In the News
Environmental Banking – Offset Credit Creation and Trading
An article in the Venture Dispatches No 30 - April 2007, A Quarterly Newsletter Published by the Venture Group Pty Limited, Sydney, NSW, Australia
Kevin F. Noon, Chairperson and Cofounder, Critical Habitats Inc., USA.
Judith A. Ward, President and Cofounder, Critical Habitats Inc., USA.
Think about your own community:
- Can you think of a land development project that resulted in maximum economic growth for the developer and also created a measurable net gain in environmental conditions and community values?
- Can you think of a development that was ‘Green Both Ways?’
Imagine a world with:
- Commercially viable property development that benefits from market incentives that encourage environmentally sensitive business practices that are profitable, not prohibitive.
- Reduced uncertainty in development, through a business-friendly process that offers multiple routes toward sustainable and community valued outcomes.
- Our children and their children, with increased opportunities to play and learn in natural environments that are a vital part of each new land development project.
This imagined world is very possible - it is greener and better. Being for ‘green’ while we make a profit is not bad – it is smart!
The objective is to unleash the market and shift behaviors by incentive-driven and market-based development creating the maximum sustainable economic growth concurrent with a measurable net gain in environmental and social conditions - in each particular circumstance. Without sustainable economic development strategies that are incentive-driven and market-based, we will be unable to endow future generations with the legacy of natural and human capital that was left to us.
One way to achieve these goals is to shift behaviors with market-based programs that encourage the voluntary development of resource or carbon environmental banks and thereby contribute to the offsetting of resource depletion. In the USA, for-profit environmental banking is a form of environmental enhancement and protection that is also a business and investment opportunity for the private sector.
The concept is simple. Environmental banking is the creation and sale of a natural resource credits/commodity or a pollution reduction. Environmental banks offset the impacts to natural resources in one location by creating a measurable net gain of the desired resource condition in another area.
For decades, government agency regulators have forced industries, developers, and landowners, into complying with environmental regulations. Traditionally, when developers destroy natural areas or pollute our air or water, environmental regulations require compensation for the damage. The responsible government agencies find it difficult to enforce developers or polluters to offset their impacts. Most polluters or developers have regarded compensating for pollution or development impacts as burdensome requirements and costly business expenses. The goal has been to achieve sustainable development by regulating the developers, the polluters, and the commercial forces of the private sector. This command-and-control form of resource protection has created an adversarial relationship between the aspirations of many environmentalists, and the pragmatic vision of the business community.
The problem with the traditional approach of regulation is that while it controls the worst offenders, it fails to address the incremental impacts year after year, that in time radically deplete our resources. In fact, an honest appraisal of the condition of our environment over the last century can only conclude that each succeeding generation has witnessed an incremental diminishing of environmental quality. The government regulatory agency’s role in environmental protection is evolving – and will continue to evolve -- from command-and-control regulation and enforcement to coordination and encouragement of market-driven efforts.
An environmental bank is a legal corporate body that owns improved environmental assets instead of cash. Natural resource assets can be created, stored, and sold to customers in much the same way a financial bank would collect, store, and trade wealth. Environmental banking refers to all aspects of the business that pertain to the process of creating assets, and certifying, operating, and profiting from the act of creating a bank that produces a net gain in the quantity and quality of our natural resources or reduces the affects of pollution.
There are a number of cumulative impacts that the public recognizes to be primary threats to everyone’s health and well-being:
- Global warming
- Water pollution
- Increased energy consumption
- Water shortage
- Habitat loss
- Endangered species loss or threatened
- Loss of rural land
These problems are the basis for a number of distinct environmental banking and investment opportunities:
- Wetland Banking - The bankers create high quality wetland areas, gain approval for credit value from the regulatory agencies, and then trade or sell the credits to offset the impacts from other property development.
- Endangered Species or Bio-Diversity Banking - The bankers permanently preserve the critical habitat, gain approval for credit value from the regulatory agencies, and then developers acquire the credits as offsets to their project impacts in habitats of much lower value to the species in question.
- Carbon Banking - Carbon banks will take several forms including forests where each forest is known to extract a certain number of tons of carbon per year from the atmosphere. The carbon banker is awarded a certain number of credit-tons based on what the bank can sequester from the atmosphere. Polluters purchase credits from the banks in order to offset any pollution that they produce in excess of their cap limits.
- Energy Banking - bank entity can be a mass of solar collectors, a wind farm, or a methane producing landfill site (see article by Suzanne Michaels in this issue of Venture Dispatches). The regulatory oversight agencies award the bank a certain number of credits per the amount of energy produced which can be sold to the power companies in order to reduce their energy production from fossil fuels.
- Water Quality Banking - Water quality banks perform some type of water cleansing activity that reduces the amount of pollutants in our waters. A water quality bank can also reduce its amount of pollution output to below their allowable limits. Farmers that change their fertilization and plowing practices can reduce the amount of pollutants that enter the nearby stream. In some market areas they can then sell the net reductions as water pollution credits to those that exceed their cap limits for that pollutant within the same region.
- Water Banking - The bank can be a flowing river, lake, or groundwater storage area that contains water represented by a certain number of water rights. The regulatory oversight agencies assign a credit value to the lease-able water and the water rights owners or bank managers sell the credits.
- Development Rights Banking - A land development rights bank entity can be a farm, undeveloped natural area, or groups of these rural properties that are granted by the local regulatory oversight agencies as containing a certain number of marketable development rights credits. Development rights trading allows the developer to build more building space, above the cap limit that is typically zoned for the development property.
Environmental banking is “green both ways” because it’s a type of land development that creates measurable improvements in environmental conditions and social values, and results in significant economic return to the landowner, developer, or investor.
We believe that incentive-based, for profit, environmental banking is one of the best mechanism to achieve the sustainable health of our environment that will ensure our future health and well-being. All resource issues are sustainability issues; they are conflicts caused by competition for resources. Environmental banking will become the essential component of an international environmental management strategy. Each year we see growing international support for, and adoption of, the environmental banking concept, including:
- An ever increasing realization that environmental banking is a business that can provide the benefit of environmental stewardship with significant financial opportunities.
- An ever increasing realization that balancing economic and social development for our generation and for the generations to come, is more possible if the private sector can be the financial beneficiary of environmental stewardship.
- An ever increasing realization that the role of government should be to foster the market based, incentive policies that make environmentally sensitive practices profitable and not prohibitive.
- An ever increasing realization that world wide adoption of market based, incentive policies that support environmental banking will lead to numerous financial investment opportunities, including environmental bank investment trusts (EBIT).
NOTE: Many of the concepts in this article are from a new book titled Green Wealth. The book describes trends, issues, and strategies of the current and future investment opportunities in environmental banking. Green Wealth is available through Square One Publishers or Amazon Books (http://www.squareonepublishers.com, or http://www.amazon.com).
About the Authors
Kevin F. Noon, Ph.D., is Chairman and Cofounder of Critical Habitats Inc. (an environmental banking company) and cofounder of Sustainable Environments LLC (a wetland and endangered species banking company) and is an Associate of the Roger C. Hobbs Institute for Real Estate, Law and Environmental Studies at Chapman University. He works with landowners and investors on all aspects of bank creation. A highly sought after consultant, Kevin has presented environmental baking concepts to numerous private companies and to Australian, Canadian and USA government agencies.
Judith A. Ward is President and Cofounder of Critical Habitats, Inc. and is an Associate of the Roger C. Hobbs Institute for Real Estate, Law and Environmental Studies at Chapman University. She is an award winning landscape architect and manages multidisciplinary environmental bank teams in the completion of feasibility analyses, certification documents, and bank creation designs.
Kevin Noon and Judy Ward can be reached at Critical Habitats, Inc.
Corporate Headquarters and Denver Office
4486 South Wolff Street, Denver, Colorado 80236, USA.