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Economics and Business

Economic activities depend on, and impact, nature’s productivity

The primary economic activities of a region are closely intertwined with how communities interact with their natural surroundings. Just as demographic and cultural factors influence how people benefit from nature, economies influence the utilization of—and impacts on—natural areas and resources. Economic data contained in documents such as environmental assessments, resource demand assessments, and carbon footprint reports are all clearly connected to land management and ecosystem services.

On one hand, factors such as wealth and employment influence the abilities of people to benefit from outdoor recreation opportunities and other amenity uses of Appalachian natural areas. The ways in which people utilize forests and agricultural lands can also reflect cultural preferences, which are themselves strongly related to economic factors.

On the other hand, economic activities in rural Appalachia—such as surface mining and other forms of energy development—are dramatic drivers of landscape change. These activities can provide economic anchors in rural areas, but they can also be regionally associated with entrenched poverty and even population decline. Other economic activities such as forestry and outdoor recreation and tourism do impact the natural environment, but they also depend on the maintenance of functioning ecosystems. Less obvious aspects of economic activity, such as infrastructure connectivity, also impact natural resource use and sustainability.

Many businesses use and affect ecosystem services directly. One premier example in Appalachia is water use—for example, water quality is very important to the brewing industry, but brewery effluent and water treatment after use can cause pollution. Unless companies make an effort otherwise, they may enjoy free ecological services like clean water production while ignoring costs that the landscape around them also absorbs for free. Waste disposal directly into local environments has historically been a popular and inexpensive strategy for many industries, with outcomes for human and natural communities ranging from trivial to highly detrimental.

Mediating or even participating in the development of individual company conservation policies is a key opportunity for conservation stakeholders. Industry increasingly recognizes the value of this relationship, given their dependence on sustainable ecosystem services such as clean water, timber and nontimber forest products, and natural landscapes that attract outdoor recreation and tourism.

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