Conservation International

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Conservation International
Source: Conservation International, Owner: Conservation InternationalOriginal Designer: Chermayeff & Geismar
Founded 1987
Founder(s) Spencer Beebe and Peter Seligmann
Key people Peter A. Seligmann (Chairman & CEO)
Rob Walton (Executive Committee Chairman)
Russell A. Mittermeier (President)
Niels Crone (COO)
Harrison Ford (Vice-chair)
Product(s) Global Conservation Fund
Focus(es) Climate change, freshwater security, health, food security, biodiversity, cultural services
Revenue FY 2010: US $77.8 million; FY 2009: $ 116.1 million[1]
Employees 900

Conservation International (CI) is a nonprofit environmental organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. The organization's mission is to protect nature, and its biodiversity, for the benefit of humanity.[2]

CI is one of the largest conservation organizations headquartered in the United States,[3] though its field work is done in other countries. It has 900+ employees, more than 30 global offices, and more than 1,000 partners around the world.[2] Since its inception in 1987, CI has contributed to the protection of more than 260 million acres of land and sea[4] — including places such as the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, the largest UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world.

From its origins as an NGO dedicated to protecting tropical biodiversity, CI has evolved into an international organization with influence among governments, scientists, charitable foundations, and business.[5]

CI has been criticised for links to companies with a poor environmental record such as BP, Cargill, Chevron, Monsanto and Shell and for allegedly offering greenwashing services.[6][7] CI has also been chastised for poor judgment in its expenditure of donors' money.


Conservation International was founded in January 1987 in Washington, D.C., by Peter Seligmann and Spencer Beebe, previously employees of the international division of The Nature Conservancy.[8] The new organization focused on the conservation of tropical biodiversity and, at first, focused on the countries where Seligmann and Beebe had worked: Bolivia, Costa Rica and Mexico.[4]

In CI's first year of existence, the organization purchased a portion of Bolivia's foreign debt. The money was then redirected to support conservation in the Beni Biosphere Reserve. Since this first-ever debt-for-nature swap, which helped cement CI's role in the conservation community, more than $1 billion of similar deals have been made around the world.[9]

Two years later, in 1989, CI formally committed to the protection of biodiversity hotspots, ultimately identifying 34 such hotspots around the world and contributing to their protection. The model of protecting hotspots became a key way for organizations to do conservation work.[10]

Growth and mission shift[edit]

In the subsequent two decades, as its resources grew and new donors pledged their support, CI expanded its work — gaining a stronger focus on science, corporate partnership, conservation funding, indigenous peoples, government, and marine conservation, among other things.[4]

Yet despite a number of successes, the organization’s leadership grew to believe that CI's focus on biodiversity conservation was inadequate to protect nature and those who depended on it. In response to those concerns, CI updated its mission in 2008 to focus explicitly on the connections between human well-being and natural ecosystems. Currently, the group's environmental work focuses on key areas of interest for human well-being, including: climate change, freshwater security, health, food security, biodiversity, and cultural services.[11]

This new mission places CI somewhat at the intersection of traditional conservation work and development work — in other words, in the sustainable development community. According to the organization’s website, CI now seeks "... to make conservation a cornerstone of economic development to benefit everyone, everywhere."[12]

As of FY10, CI's expenses totaled more than US $138.8 million.[1]

Approach to conservation[edit]

The foundation of CI's work is "science, partnership, and field demonstration." The organization has scientists, policy workers, and other conservationists on the ground in more than two dozen countries on five continents. It also relies heavily on hundreds of local partners.[1]

The stated aim of CI’s field work is to find local successes that benefit both people and nature. For example, the creation of "no-take zones" for fish might have a short-term deleterious impact on fishermen; but ultimately, they increase fish populations, helping both marine ecosystems and the local economy.[13]

CI hopes to replicate these successes on a larger scale — thus its work with governments, universities, NGOs and the private sector. By showing how conservation can work at all scales, CI aims to make the protection of nature a key consideration in economic development decisions around the world.[14]

For example, CI supported 15 national governments in the formation of the Pacific Oceanscape, a management plan for the conservation of 24 million square miles of sea from Hawaii to New Zealand. In addition to the sustainable management of ocean resources, the agreement includes the world's largest marine protected areas and sanctuaries for whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks.[15]

The organization has been active in United Nations discussions on issues such as climate change[16] and biodiversity,[17] and its scientists present at international conferences and workshops. Its United States policy work currently highlights "a direct connection between international conservation and America's economic and national security interests."[18]

A few years after its founding, CI started working with McDonald’s to implement sustainable agriculture and conservation projects in Central America.[19] The organization expanded its commitment to working with the business sector in 2000, when it created the Center for Environmental Leadership in Business with support from the Ford Motor Company.[20]


Conservation International has been chastised for poor judgment in expenditure of donors' money. A 2008 article in The Nation pointed out that the organization had attracted $6 million for marine conservation in Papua New Guinea, but the funds were used for "little more than plush offices and first class travel."[21]

In recent years, CI has also come under increasing scrutiny around its corporate partnerships -– particularly around its practice of accepting financial support for its work. Critics say such deals are unseemly because nonprofit groups taking cash from big companies are unlikely to push their donors to achieve meaningful environmental change.[22] CI’s response is that its corporate financial support is communicated transparently, directed toward core conservation programs, and linked to high expectations for the sustainability performance of its corporate partners—and, therefore, does not compromise the organization's integrity, independence and effectiveness.[23]

In 2008, a Botswana government spokesperson stated that since Conservation International was an NGO, there was "no conflict of interest" involved in President Ian Khama serving on the its Board of Directors.[24]

In 2011, Conservation International was targeted by a group of reporters from Don't Panic TV who posed as a major American arms company and asked if the charity could "raise [their] green profile." Options outlined by the representative of Conservation International (CI) included assisting with the arms company's green PR efforts, membership of a business forum in return for a fee, and sponsorship packages where the arms company could potentially invest money in return for being associated with conservation activities. Conservation International agreed to help the arms company find an "endangered species mascot." Film footage shows the Conservation International employee suggesting a vulture North African birds of prey as a possible endangered species mascot for the arms company because of the "link to aviation."[25][26] CI contends that these recordings were heavily edited to remove elements that would have cast CI in a more favorable light, while using other parts of the video out of context to paint a highly inaccurate and incomplete picture of CI’s work with the private sector.[23]

In May and June 2013, Survival International reported that an indigenous Bushman tribe in Botswana was threatened with eviction from their ancestral land in order to create a wildlife corridor[27] known as the Western Kgalagadi Conservation Corridor.[28] A Botswana government representative denied this.[29] A May press release from CI said, "Contrary to recent reports, Conservation International (CI) has not been involved in the implementation of conservation corridors in Botswana since 2011", and asserted that CI had always supported the San Bushmen and their rights.[30]

Notable leadership[edit]

In addition to Chairman and CEO Peter Seligmann,[31] CI counts among its leaders:


  1. ^ a b c "Hand in Hand: Conservation International Annual Report 2010". Conservation International. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  2. ^ a b "About Us". Conservation International. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  3. ^ "The 200 Largest U.S. Charities". Forbes. Retrieved 2012-02-02. 
  4. ^ a b c "Conservation International Celebrates 25 Years of Groundbreaking Accomplishments". Ecowatch. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  5. ^ "The Economics of Nature". The American Academy in Berlin. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  6. ^ Conservation International 'agreed to greenwash arms company'. The Ecologist. Retrieved on 2013-08-24.
  7. ^ The Wrong Kind of Green. The Nation (2010-03-04). Retrieved on 2013-08-24.
  8. ^ Gunter, Michael M., Jr. (2004). Building the Next Ark: How NGOs Work to Protect Biodiversity. Lebanon, NH: Dartmouth. p. 139. ISBN 978-1-58465-383-7. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  9. ^  This article incorporates public domain material from the Congressional Research Service document "Debt-for-Nature Initiatives and the Tropical Forest Conservation Act: Status and Implementation" by Pervaze A. Sheikh (retrieved on 2012-02-02).
  10. ^ Roach, John. "Conservationists Name Nine New "Biodiversity Hotspots"". National Geographic. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  11. ^ "Initiatives". Conservation International. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  12. ^ "New Logo for a New Mission". Conservation International. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  13. ^ Brown, Emily. "A Sight to Behold: Abrolhos Marine National Park". Sounds and Colors. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  14. ^ "Conservation International: Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation". Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  15. ^ "IUCN Member News: Pacific Island Leaders Unite". IUCN. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  16. ^ Biello, David. "Cancun Talks Yield Climate Compromise". Scientific American. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  17. ^ Walsh, Bryan. "Wildlife: Nations Agree on a Historic Deal for Biodiversity in Nagoya". TIME. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  18. ^ "United States Government Policy". Conservation International. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  19. ^ "Corporate Partnership -- McDonald's". Conservation International. Retrieved 2012-02-14. 
  20. ^ Snell, Marilyn Berlin (November–December 2001). "Lay of the Land". Sierra. Retrieved 2012-02-14. 
  21. ^ The Wrong Path to Conservation | International. The Investigative Fund. Retrieved on 2013-08-24.
  22. ^ Mark, Gunther. "Corporate ties bedevil green groups". CNN. Retrieved 2012-02-14. 
  23. ^ a b Seligmann, Peter. "Partnerships for the Planet: Why We Must Engage Corporations". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2012-02-03. 
  24. ^ Keoreng, Ephraim (26 November 2008). "Ramsay defends Khama's presence on NGO board". Mmegi Online. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  25. ^ Conservation International 'agreed to greenwash arms company'
  26. ^ Conservation International Duped By Militant Greenwash Pitch
  27. ^ a b Bushmen face imminent eviction for ‘wildlife corridor’. Survival International. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  28. ^ "Conservation Corridors in South-western Botswana". Conservation International. Retrieved 27 May 2013. 
  29. ^ "Botswana denies plans to 'evict' Bushmen". 2013-05-27. Retrieved 28 May 2013. 
  30. ^ "Statement of Conservation International on Alleged Relocations of San People in Botswana". Conservation International. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 
  31. ^ a b c d "Board of Directors - Conservation International". Conservation International. Retrieved 25 June 2013. 
  32. ^ "Two Conservation International Leaders Honored by World’s Top Conservationists". Conservation International Press Releases. Retrieved 19 June 2013. 

External links[edit]