Bigger is better: Improved nature conservation and economic returns from landscape-level mitigation

Christina M. Kennedy, Daniela A. Miteva, Leandro Baumgarten, Peter L. Hawthorne, Kei Sochi, Stephen Polasky, James R. Oakleaf, Elizabeth M. Uhlhorn, Joseph Kiesecker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Impact mitigation is a primary mechanism on which countries rely to reduce environmental externalities and balance development with conservation. Mitigation policies are transitioning from traditional project-by-project planning to landscape-level planning. Although this larger-scale approach is expected to provide greater conservation benefits at the lowest cost, empirical justification is still scarce. Using commercial sugarcane expansion in the Brazilian Cerrado as a case study, we apply economic and biophysical steady-state models to quantify the benefits of the Brazilian Forest Code (FC) under landscape- and property-level planning. We find that FC compliance imposes small costs to business but can generate significant long-term benefits to nature: supporting 32 (±37) additional species (largely habitat specialists), storing 593,000 to 2,280,000 additional tons of carbon worth $69 million to $265 million ($ pertains to U.S. dollars), and marginally improving surface water quality. Relative to property-level compliance, we find that landscape-level compliance reduces total business costs by $19 million to $35 million per 6-year sugarcane growing cycle while often supporting more species and storing more carbon. Our results demonstrate that landscape-level mitigation provides cost-effective conservation and can be used to promote sustainable development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1501021
JournalScience Advances
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to E. Okumura, E. Garcia, C. Pereira, A. Poloni, K. Souza, and J. Pereira for their input on the business context and sugarcane profit modeling; A. Davidson, C. Sekercioglu, E. M. Vieira, and P. Develey for providing data and input on the biodiversity parameters and results; P. Hamel, L. Azevedo, J. Guimarães, K. Voss, I. Alameddine, S. Thompson, B. Keeler, and R. Griffin for their guidance on the hydrological modeling; B. Murray, T. Kroeger, B. Griscom, M. Borgo, G. Tiepolo, and N. Virgilio for helpful discussions on carbon valuation; M. Matsumoto for help with calculations of FC requirements; S. Baruch-Mordo for help with R coding issues; J. Wilkinson and A. B. Villarroya for input on mitigation policies; and J. Wilkinson, P. Kareiva, and M. Weick for helpful comments on earlier drafts. Funding: This research was supported by The Dow Chemical Company Foundation, The Dow Chemical Company, The Nature Conservancy, Anne Ray Charitable Trust, and the 3M Foundation. Author contributions: C.M.K., D.A.M., and J.K. conceived and designed the study; D.A.M., C.M.K., L.B., and K.S. collected the data; D.A.M., C.M.K., P.L.H., L.B., K.S., J.R.O., and S.P. conducted the modeling and analysis; L.B. assessed Brazilian FC requirements; E.M.U. informed the business context; D.A.M., C.M.K., and K.S. produced the figures and tables; C.M.K. and D.A.M. designed and wrote the paper; and D.A.M., C.M.K., J.K., S.P., L.B., K.S., P.L.H., E.M.U., and J.R.O. revised the paper. Competing interests: The authors declare that they have no competing interests. Data availability: All data needed to evaluate the conclusions in the paper are present in the paper and/or the Supplementary Materials. Additional data related to this paper may be requested from the authors. Data for this research are available from The Nature Conservancy and are found at

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Authors.


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