Builder of rainforest canopy walkways believes conservation can be profitable
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.
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
specializes in building aluminum walkways, platforms
and zip lines suspended
high in the forest canopy, as a tourist attraction and
for travelers around the
What makes Greenheart so unique?
John Kelson puts it, “Greenheart is equally for-profit,
an economically viable approach to biodiversity
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.
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
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
business model also uses tourism revenue to benefit
local communities, through
local employment and economic
development. When they’re ready, they
train local workers to construct, maintain and repair
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.”