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The overlooked S behind the E: the Social Impact of Nature Restoration

published on
February 20, 2024

When it comes to nature restoration, the world is opening its eyes and moving away from a carbon tunnel vision. The environmental benefits of flourishing ecosystems are far broader than climate, and gradually an awareness is building on the importance of things like biodiversity, water resources and other key ecosystem services. 

But a structurally overlooked side of nature restoration is its social aspects, specifically the benefits it can bring if executed properly. It’s time to shed a light on the wonderful things that can happen if you put the community front-and-center in the restoration efforts.

Providing stable employment and fair wages 

The pressing need to restore nature at scale presents an ever growing job market. This market is located as close as possible to where the environmental work needs to happen, which uncoincidentally tend to be the local communities that could really use the financial support. As local people are trained and continuously involved in performing the restoration work, they make a living wage in a more effective way than any foreign aid could ever provide. The resulting boost in appreciation of local nature and even self-worth in the members is an invaluable asset that has been shown to fortify the environmental benefits in the long-run. A nice example to highlight here are the plastic initiatives by Plastic Fischer and TonToTon, that provide a living wage to over 300 people for cleaning up plastics from rivers and coastal areas! 

Reducing inequalities, globally and locally 

We mentioned before that the places where the restoration work is most effective, are typically also further away from economic centers of activity. At a global level, the growing flows of capital to restoration have the potential to redistribute wealth and the ability to close the economic gaps between the global north and south. At the community level, restoration work tends to have the magical power to transcend traditional division of labor between genders, ages and (cognitive) abilities. Great examples include the Araguia Seed Collective by Black Jaguar Foundation and the woman empowerment in the mangrove restoration project by Wetlands International.

Accelerating sustainable behaviors through education and participation  

If proactively managed the visibility and awareness of the local projects can change the beliefs of the broader community that isn’t directly involved in the work. Their attitudes and behaviors can be positively influenced, a great example of such community outreach is how Divine Bamboo is spreading awareness to avoid deforestation in Uganda together with the farmers they support. Similarly, it’s often important to educate the broader community to avoid worsening the original stressors (for example: local people throwing more plastic in rivers because they think it will be cleaned up anyway).

Protecting homes and health  

By establishing and reinforcing more healthy and self-sustaining natural ecosystems, the community benefits in more ways than one. Thriving root structures have been shown to reduce erosion of coasts and river banks and protect against adverse weather events, providing direct protection against forces of nature. In a more positive light, a restored ecosystem has the ability to provide food security and boost secondary income from sustainable tourism. A great example here are the artificial coral reefs in Shimoni Kenya, that appear to have a beneficial effect on the local fish population and are now being included in a Marine Protected Area. In the future, sustainable tourism operators might be able to host snorkeling and diving tours to this restored ecosystem. Another example a bit closer to home are the Dutch Food forests, these self-regulating ecosystems do not have to rely on pesticides and provide more organic and healthy foods.

Holistically reporting on positive impact

As the world starts to recognise the need for large scale nature restoration, it's’ important to also embrace its’ transformative potential for social change. By meticulously tracking the social benefits the projects create and pressing for community involvement, Sumthing is making this overlooked aspect tangible. Companies can report on the environmental and social good they’re doing in one simple and effective way, fully aligned to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

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