About Us

NatCap Brochure

Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment LogoTNC logoWWF logoInstitute on the Environment at University of Minnesota

About The Natural Capital Project

Natural Capital Project Logo

The Natural Capital Project (NatCap) aims to integrate the values of nature into all major decisions affecting the environment and human well-being. Our ultimate objective is to improve the state of biodiversity and human well-being by motivating greater and more cost-effective investments in both.

NatCap develops simple, use-driven approaches to valuing nature, works closely with decision makers, and provides free, open source ecosystem service software tools to a broad community of users. We are a partnership combining research innovation at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota with the global reach of conservation science and policy at The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. We work with leaders around the world to test and demonstrate how accounting for nature's benefits can support more sustainable investment and policy decisions.

The Problem

People depend utterly on nature to sustain and fulfill human life, yet the values of nature are typically ignored in decisions. If properly managed, Earth's lands, waters and their biodiversity yield a flow of "ecosystem services," including: the production of goods such as food and timber, life-support processes such as water purification and coastal protection, life-fulfilling benefits such as beautiful places to recreate, and the preservation of options, such as genetic diversity for future use. Despite their vital importance, ecosystem services are generally taken for granted, scarcely monitored, and, in many cases, undergoing rapid degradation and depletion. This has serious – and potentially catastrophic – consequences for human well-being.

Finding Solutions

NatCap has developed practical, science-based approaches and software tools that quantify, map, and value services provided by nature. Accounting for ecosystem services reveals the diverse benefits provided by nature, clarifies tradeoffs between alternative development scenarios, and helps people make more informed decisions about how to use lands and waters.

Since our founding in 2006, we have applied our approaches and tools in more than 20 major projects worldwide—guiding investments in water security in Latin America, in coastal protection in the Gulf of Mexico, in food security and economic diversification in Belize, and in community development in Canada and Hawai`i.

Our Vision for the Future

The Natural Capital Project seeks a world in which people, governments, and corporations recognize the values of nature – embodied in Earth's lands, waters and biodiversity – in supporting human well-being, and routinely incorporate these values into decision-making. We are advancing three strategies to achieve our vision:

  • Developing scientifically rigorous approaches to incorporate natural capital into decisions by applying them in policy contexts around the world;
  • Creating innovative software tools to model, map, and value nature's benefits to society; and
  • Engaging leaders and practitioners in key institutions to forge and accelerate lasting, transformative change.

Over the past decade, the idea of seeing forests, wetlands, and other ecosystems as vital assets has led to an explosion of awareness and activity. This idea now appears in policy affecting agriculture, water, energy, health, fisheries, forestry, mining, cities, and the infrastructure supporting these and other vast sectors. It is also beginning to appear in the ways communities, corporations, governments and other institutions frame decisions.

Developing scientifically rigorous approaches to incorporate natural capital into decisions

Working with many partners around the world, we are integrating the diverse values of natural capital into major resource policies and decisions. These demonstrations range from: informing China's new system of reserves spanning 24% of the country, aimed at securing both natural capital and human well-being; to working with indigenous communities in strategic planning of land and ocean resource uses to balance conflicting values; to working with corporations to quantify the risks and opportunities of alternative resource development options.

Our approach also has informed decisions relating to spatial planning, payment for ecosystem services, climate adaptation planning, impact assessments for permitting and mitigation, corporate risk mitigation, marine and coastal planning, and habitat restoration. Our principal engagements thus far have been in Belize, Canada, China, Eastern Africa, Latin America, Indonesia, and the United States.

Read more about where we work.

Creating innovative tools to model, map, and value nature's benefits to society

We are developing tools for quantifying the values of natural capital in clear, credible, and practical ways. For decision makers to evaluate the potential return on investments in nature, the scientific community needs to deliver knowledge and tools to quantify and forecast this return.

To meet this need, we have developed InVEST ('Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs'), a free and open-source software suite that enables users to quantify natural capital in biophysical, socio-economic and other dimensions, to visualize the benefits delivered today and in the future, to assess the tradeoffs associated with alternative choices, and to integrate conservation and human development aims.

Read more about our InVEST and our other software tools.

Engaging leaders and practitioners in key institutions to forge and accelerate lasting, transformative change

NatCap aims to change the way decision makers think about nature, in the hope of creating more balanced and ethical outcomes for nature and people. By translating our site-based experiences into standardized approaches, training scientists and practitioners, and engaging leaders in key institutions, we are advancing the use of natural capital approaches worldwide. We work directly with decision makers to understand their dependence on nature and the key questions they are trying to address so we can provide the information they need to make informed decisions. We are learning what works, communicating our successes, and disseminating useful approaches, tools, and lessons in order to encourage governments, businesses, NGOs, and individuals to factor the values of nature into policy and decision-making.

Check out our publications, InVEST trainings, or recent media coverage.