Crossing the fence-line - Connecting the corporate world to the community through conservation action

When companies and communities come together to restore nature in urban places, multiple benefits are realized for biodiversity and beyond.

Photo of Margaret O'Gorman
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Eligibility Criteria

  • I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
  • I am 18 years old or older.

Initiative's representative name

Margaret O'Gorman

Initiative's representative date of birth

A Long Time Ago

Initiative's representative gender

  • Woman

Headquarters location: country

  • United States

Headquarters location: city

Silver Spring, Maryland

Where are you making a difference?

All over the world in 26 countries

Website or social media url(s) @WildlifeHC @OGormanWhC

Date Started

October 1989

Project Stage

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?

  • €1mil - €5mil

Organization Type

  • Nonprofit/NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

When a steel mill, a landfill, a ready mix plant and a gas station takes action for nature in urban industrial lands, the communities benefit and biodiversity benefits. In Burns Harbor, Indiana, a steel mill along the Lake Michigan is turning previously damaged lands into a nature-centered landscape that will provide habitat for endangered beach nesting birds. In. Mexico a car plant in an urbanized area is acting for monarch butterflies and in Spain, a chemical company on the edge of a city is managing for invasive species. Across industry sectors and geographies difference is being made for habitat and for species. Our framework for action connects employees and community members and is highly replicable and applicable in an urban setting.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

We are living through a biodiversity crisis. All nature, not just biodiversity hotspots, need help. Healthy nature provides many benefits to communities as well as its own intrinsic value. With urbanization, communities and industry are juxtaposed and the impacts of industry felt in populations across the world. The private sector can mitigate many of its impacts through nature and provide real assets to urban communities. WHC sees the need and the opportunity at the urban/industrial interface.

3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Believing that every act of conservation matters the Wildlife Habitat Council (WHC) connects companies to the communities in which they operate through conservation action and education. WHC works with business to develop conservation programs that meet a business challenge or opportunity and provide benefits for biodiversity, employees and community members. It works deeply and broadly with a company from the C-Suite to the factory floor providing strategic and technical services to create robust and top class programs ranging from ecological remediation and reclamation to community plantings and formal education. It provides strategic and technical services to help the private sector implement programs that address operational, managerial and corporate citizenship needs. It certifies programs through its sustainability standard Conservation Certification® and amplifies its work through content offerings of white papers, webinars, blogs and conferences. WHC works across the USA and internationally in 25 countries with over 650 certified programs on lands and communities in places both rural and urban with two elements in common: biodiversity action and human engagement.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

WHC is the only NGO that connects the dots between the private sector, biodiversity and local community. There is no other systematic approach like this in the marketplace, no program designed to give benefit to community members and corporate leaders and employees. WHC provides companies with recognition for their efforts through its Conservation Certification®, a voluntary sustainability standard that recognizes nature-based efforts on corporate lands that go beyond compliance and bring value. This results-oriented, community focused model for private sector action on biodiversity is informed by 30 years of design that has paralleled the evolution of corporate citizenship incorporating best practices of engagement and biodiversity action

5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?

WHC's framework of local engagement for global impact cannot work without partners. We engage national and local conservation NGOs like Bat Conservation International, local Audubon chapters, BirdLife International and others to support context sensitive conservation. We work with government agencies (mostly in the US) to ensure that conservation efforts are aligned with national or regional plans. We work with educators to connect the efforts to official curricula or standards. We can only do this work with partners. Our stakeholders are the companies we work with. We engage across industry sectors and work closely with over 80 global and/or national companies to advance biodiversity action non their lands. We can only do this work if we have access to company lands in the communities where they work. We would like to expand our network in a formal way to engage active NGOs and other partners in countries and models for how to scale our work into more communities with more partners.

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

We measure impact with our certification program. We currently have over 650 programs with active Conservation Certification in communities of all types around the world. The certification program is designed with the best approaches of voluntary sustainability standard design. It is transparent, accessible, stakeholder informed and drives change. We use the number of certified programs as our measure of progress. Within each program we score social impact on a number of factors - employee engagement, community outreach and education efforts. Currently 40% of all certified programs have an education program that meets the needs of community. We have engaged thousands of employees, community members and learners in efforts across the world on over 2 million acres with projects that range from a small pollinator garden to a large mine reclamation. In urban areas, we have worked in unlikely places where industry touches community: steel mills, landfills, train yards, ready mix plants etc.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

WHC has a model of engaging business for biodiversity using business need as a driver. We help the private sector see how biodiversity efforts can bring value to the company, the community and employees. Our international growth has been driven by the companies we work with. We want to scale our efforts internationally in a deliberate and designed manner. We would like to test a franchise, license or accreditation model in 3 countries - Ireland, India and Mexico. WHC designed its framework to be applicable globally as it uses local governance as the floor for action. Deliberate scaling for international growth by increasing staff is unnecessary and expensive. We want to empower existing networks already for a new scalable business model.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?

WHC's model is a perfect early example of Shared Value Creation. For three decades we have been delivering benefit to business and community through conservation. Our framework is predicated on our C-Suite 16 Business Drivers that are the 16 reasons the private sector can realize value from biodiversity action. Many of these drivers connect to community needs. Every corporate facility that implements nature-based programs on their lands uplifts their local community and when the facility crosses its fence-line into the community to act or engage community members in action or education, the benefit is shared widely. These benefits include improved air, water, education, training & wellbeing.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

WHC'S business model is sustainable because it does not rely on philanthropy instead it engages 80 or more private sector companies to support the mission, contract for strategy or design work and pay fees to apply for certification. WHC needs philanthropic investment for activities beyond its fee for service, site-specific approach to convene around topics or explore new business strategies. WHC needs to invest to scale to a deliberate franchise or licensing option but once scaled, the business model will be self-supporting. WHC has used this business model for 30+ years through corporate disruption, industry consolidation, financial crises and fluctuating economic cycles. As it seeks to scale, the business model will scale with it.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

A team of 22 people: conservation planners joining the dots between a company's business need and conservation action; urban restoration specialists expert in seeing possibilities for nature in urban lands; certification experts who oversee Conservation Certification; education professionals linking corporate and community conservation to formal and informal education; a leadership team that bridges departmental expertise and; a president who literally wrote the book on corporate conservation.

11. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media

12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.

WHC has close to 700 certified conservation programs. To be certified, the conservation program must meet a set of criteria established by external stakeholders in an application form that seeks answers to a series of questions scored by independent reviewers. Scores are calculated around conservation impact, corporate impact and conservation education impact. From this a level of certification is assigned – certified, certified silver and certified gold. Every certified program has a positive impact on biodiversity, the higher the score, the greater the impact. A program cannot be certified without a positive impact on biodiversity. These impacts range from a multi-season pollinator garden in an urban landscape to a mine site reclamation restoring mangrove swamps. Every certified program is locally appropriate and in alignment with established conservation objectives. WHC has over 2 million acres in active conservation on lands of all types focused on species both rare and common.

13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples that show how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.

The international automaker General Motors (GM) has a commitment to support biodiversity projects at all of its manufacturing facilities world-wide. To measure progress toward this goal, the company adopted WHC’s Conservation Certification® as its standard. In this way, a program in South Korea and a program in Spain would be measured in the same way as a program in the USA or Brazil. To make the program successful, GM and WHC worked to develop tool kits to get each location active and understanding how they could have a positive benefit for biodiversity. Every program was required to apply for certification so it could be measured, and it was encouraged to engage employees in the effort. Today 56 manufacturing sites across the world have active biodiversity programs with Conservation Certification with 29 certified Gold. All programs are required to seek re-certification to ensure that they are actively managed and monitored. The program impacts are all aligned with the SDGs.

14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

The majority of biodiversity-focused certifications address commodities like palm oil or seafood. They focus on processes and products. WHC’s is the only certification program to focus on biodiversity in a holistic manner and in a way that includes companies of all types and all sizes. Conservation Certification® is designed to be inclusive and embrace all efforts in a supportive manner. Other wildlife certifications exist but these are generally focused on back yard habitat and are not robust enough to provide value to companies seeking a metric that can be used for corporate social responsibility reports or to meet third party verification standards. WHC’s approach is designed to work with the needs of the company and in so doing, secure longevity for the effort. The company can choose the extent of its commitment which makes it attractive to private sector business that may have a range of facility types across a range of landscapes with differing potential for biodiversity uplift.

15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

Nothing significant

16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.

Membership (corporate) 33%; Grants and Contributions 17%; Earned Income 31%; Sponsorships 19%; individual contributions 0; bequests 0

17. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge? How would you invest the prize money to leverage your work?

To secure biodiversity for the future we need all lands, not just protected lands. We need to be working in all areas, not just biodiversity hotspots. We need all sectors to participate, not just government and NGOs and we need nature to thrive in cities, suburbs, the countryside as well as in wilderness areas. We need to recover rare species and ensure that common species don’t become rare. To do this we need everyone to act. Because of our three decades of experience with the private sector, we know what business can do but WHC is not big enough do it all. We want to build a model that will so that we can scale our efforts without growing our organization. We want to empower groups or individuals to implement the WHC approach and connect them to Conservation Certification®. We will invest the award money to develop a business model and test it with existing connections in Mexico, Ireland and India. The award will give us the resources to build and test a model to scale our approach.

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far


Yes, absolutely! - 50%

Yes/maybe - 50%

Maybe - 0%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%


5 —Absolutely! It’s crystal clear how the solution is directly contributing to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity. - 50%

4—Yes, it establishes a clear connection to biodiversity. - 25%

3—Somewhat, the entry speaks to biodiversity but the direct impact is not well established and/or it is focused on a single species without considering its impact on the broader ecosystem - 25%

2—Not really, the connection to biodiversity is weak - 0%

1—No. The entry does not reference the solution’s impact on biodiversity. - 0%

3. 3) Is this entry IMPACTFUL?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 50%

4- Yes, I think so. - 50%

3- Maybe. - 0%

2- Probably not. - 0%

1- No. - 0%

4. 4) Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 25%

4- Yes, I think so. - 75%

3- Maybe. - 0%

2- Probably not. - 0%

1- No. - 0%

5. 5) Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 25%

4- Yes, I think so. - 50%

3- Maybe. - 25%

2- Probably not. - 0%

1- No. - 0%


5 -Yes, absolutely! - 25%

4- Yes, I think so. - 75%

3- Maybe. - 0%

2- Probably not. - 0%

1- No. - 0%

7. 7) Does this entry value COLLABORATION WITH OTHER STAKEHOLDERS in its approach?

5- Yes, absolutely! - 25%

4- Yes, I think ko. - 75%

3- Maybe. - 0%

2- Probably not. - 0%

1- No. - 0%

8. 8) FEEDBACK – Highlights

INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions - 66.7%

IMPACT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 66.7%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: You have a thoughtful plan for growth and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 66.7%

VIABIBLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 0%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You value thinking around how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 66.7%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: You have a clearly defined plan on how to maximize shared value across multiple sectors and stakeholders - 100%

WRITING STYLE: Your writing style is concise, descriptive, clear, and specific - 33.3%

Other option - 0%

9. 9) FEEDBACK - Areas for Improvement

INNOVATION: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 100%

IMPACT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 100%

GROWTH & LEADERSHIP POTENTIAL: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 0%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

POTENTIAL TO CREATE SHARED VALUE: your plan can benefit from more thought on how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 0%

WRITING STYLE: Try to be more concise, descriptive, clear, and specific. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 100%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming - 0%

Other option - 0%

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Attachments (3)

WHC CSuite & Supply Chain.pdf

Two key explanatory documents about WHC - the C Suite 16 which lists the 16 common reasons business sees value in conservation efforts and the second page shows how WHC's membership spans the supply chain.

SDGs Graphic.pdf

This graphic is an extract from our white paper that connects corporate conservation to the SDGs.

WHC White Paper_Birds.pdf

Our white papers encourage companies to think about their lands for biodiversity. This white paper about birds shows how easy it is to do projects for avian conservation on corporate lands.

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Margaret O'Gorman

Thank you Nathalie and Benfang Li for your comments. Nathalie - I have added more photos and a video. BenFang, I have edited Section 7 and hope it is clearer. I input the additional details in sections 12 onwards. I uploaded some documents that illustrate our approaches. Best wishes, Margaret