By Danielle Beurteaux
Can a price be put on the environment? The
answer should be yes, says Colin le Duc.
Le Duc, 40, is a partner at the London office of Generation
Investment Management, the $7 billion global equity fund that
focuses on environmental sustainability and was co-founded by
Al Gore in 2004. Le Duc is also a board member of Forest
Trends, a Washington, D.C., group that establishes ecosystem
offset markets, provides environmental market news and
analysis, and promotes conservation through establishing
payment systems for natural resources.
Le Duc's first exposure to Forest Trends was through friends
who worked with the group; he was attracted to its use of
financial instruments to link markets, investors and
communities, and to protect the environment. "I was very
intrigued by their fundamental proposition around payment for
ecosystem services," he says.
Le Duc joined the board in 2007, primarily to help Forest
Trends broaden its connections to the investment community.
"It's an organization that's dramatically underappreciated in
the sense that they pioneered a notion and created real
markets," he says. Contrary to the goal of preserving pristine
expanses of unoccupied wilderness, the new environmentalism
calls for a sustainable balance for both people and the
environment. "The new way of thinking is to say we need to find
a way for humans to live in harmony with the environment," le
Forest Trends has, for example, helped indigenous peoples
who live in valuable forest regions such as the Amazon get
fairly compensated through establishing a balance of forest
management and wood pricing. "I just think that it's inevitable
that we have to move to a situation where people are paid more
for maintaining forests than for cutting them down," le Duc
The organization has also branched out to include other
ecological areas like water quality and marine life. One
program is the Chesapeake Fund-run in concert with the
Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the World Resources
Institute-which aims to reduce nitrogen runoff from local
agriculture into the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia. A
surfeit of nitrogen in water creates so-called dead zones,
where there's not enough oxygen for marine life to survive.
As part of that program, a nitrogen trading market is being
readied, where farmers can buy and sell nitrogen credits to
help protect water quality.
Whether it's clean air, clean water or fossil fuels,
environmental resources are undervalued, le Duc says, and
that's a serious problem. "There's a massive market failure
around the true value of the environment in that it's not fully
reflected in our economic system today," he says. "That's what
Forest Trends is trying to change, and that's what
environmental markets generally are trying to do."
Forest Trends co-founder Michael Jenkins says le Duc's
combination of investment experience and environmental savvy is
invaluable. "There are very few people in the world who have
that mix of experience and who are sitting on those
intersections," says Jenkins. "He's really unusual."
For his part, le Duc is impressed with Forest Trends' level
of sophistication in solving environmental challenges. "I just
think they're the best in the world. They're doing such
intriguing work, and they're totally unique."