Restoration Economy Report: Ecological restoration hits $9.5 billion/year in U.S.

This new report, published June 17, 2015, is titled “Estimating the Size and Impact of the Ecological Restoration Economy“. It’s by Todd BenDor at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill), plus T. William Lester, Avery Livengood, Adam Davis, and Logan Yonavjak.

Domestic public debate continues over the economic impacts of environmental regulations that require environmental restoration.

This debate has occurred in the absence of broad-scale empirical research on economic output and employment resulting from environmental restoration, restoration-related conservation, and mitigation actions — the activities that are part of what we term the “restoration economy.” [First coined by Storm Cunningham in his 2002 book The Restoration Economy.]

In this article, we provide a high-level accounting of the size and scope of the restoration economy in terms of employment, value added, and overall economic output on a national scale. We conducted a national survey of businesses that participate in restoration work in order to estimate the total sales and number of jobs directly associated with the restoration economy, and to provide a profile of this nascent sector in terms of type of restoration work, industrial classification, workforce needs, and growth potential.

We use survey results as inputs into a national input-output model (IMPLAN 3.1) in order to estimate the indirect and induced economic impacts of restoration activities.

Based on this analysis we conclude that the domestic ecological restoration sector directly employs ~ 126,000 workers and generates ~ $9.5 billion in economic output (sales) annually. This activity supports an additional 95,000 jobs and $15 billion in economic output through indirect (business-to-business) linkages and increased household spending.

Finally, our IMPLAN analysis yields a broad measure of the fiscal impacts of restoration work. Specifically, IMPLAN calculates an estimate of the total local, state and federal tax revenue generated by all economic activity generated through the direct restoration work. This estimate includes all sources of revenue from federal income taxes and social insurance payments, to state corporate taxes, to local fees and property taxes. Ultimately, the overall economic impact of $24.8 billion supports approximately $1.02 billion for local and state coffers and an additional $2.13 billion for the Federal government, not to mention some 220,000 jobs (directly and indirectly).

It is important to note that these tax impacts are only measurements of revenue collected because of the restoration work and is not net of any public procurements that pay for restoration (i.e. a full fiscal cost-benefit study). However, as we note in our discussion of demand drivers, only a small amount of restoration work is directly funded by government, compared to private sector activity that is induced by regulation or other motives.

[Photo of volunteers restoring Blackwater Swamp, Maryland by Storm Cunningham.]

See related article in Fast Company magazine.

See related article in Ensia.

See full report.

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