The 2017 Innovation winner in Bank of the West’s annual Philanthropy Awards is Ecotrust, an Oregon-based organization that fosters economic opportunity, social equity, and environmental well-being.
Jeremy Barnicle, executive director, shares some great examples of Ecotrust’s unique work in the Q&A below. The organization is making changes that help build a world where people and nature thrive together, and I’m inspired by the results Ecotrust has been able to achieve.
Q: Your website describes your work as partnering with local communities across the Northwest “to put bold, transformative ideas into action.” Can you share one or two specific examples that make you really proud?A: The following two examples of our work highlight some of Ecotrust’s critical core strengths: We’re comfortable as a hub for transformative change through unique partnerships, and we’re in the work for the long haul.
Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative:
Over the course of more than a decade, Ecotrust was the hub of a multi-agency partnership to restore priority watersheds throughout Oregon. Since 2005, more than $10 million has been deployed in mostly rural areas, helping restore more than 6,500 acres of habitat, improving more than 900 miles of stream, and creating 250 restoration-based jobs.
Farm to School:
Connecting small and mid-size farmers with large institutions like schools is a major thrust of Ecotrust’s food and farms work. In our farm-to-school work, we partner with a wide range of school districts, focusing on low-income schools and preschools to ensure that all children have access to healthy, local food. And we advocate for policies that strengthen Oregon’s agricultural economy and create local jobs.
In both cases we were there for the very beginning, dedicating decades to building these programs. In the case of Farm to School, we saw the movement grow up and transform the way we think about school food nationally. With the Whole Watershed Restoration Initiative, there was restoration work happening, but it was sporadic and unfocused. We helped provide that regional focus and a way for those millions of dollars to make targeted, transparent impact. Now, addressing natural resource management challenges through collaboration, bringing together diverse partners to achieve common goals, is the name of the game.
Ecotrust has been active since 1991. What do you think is the key to your group’s longevity?
I really see two drivers to Ecotrust’s longevity thus far. The first is its business model. Unlike most non-profits, we have a number of profit-generating businesses – real estate, event spaces, consulting work – and when you combine those with the more traditional non-profit revenue streams of government grants, foundation support, and personal charitable giving, you have a pretty resilient model. The second, and more important, reason is that our mission – to create economic opportunity, environmental well-being, and social equity – has only gotten more relevant. More and more, people understand that these three goals are totally interdependent, and therefore we have lots of important work to do.
How does Ecotrust measure whether a project you invest in has made a successful environmental impact?
It really depends on the project, but climate-smart forestry is a good example. When we practice climate-smart forestry – which includes managing our forests more intentionally, putting longer rotations on timber harvests, and placing a value on things like carbon sequestration – on properties managed by our for-profit affiliate, it gives us an opportunity to track what a new way of thinking about forest management really looks like on the ground.
Then, because we’re fortunate to have a really robust staff of map makers and data analysts, we can take that information and crunch some numbers on how an “ecological” model stacks up to the industrial status quo. So we can say, for example, how much carbon is sequestered in our forest by leaving trees standing longer while still providing forest products and jobs.
What motivates you to continue in this important work?
I have 7-year-old twins; and I feel like if I am going to do right by them and for future generations, I have to work hard to harness our many blessings – natural capital, human imagination, immense financial resources – and help this world function better. We have everything we need for the world we want, but we sometimes we get scared, stuck, and distracted and miss out on opportunities to do this better.
Learn more in this video:
Read our interview with the other recipient in our 2017 Philanthropy Awards: Warren Village.
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