Pacific Institute

CEO Water Mandate, The Nature Conservancy, Danone

Our Expert:

Companies need to make informed decisions regarding water security, climate resilience, and biodiversity conservation to facilitate their sustainability journey, targets, and goals. The NBS Benefits Explorer is a free, web-based tool that can serve as a key starting point for organizations looking to invest in nature-based solutions (NBS).

The Challenge

Watersheds around the world are in peril and risk further decline from climate change and human impacts, like pollution, degrading landscapes, and unsustainable water use. These impacts can inhibit the ability of ecosystems to regulate water flows, sequester carbon to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, maintain biodiversity and healthy waterways, promote social well-being, offer economic opportunities, and sustain agricultural productivity. Climate change is exacerbating these impacts by shifting weather and precipitation patterns, degrading habitats, and increasing the recurrence and severity of natural disasters.

Investments in NBS can deliver sustainable improvements in watershed health with multiple benefits, including water, carbon, climate resilience, and biodiversity for the environment, along with social, cultural, and economic benefits for communities. A key challenge in the implementation of NBS has been a lack of a standardized approach to identify and account for the benefits accrued from investments in NBS.

The Solution

The NBS Benefits Explorer was developed through a collaboration between the CEO Water Mandate, Pacific Institute, The Nature Conservancy, Danone, and LimnoTech to demonstrate how identifying and accounting for stacked benefits can help build the case for investments in NBS for watersheds. The NBS Benefits Explorer is a free web-based tool created to support the planning, implementation, and assessment of NBS activities. The tool was developed based on and in accordance with the published Benefit Accounting of Nature‐Based Solutions for Watersheds Guide, co-authored by LimnoTech’s Tim Dekker and Wendy Larson in collaboration with authors from the CEO Water Mandate, Pacific Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and Danone. The tool is intended to help planners and implementers of NBS see how investments in NBS activities produce benefits that can be measured and used to chart progress against desired outputs, outcomes, and impacts.

For example, let’s say you want to understand the benefits of a management intervention in an agricultural project area. Through guided steps in the tool, you are provided with a list of management interventions that apply to your scenario. You would like to know the benefits of planting vegetation buffers (cover crops, grass strips, hedgerows, riparian buffers, trees in croplands). Once you select this option, the tool lists the various environmental processes affected by this activity (e.g., water infiltration, erosion control, carbon uptake, etc.) and the potential benefits for water, carbon, and biodiversity.

You can then click on the desired benefit to see a description and a list of recommended indicators and methods that can be used to measure the benefit. From the list of benefits that can result from vegetative buffers, you select “support for local pollinators.” You would then see that the recommended indicators include the number of plant species and pollinators as the method to measure and quantify the benefit.

Using the tool, you can also look at a range of habitat types (agricultural, estuaries, forests, grasslands, lakes, mangroves, rivers and floodplains, wetlands, urban) and intervention types (restoration, management, protection, creation). The power of this tool is in the guided pathways, the synthesis of information and data, the standardization of recommended approaches, and the flexibility in how you can use the tool.

The NBS Benefits Explorer is located at http://nbsbenefitsexplorer.net/. The tool is easy to use and is flexible, supporting the exploration of benefits that result from a selected activity or the range of activities that could create a desired type of benefit. The tool is supported by a wealth of data on the connections between NBS activities; the natural physical, chemical, and biological processes they influence; and the benefits that result in water quality and quantity, carbon, and biodiversity for the environment.

Try out the tool! We hope you find it to be a valuable aid for exploring opportunities to plan and implement NBS.


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