A coalition of companies, conservation organizations and government agencies made a splash in 2021 when they announced an ambitious goal: Increasing the amount of corporate dollars flowing into the Upper Trinity River basin, which centers around North Texas.
Molson Coors, Frito-Lay, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola were among the founding members of the Texas Water Action Collaborative, which matches companies with conservation projects that benefit water quality and quantity in Texas.
Texan By Nature, the environmental nonprofit founded by Laura Bush, oversees the collaborative and brings partners like the Tarrant Regional Water District and UT-Arlington in regular contact with potential funders.
Over the past two years, the group has expanded its reach beyond North Texas and is now accepting conservation proposals from across the state, said Taylor Keys, Texan By Nature’s program director. Nonprofit organizations can submit surveys outlining a project they need funding to pursue, and companies provide their priorities – like location or focus area – for projects they would like to fund.
Almost all major corporations have some sort of sustainability goals, she said. The key is providing company officials with proposals that fit into their vision.
“Texas has some really big water needs with our growing population, and if those water needs aren’t addressed through conservation or sustainability efforts, those businesses won’t be able to operate in Texas,” Keys said. “It’s really for the benefit of their future to invest in these types of projects.”
So far, about $1.3 million has been directed toward Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit focused on preserving wetland habitat for waterfowl. Coca-Cola wrote a $5,000 check to Keep Irving Beautiful last year for the city’s annual trash cleanup event. Those investments don’t reflect an additional $1.5 million that corporations have committed to projects that need more funding to move forward.
Aside from expanding the geographical scope of their work and bringing in more members, Texan By Nature is focused on increasing the amount of money directly heading to conservation efforts, said Joni Carswell, the organization’s president and CEO.
“We’d like to see that quadruple,” Carswell said. “We’d also like to see bigger, more cohesive projects where a lot of the local (non-governmental organizations) are working together to have replicable funded projects moving forward.”
The collaborative exists to help members overcome challenges that have historically held up investment in conservation, Keys said.
Many of those challenges come down to logistics, like not knowing how to reach a sustainability officer at a major corporation or having an avenue to build long-term relationships, Keys said.
That’s why Texan By Nature convenes members every two months to discuss project ideas and learn more about water policy statewide.
Environmental nonprofit staff also face communication barriers with the corporate leaders they need support from, Carswell said. Getting everyone on the same page about a project timeline and ways to measure impact – like producing higher volumes of water or reducing harmful bacteria in water – can be a difficult task.
“That’s where we see the funding conversations fall apart, because there’s such a big disconnect,” Keys said.
Texan By Nature can facilitate the process because their only interest is making the project work for both parties, Carswell said.
“It’s a matchmaking and translation service,” she said. “Sometimes I jokingly say: ‘It’s the Rosetta Stone.’ It’s taking this language and matching it with this language, and then we can all go forward together.”
Carswell sees this model working in areas other than water conservation – and even in other states. Environmental organizations in the West, Midwest and Southeast have already contacted Texan By Nature for advice on how to apply a collaborative approach to their own states.
Keys and her team are in the process of developing larger scale projects that would address systemic problems across Texas rather than putting a Band-Aid on them.
“You can imagine the difference that could make for all of our ecoregions if we’re able to remove some of those barriers and get that funding flowing much more freely to the needs across the state of Texas,” Carswell said. “We’d like to see that, actually, sooner than five years from now and apply this learning across all conservation in the next two to three.”
Haley Samsel is the environmental reporter for the Fort Worth Report. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.