Case Studies

Is Watershed Stewardship Good for Business?

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Topic: Is Watershed Stewardship Good for Business?

Discussion Group Leader: Rex Jenson

Mr. Jenson argued around the general thesis that taking care of the environment is often a good business practice, especially under certain conditions. He also went into some detail about these kinds of conditions, and spoke to his own experience as the owner of Lakewood Ranch.

The very general argument was that in Sarasota county, proximity to the bay and access to beautiful wetlands are economic as well as environmental assets. People looking for places to live, or companies looking for land to buy, see environmental beauty and integrity as a plus. Especially since consumers are increasingly aware of the morality of conservation, and tend to want to do the right thing.

Back a few decades ago, according to Jenson, development was worse than it is today. Waste was flushed out into the Sarasota Bay, ultimately, and the environment was generally not valued by developers. Part of this was for reasons that are endemic to the nature of small-scale development: when a developer only has a tiny amount of land to make profitable, they will not use any of it on public goods to benefit their neighbors. They are very likely to pave everything. For Jenson, however, that strategy would be neither morally nor economically viable.

By owning the land for an entire large community like Lakewood Ranch, Jenson could afford to make environmentally superior choices. Not only could he afford to, it was the more business-savvy move. Modern in-the-know consumers enjoy green initiatives, natural scenery makes a superior backdrop for living conditions and tourism, and with plenty of land, using a little of it to make the rest of it better is a clearly safe plan.

Another point Jenson made was that environmental blunders linger for a long time, often for generations. If a developer tears up a bunch of big trees to make way for a road, rather than replanting them strategically (as he did in Lakewood Ranch), then there won't be new big trees for many years. So it can be wise to guard those sorts of resources extra carefully.

Participants in the discussion asked about how Lakewood Ranch is so successful, given how far it is from the beach. Jenson pointed out that being somewhat close to the water is good, but being too close causes all sorts of problems that property owners somewhere like Lakewood Ranch don't have to face.

For a while there was conversation about lawncare and smaller-scale situations than Jenson's. Theory was mentioned, for instance, that the increase to property value in having an oak tree in a house's front lawn is greater than the incidental costs incurred periodically by the root systems of such trees. This conversation also included the point that unlike in the North, Sarasota county residents tend not to take care of waste produced on their lawns, such as trimmed grass or fallen leaves.

The audience all seemed to agree with Jenson's general thesis, and no serious objections were raised about the particular initiatives he mentioned. The benefits of having a pretty, environmentally protected place to live are beneficial to developers, too, and there are good reasons for even the most bottom-line minded to consider preservation as a priority.

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