In California, farmers and environmentalists have a long history of distrust. Decades-old feuds over water supplies, air quality, and pesticide use have left many believing that the divisions between these old factions run too deep to cross — but not Ashley Boren.
Ten years ago, Boren became executive director of Sustainable Conservation, a San Francisco environmental group founded on the idea that the environmental movement was missing a major opportunity to work more collaboratively with the private sector.
Since then, Boren and her colleagues have proven not only that it’s possible to break through long-standing animosities, but that a collaborative, problem-solving approach to environmental challenges, one that involves businesses as partners rather than opponents, can succeed in ways that more traditional strategies of regulation and litigation may not.
Consider some of their achievements:
- Sustainable Conservation is reducing air pollution in the Central Valley by convincing farms to adopt “conservation tillage,” a practice that requires fewer tractor passes to prepare soil for planting. A pilot project involving 16 farms cut dust pollution, which contributes to the valley’s high asthma rates, by more than 85 percent and reduced tractor fuel expenses up to 74 percent.
- It is helping the dairy industry, the state’s largest farm sector, reduce the impact of cow manure on the environment. Sustainable Conservation has persuaded numerous dairies to use methane digesters that treat manure while extracting methane gas for electricity generation. So far this technology has saved farmers $2 million in energy costs, diverted 500,000 tons of manure annually, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
- Most recently Sustainable Conservation is partnering with the horticultural industry to address the problem of invasive species, one of the greatest threats to biodiversity. A coalition of major retailers and nurseries has agreed to keep 21 of the most invasive types of garden and landscaping plants off store shelves and to launch a major educational campaign to promote noninvasive alternatives.
Sustainable Conservation’s success is due in part to its disarming approach. Boren and her colleagues start by developing a thorough understanding of the businesses and industries involved. Then they work in partnership to find practical, cost-effective ways to protect the environment that also make business sense.
Boren herself is a model of this approach. A former fund-raiser for the Nature Conservancy with a Stanford M.B.A., she blends a lifelong commitment to the environment with strong business acumen.
Typically farmers and ranchers are paid to grow crops and raise livestock. But many of these individuals who manage their land responsibly provide important services that benefit nature and human well-being. We need to create ways to pay farmers and ranchers for these services.
By promoting these innovative strategies, she and her colleagues at Sustainable Conservation are addressing a range of California’s major problems — including climate change, air and water pollution, and loss of wildlife — and helping entire industries shift toward environmental sustainability.
For her practical, collaborative approach to solving some of the state’s toughest environmental challenges, Ashley Boren is a recipient of a 2007 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award.
The written profile and video reflect the work of the leader(s) the year they received a Leadership Award. Please contact the leader(s) for current information.