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ecosystem services conservation science

The TNC communications team conducted a study to understand how the term “ecosystem services” resonates with various audiences, and how people respond to the idea that nature has value to people. The results are promising but also telling. The idea that nature has value makes sense to people but calling those benefits “ecosystem services” means nothing to the vast majority of those same people.  Read further to understand why we need to communicate about ecosystem services and best ways to talk about ecosystem services.

Why do we need to communicate about ecosystem services?
Ecosystem services provide a unique opportunity to build support for conservation and explain why nature is so important for all of us. It connects all of us directly to the natural world in a way that many people have never thought about before. Because it is a relatively new concept for the majority of Americans and because it is a science drive process, it can be difficult to explain without getting blank stares.

We need to be able to introduce the idea of ecosystem services to others in a way that will cut through all of the noise going on in their world- their own jobs, theirs kids, their to do lists- to explain how and why ecosystem services are important to their lives. The technical, science language or even language that we as ecosystem services experts think is “plain” can often be off-putting and confusing to others. They won’t listen beyond your first sentence. Often we don’t even know what words and language will resonate with others so we need to do some research, public opinion research, to find out.

How to talk about ecosystem services?
In the case of ecosystem services, we conducted several focus groups (small group conversations) as well as a national survey to find how people think about their role in nature, and the value of conservation to our society, human wellbeing and our economy. From past research, we already knew that the public sees a clear connection between land conservation and clean water. They already have an understanding of some of the benefits that nature provides. With this research, we wanted to test how deep that understanding is, if they understand the full range of benefits- from clean water and food to tourism and jobs- and parse out how the public feels about different ways to express the idea of “value” beyond just dollar amounts.

Included in the projects results is a tool called a message triangle. This triangle is a simple “cheat sheet” to help keep you on your message, and second, you help yourself to focus your communications so a few important points, as opposed to layering on argument after argument. The Message Triangle is a tool to help you stick to what’s persuasive, what’s important to other, and helps you repeat it so it cut through the noise. You can add local examples, elaborate with stories from your own personal experience and make this triangle your own.

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