EPIC: ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION THROUGH INCENTIVES AND COMMERCE

CEES believes that as governmental resources dwindle or become focused on other priorities, incentive-based approaches to conservation will play an increasingly important role in reversing environmental degradation, valuing ecosystem services, and ensuring the long-term protection of healthy ecosystems. To further that end, CEES is home to EPIC (Environmental Protection through Incentives and Commerce). EPIC was created to advance our understanding of the relationship between economic incentives and biodiversity conservation.

Environmental degradation occurs when there are economic incentives, for poor and rich alike, to degrade the environment and because nature’s bounty is not adequately monetized. EPIC is premised on the belief that substantial progress in conservation will be made only when incentives for conservation outweigh incentives for degradation. Finding incentives that move individuals, governments, and private firms to conserve ecosystems requires us to identify, develop, and promote mechanisms that can be successful on the ground. We know economic incentives have limitations and are not a universal solution but do not yet know enough about their strengths and weaknesses. It is critical that we know more.

As a joint program of the Columbia Business School and Faculty of Arts and Sciences, EPIC offers a unique platform for studying incentive-based mechanisms and their utility for conservation. EPIC is led by CEES Co-Directors Geoffrey Heal (PI), Paul Garrett Professor on Public Policy & Business Responsibility at the Columbia Business School (CBS) and Professor at the School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA); Don Melnick (Co-PI), Thomas Hunt Morgan Professor of Conservation Biology in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology (E3B); and by CEES Chief Operating Officer, Jim Warfield (Program Director).

Initiated in 2005 with a three-year grant from the Henry Luce Foundation and gifts from private donors, EPIC has created a library of cases on incentive-based approaches to conservation including market and commercial enterprise activities. Graduate students at Columbia’s CBS, E3B, and SIPA did primary research for more than 20 case studies that were then turned over to professional casewriters. Eight cases have been accepted by the senior editor, Professor Heal, with another eight expected to be completed by the end of 2008. The case study library will serve as the backbone for courses and programs being planned by CEES for implementation at Columbia. These courses will be designed to bridge the knowledge gap between business and science students who often have little understanding of each other’s perspectives and rules of engagement. Incentive-based systems require individuals and organizations that understand both the assumptions and language of business and science.

Completed Cases

Human-wildlife conflict: Snow leopard conservation: How effectively did the Snow Leopard Trust shift a number of Mongolian villages away from retaliatory killing and hunting?

NYC Watershed Voluntary Farm Management program: What factors allowed a voluntary “best practices” program to succeed where regulation failed?

Forest product certification systems: What are the necessary components of a forest-product certification system? What factors affect adoption of certification systems by large firms?

Forest product certification: adoption of stringent FSC certification system by Domtar, a major paper product company. Why did Domtar adopt the FSC rules when others have not?

Green roofs: Parsing social vs. private costs and benefits in arriving at a decision about the justification for governmental incentives.

Forest councils in the State of Uttarakhand, India: Success and failure in preserving forests, their ecosystems and biodiversity.

Fishery Quota Systems. Highlights the range of problems in converting a scientific standard for fish species population viability into a market-based incentive system that converts the fishery from a commons to a space in which individuals have property rights or property-like rights.

Human-wildlife conflict: Loss compensation systems. Focus on factors necessary for compensation programs to effectively prevent retaliatory killing of threatened or endangered species in venues world-wide.
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