Builder of rainforest canopy walkways believes conservation can be profitable
The Ecological Finance Review
September 20, 2005

Building to Canadian Code: Suspended bridges have nice railings and Mancatcher net for safety.

Editor's note: This month's issue of The Ecological Finance Review details Greenheart Conservation Company, a for-profit company that designs, builds and operates conservation based canopy walkways (canopy trails) and other nature-based attractions around the world. Operating on the premise that conservation can be economically viable, Greenheart believes that is has already become a "model of how to shift gears from an industrial to a green economy."

Greenheart has developed or is developing canopy walkways in Peru, Nigeria, Madagascar, Ghana, Brazil, Guyana, the United Kingdon, and Canada.

In the Forest, a New Species ... of Business!
The Ecological Finance Review
Sept. 20, 2005
by Chris van Daalen

When Mark Winstein, founder of Ecostructure Financial, asked me to write another article for Ecological Finance Review, he invited me to go exploring. I was intrigued. So I donned my raingear and grabbed my compass and headed into a forest of ideas. Nothing could have prepared me for the wonder and thrill of discovering a totally new species.

Greenheart Conservation Company is like no other business I've ever encountered, yet its habitat is familiar: tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy. Greenheart specializes in building aluminum walkways, platforms and zip lines suspended high in the forest canopy, as a tourist attraction and educational opportunity for travelers around the world.

What makes Greenheart so unique?

As John Kelson puts it, "Greenheart is equally for-profit, and for-conservation... an economically viable approach to biodiversity conservation."

To begin a walkway project, they search the world for ecological hotspots: unique forest ecosystems with high conservation value, also under threat from poaching or harmful development. When they find a suitable location -- whether an under-funded national park or a private forest ripe for logging -- they get permission from the owners to operate a for-profit business in a small area of the forest.

"Ideally, a walkway has a controlled impact on a small area but generates the financial capacity to protect a larger area of ecological value, especially one that would otherwise be destroyed through resource development," John explains.

Revenues from the walkways are shared with the owners, under an agreement to use the money for park management, restoration and conservation. Some of the potential benefits include improved management, ecological research, park expansion, and public education on the value of forest ecosystems.

The business model also uses tourism revenue to benefit local communities, through local employment and economic development. When they're ready, they hire and train local workers to construct, maintain and repair the walkways.

"If local people benefit, make their living from it, they will support the project and take care of the forest" John says.

Bridge to a Brazil Nut Tree: Ian Green attaching boards to the ladders using old design technology, once again, not to code, but functional.
The same principle also holds with the owners. Once government officials and decision makers see that conservation can be good business, they're more likely to invest in it and take ownership. On a project in Madagascar, where tourists will see rare and reclusive lemurs nesting in treetops, the head of the National Parks system calls the walkways "a dream come true."

One of their successful projects is in Ghana, west Africa. John describes: "The walkway we built in Kakum National Park, which once had fewer than 900 visitors per year, now draws 80,000 people annually, and grosses about US$1million a year. The Kakum walkway pays for an anti-poaching team, funds economic development in surrounding communities, and directly employs about 50 people in the park."

Greenheart has a rigorous set of criteria when choosing and developing their projects. They will only build a walkway if the project has a significant conservation outcome. For example, a recent project in Iwokrama, Guyana (in South America) is connected to an international forestry center committed to creating conservation-based solutions for the protected forest that surrounds it, and for the rest of the planet.

"We're not doing projects for fancy hotels, catering to the rich and famous," John remarked. "Ecotourism has been applied to so many things, from trophy hunting to mountain biking, that it doesn't mean much anymore. We're trying to making it mean something again, to set an appropriate example of development in parks."

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The Ecological Finance Review (September 20, 2005).

Builder of rainforest canopy walkways believes conservation can be profitable.