Free Market Conservation: An Explanation

The concept of “free market environmentalism” comes as counterintuitive to many people the first time they hear it. People have been taught that saving the environment is about restricting business, or the free market, because the free market, if left unchecked would wreck everything in sight. But, as explained in this great WBCSB article, it’s more a matter of recognizing the actual economic benefits a clean, functional ecosytem can provide, and letting business run its course, albeit more enlightened.

What lights people up is the idea of seeing ecosystem assets as working-capital assets that provide a stream of benefits, and then figuring out, using standard business and economic approaches, what an optimal investment strategy would look like.

More on WBCSD site.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of has grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He worked for, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years and has also been an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.

5 responses

  1. Unfortunately, the phrase “free market environmentalism” has also been co-opted by right-wingers much more interested in the free market (as in free of any kind of regulation) than in the environment. Generally, these folks take on the role of apologists for corporate excess and cheerleaders for do-nothingism and/or “technological developments” that don’t exist rather than promoting the kind of responsible market-based responses to environmental issues that Daily, as well as sustainability giants like Paul Hawken and Amory Lovins, advocate.

  2. They do have some provoking ideas — Jonathan Adler and I got into a debate over DDT use, for instance, and he did show me that there are limited circumstances in which DDT use is safe and effective. At the same time, though, I think they’re a prime example of what I described above for the most part… I have yet to see them engage in any kind of critical analysis of, for instance, Bush administration “environmental” policy, or to really cover some of the genuine market-based environmental successes. Where’s the discussion of product service systems, for instance? Or the pheonomenal success of the wind and solar industries, which have made themselve competitive without the massive subsidies received by the nuclear and fossil fuels industry? I check Commons whenever they have something new, but those provoking posts seem sandwiched between an awful lot of typical right-wing cheerleading… Adler himself is Director of Environmental Studies for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Here’s Amy Ridenour’s bio at Sourcewatch. And here’s what you get when you search Iain Murray.

  3. Cool, thanks Jeff. This is one reason i started 3P – to try and get to the heart of this “right-left divide” (if such a thing really exists) in terms of the environment. I think that it’s impossible to validate one’s own ideas without deeply considering those that seem to contradict you, at least most of the time anyway, so I get a kick out of reading what some might consider right wing material, some of which is crap, but a lot of which is pretty well thought out and worth thinking about.

  4. I have been researching and writing on “Free Market Environmentalism” (FME) for some years now. I will admit that some of this movement has been captured by people who wish only to be “seen as green”. But I will also strongly suggest that most of the FME community are environmentalists who have found that many property rights and free-market solutions can do much for securing and improving environmental quality. For example, ITQs in fisheries have done more to restore fish stocks than government regulation has ever come close to. It would be unfortunate if the work of all FME’ers was ignored or discredited due to a few bad apples. See the work of people at for the pioneering and best examples of what FME can do for the environment.

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