celebrating 25 Years of Corporate Conservation
In November, the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) will celebrate 25 years of promoting and certifying habitat conservation and management on corporate lands. At our 25th Annual Symposium, Celebrating Corporate Conservation, in Baltimore on November 13-14, we will recognize the hard work of our members’ employees and community volunteers when we certify new projects and recertify continuing efforts.
Twenty five years ago, WHC was formed when a group of companies and conservation entities, including DuPont, GE, United States Steel Corporation, the Isaac Walton League, and the National Wildlife Federation gathered as a group called The Garden Club to assess how businesses could be better stewards of their lands to benefit wildlife. Remington Farms (now Chesapeake Farms), a DuPont property on Maryland’s Delmarva Peninsula, hosted the meeting. The work being done by DuPont to manage the land for wildlife proved an inspiration to the group, pointing to what was possible on corporate lands. The end result was the founding of WHC in 1988.
WHC was created before corporate social responsibility, sustainability, employee engagement, and standards reporting became important issues for businesses seeking to be better neighbors and more responsible actors. But, WHC’s approach has, over 25 years, embraced all of these aspects of being a good business neighbor and integrated them into the projects we certify today. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a business practice came to the fore in the late 1970s. At that time, businesses across the globe were taking voluntary actions to integrate self-regulation into their business activities. They wanted to identify stakeholders impacted by their operations and created programs to do societal good and that go above and beyond state and federal regulations. WHC’s earliest recognition programs took lessons from CSR and only projects that surpassed regulatory requirements were certified and recognized. From the beginning, WHC encouraged connections with local stakeholders by suggesting access for the public through trail development and the use of the projects as outdoor classrooms.
When the concept of the triple bottom line was developed in the late 1990s, WHC had already certified hundreds of projects on its members’ lands that delivered a benefit to society and the environment. When WHC launched its certification program in 1990, it certified 18 projects. By 1998, WHC had certified 230 projects that encompassed more than 850,000 acres of certified wildlife habitat across the United States and at its members’ international locations. Today, more than 800 projects are certified within our conservation and education frameworks.
In the earliest days, the projects sat within the Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) function because companies had yet to invest in sustainability officers. The initial conservation activities were as broad as they are today. They spanned simple projects like bird box installation and monitoring to more extensive efforts like wetland restoration and rare species management. In many instances these projects also created a positive impact on the financial bottom line as many members saw substantial savings by changing their land management practices. For example, members have reported up to a 38% reduction in maintenance costs when managing for wildlife habitat. So WHC’s certification programs truly added value in an environmental, societal, and financial context
Throughout its 25 years, WHC has engaged in education efforts, using certified projects as outdoor classrooms for schools and other groups. As businesses recognized the need for a STEM-educated workforce, WHC adapted its outreach and learning programs to build a bridge between its projects and STEM education, using corporate lands to educate across a wide spectrum of subjects. This year, a WHC conference dedicated to STEM education gathered professional educators and project managers from the WHC membership to highlight those projects with a STEM component and advanced the connection between hands-on STEM education and outdoor learning.
As businesses continue to evolve in their approach to environment and community, WHC continues to evolve with them. Standards reporting, through ISO 14000, the Global Reporting Initiative, the Dow-Jones Sustainability Index and others, has become increasingly important to the business community, its shareholders and stakeholders. WHC projects have contributed to a business’s ability to report on a metric that matters. The certification offered by WHC provides a third party validation of natural resources management on corporate lands that can be included in any standard reporting and applied to many sustainability goals and metrics. Once a business moves to using biodiversity or voluntary initiatives as an environmental KPI, they then have a value rooted in science that they can report in a manner that can be understood by stakeholders.
With 25 years of experience behind it, WHC can approach, with confidence, newly emerging business themes like resiliency, social investing, and work-place satisfaction surveys and know that its model– bringing employees and community together to implement projects to enhance the environment in which they live and work will once more be able to absorb the emerging needs of our members while continuing to build habitats, increase biodiversity and instill a sense of pride and appreciation in the natural world.
Please join us to celebrate 25 years of working with businesses to improve nature at our 25th Annual Symposium, November 13-14 at the Hilton Baltimore.
Wildlife Habitat Council