Are you familiar with Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac? It is viewed as a ‘classic’ in understanding land use. I carried a copy of it when I was a field biologist. Leopold showed me that by counting the different species along a concession road and by peering into the farm woodlot for signs of cattle, I could estimate the health of the environment of an area – health measured not only by the production of corn per acre but also by the populations of birds, mammals, and even the people who enjoy the locally produced maple sugar. In the words of Leopold, “Health is more than a gross production number.”
Leopold was very clear that solutions to land use include government, non-profits and most importantly, the people affected, with the people driving the solutions through their creative ideas.
We have come a long way since Leopold wrote about the overused Wisconsin farmland in the 1930s. We now better understand that solutions need to encompass more than just shareholders but that it needs to include stakeholders, employees, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.
Does this sound like Leopold? I believe it does, and here are five reasons that Aldo Leopold is still relevant today:
- We need to work towards multiple options in decision making
Solutions include diverse options that challenge the accepted norms. Single-source solutions do not lead to decisions that accommodate a diverse world. Leopold found that values included community-based reserves of land for wildlife and recreation added more value than the maximum yield of corn. Sound familiar with community gardens designed and maintained by the specific community?
- Maximizing short-term profits may not be the best approach
Simple equations for profit making do not take into account the costs to people and the environment. Communities rarely gain when a single source of profits is created. When this source leaves, the community has nothing but the costs of repairing the damage and rebuilding again. I am encouraged by new creative companies of today that, for example, redefine success to include fair wages and benefits, while being part of the community.
- Government may not have all of the answers all the time
Government has but one approach. Creative people challenge existing ways to be productive and help a community. Leopold discussed windbreaks for soil erosion control designed by and planted by the farm communities. Today, this translates into innovative ways such as retaining storm water at its source to avoid water erosion and contamination.
- Financial and social benefits are not mutually exclusive
We can only speculate on the primary benefits through classical financial projections. However, when we use social impact projections we expand to include new benefits that can off-set some of the costs. Buy a product and that company cleans up a section of a park or stream or beachfront through community “parties”. Have people with autism quality test software. Ideas like this go beyond financial benefits and introduce values for society as well.
- Communities can solve problems and also create new sources of income
People want to contribute, and they want others to know they are trying. Are you aware that we have companies today that allow people to measure their efforts through healthy choices, recycling and use of locally made goods? Are you aware of the startups forming in the Philadelphia region that work in, with, and for the community? Leopold would be proud that his idea for a ‘farmer’s grouse hunting cooperative” is being translated into many community based companies today.
Throughout my career, I have learned a lot from several different jobs, and the early lessons from Aldo Leopold are still relevant. So much so that I still keep my nearly 50 year old copy of Sand County Almanac close by at work!
Do you believe that ecological theory can be generalized across impact investing? What sources have you found that are relevant to your social impact investing? Leave a comment below!
About the Author
Sid Amster has a M.Sc.F. and an M.B.A. and began his career as an entrepreneur in the early 1970’s with an environmental consulting firm. For many years, he has been an impact investor and is proud of be one of the co-founders of Good Company and one of the original members of first local network of Investors’ Circle in Philadelphia.