Economic Impact of Protected Areas in Europe

In Europe, many different tools are used for protecting biodiversity and natural areas, including the Natura 2000 network, the Habitats Directive and the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas. To the European business sector, however, the potential economic value of Natural and National parks is little known. More and more companies are looking for ways to contribute to biodiversity protection. The European Business & Biodiversity Campaign and EUROPARC Federation are offering new aspects to the debate how protected areas can be maintained, and how societies can re-connect to the ecological, socio-cultural and economic value of such landscapes. European protected areas can bring measurable direct and flow-on economic benefits to local, regional, state and national economies.


Regensburg/Munich, 12 September 2012: National parks and other protected areas are well monitored when it comes to ecological issues but their economic value has so far received less attention. More information about the economic impact of protected areas is needed by private and public entities which are financing the protection and conservation of such areas. The demand for knowledge is obvious as many politicians, local decision-makers, landowners and investors are constantly asking for economic impact information.


Protected areas have many values. Most of which, however, are difficult to measure in monetary terms. However, as visitors spend money on transport, food, accommodation and other services when visiting national parks, the economic impact of tourism, its potential for job creation is widely acknowledged. The European Environment Agency (EEA) states that “Europe’s protected areas play a key role in protecting biodiversity. But they are also a critical component of the continent’s economy, contributing over EUR 15 billion a year in jobs, food, and other services for the people of Europe”. Thus, the economic benefit extends far beyond tourism. In today’s economy, the greatest value of natural amenities and recreation opportunities often lies in the land’s ability to attract and retain people, entrepreneurs and their activities.


What are the potential benefits for business? Companies profit directly or indirectly from the variety of intact ecosystems, the diversity of species and in the distribution and the marketing of nature-related products and services. National park ecosystems provide vital goods and services: apart from food, timber, carbon sequestration and flood regulation, wild forests are the source of fresh air our planet needs. Benefits to companies include also enhanced reputation when they truly commit and not fall into “green washing”. They can enter new markets and gain comprehensive knowledge about the risks they potentially cause or are exposed to. Business opportunities in both existing and new markets embrace a wide range of economic sectors, with agriculture, forestry, ranching, fisheries, mining, energy, construction, real estate, manufacturing, and retail being particularly relevant. Companies focusing on ecosystem services will be able to innovate new features and in so doing achieve a competitive advantage. As Gunter Pauli states in his contribution to EUROPARC´s PROTECTED AREAS IN-SIGHT magazine (Vol. 4/2012, publication date is September 25), “today´s value of companies cannot be solely measured by monetary profit but (they) need to innovate new economic models and systems that contribute to the social – and environmental – well being of societies”. The discussion around access and value of “the commons” is gaining more and more ground. Research institutions such as the Heinrich Böll Foundation play a key role in that political debate.


Companies in a variety of sectors realise that investment in more sustainable practices, including market-based aspects of ecosystem management, can provide brand differentiation and attract new staff talents they need to thrive and grow. Furthermore, companies realise that by responding to ecosystem-related settings allows them to be in a better position to manage their businesses more generally, for example by gaining a more comprehensive understanding of their supply chains. This dimension is also increasingly recognised by investors as a sign for a well-run company that is aware of the spectrum of potential risks.


A number of drivers are leading businesses to consider and manage their impact on ecosystems and to look for business opportunities in that process. Some companies have already seen strategic and systemic risks arising from ecosystem degradation. They are likely to taking action to understand these risks and internalise them in their budgets and “loss and profit” accounting including the enhancement or protection of brands, meeting consumer needs and manage supply chain issues.  In general, different drivers can be identified for each sector that make companies look at emerging ecosystem-based market opportunities.


The European Business & Biodiversity Campaign (EBBC) aims to draw companies´ attention to these issues and to provide them with concrete opportunities to protect biodiversity. Using environment management systems such as ISO 14001 or EMAS, the Biodiversity Check of the EBBC examines which business units are involved, outlines fields of action and shows how companies can secure sustainable business models and generate competitive advantages. Finding ways to enhance the co-operation between protected areas and businesses to ensure conservation and protection of habitats and ecosystems is at the core of EUROPARC Federation´s Working Group “The Value of Protected Areas”.  “We aim at bringing together like-minded colleagues of protected areas to share and develop information and potential project ideas that demonstrate the economic value of protected areas. Our focus is on sustainable development principles”, expresses a member of the Working Group. 


Companies need to better understand their impact on and dependency of ecosystems in order to benefit from the many ecosystem services of protected areas. Protected Areas are the place where biodiversity, the base of life on the planet, is safeguarded – they need strong support by the civil society, governments and, in particular, the private sector.


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