Not Just an Ugly Duckling: How Canada’s Wetlands Provide Genuine Value to the Well-being of Canadians.

Not Just Another Ugly Duckling: How Canada’s Wetlands Provide Genuine Value to the Well-being of Canadians.

July 8, 2014

Most of us take nature for granted. In economic terms we effectively ignore the benefits that nature preport cover pagerovides to us including providing clean water, clean air, healthy soil for growing food, vibrant forests for building our homes and many ecological services that nature provides without any monetary charge to us.

Wetlands which are arguably one of the most important natural assets in Canada providing important ecological services that include clean water, a massive carbon bank account, protection against flooding, and habitat for ducklings and other animals.

Yet governments, businesses, conservation organizations, and communities across Canada have no idea how important these wetlands and natural assets are, because, they are not formally counted in our economic accounts, like the GDP (gross domestic product), nor is there any accounting of wetlands as ‘natural assets’ on municipal, provincial, national and corporate balance sheets.

I have an accounting and economics background and I can tell you that you can’t run a business without a balance sheet that shows the assets and liabilities of the enterprise. Yet, we operate our nation, our provinces and our cities without any balance sheet and with no knowledge of how natural capital assets, like wetlands, deliver well-being benefits to society.

Last week Ducks Unlimited Canada released the first report of its kind on the real value of Canada’s wetlands and how they deliver a genuine well-being impact to the lives of all Canadians.  The report is titled A Genuine Return on Investment: The Economic and Societal Well-being Value of Land Conservation in Canada, prepared by my company (Anielski Management Inc.) and my associates who are ecological economists.

The report establishes a strong ‘business case’ for the conservation of wetlands and other natural lands in Canada demonstrating how their conservation contributes to a what I call a Well-being Return on Investment to society.

Benefits for DUC reportIn our study we demonstrated that one federal or provincial government dollar invested in wetland conservation by Ducks Unlimited on January 1st of the year will return full-cycle back to government coffers on July 17th of the same year. We also calculated that for every $1 invested in the conservation programs of Ducks Unlimited Canada, Canadians receive about $22 in benefits. The benefits of Ducks Unlimited $93.5 million average annual expenditures (2008-2012) resulted in 969 jobs and $59.6 million in salaries,  $77.1 billion in GDP benefits, tax revenues to governments, $208 million per year in nature-related recreation benefits and $4.27 billion worth of unpriced ecological services. By any measure, that’s an impressive return on investment for conserving the value of some of Canada’s most important assets.

The report is important for several reasons. First, it establishes the accounting protocols for measuring the true value of natural assets like wetlands to society. Second, it shows conservation organizations like Ducks Unlimited or the Nature Conservancy of Canada, how to legitimately ‘book’ natural assets on their respective balance sheets (something they have not done until now). This allows them to demonstrate to donors and government funders that conserving these natural assets is in the long-term economic, ecological and societal interests of all Canadians. Third, this study shows how resource companies and governments can begin to account for natural capital as assets in their respective accounting and performance measurement systems. The benefit is that we can make better investment decisions about how to make the best use of Canada’s abundant natural capital assets by measuring what matters most to our well-being.

Ducks Unlimited Canada has set an important precedence in natural capital accounting. By protecting wetland habitats for ducklings they have also securing significant well-being benefits to all Canadians, with a return on investment that would make all of us feel good, especially the ugly ducklings.

It’s time we started measuring what matters most to our well-being, starting with accounting for the genuine value that nature provides daily, free of charge.

Mark Anielski is an ecological economist and president of Anielski Management Inc., which completed the report A Genuine Return on Investment: The Economic and Societal Well-being Value of Land Conservation in Canada.

Download the executive summary of the report:

14-03-31 DUC – A Genuine Return on Investment – Exec Summary


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Let’s Measure What Matters to Well-being

Let’s go beyond GDP and Start Measuring What Matters to our Well-being and Happiness 

Between 1995 and 1998 I was working as a senior economic advisor to former Alberta Treasurer Jim Dinning as part of a team at Alberta Treasury that implemented Alberta’s new government accountability system under Dinning’s mantra of ‘what gets measured, gets managed.’ We called that initiative Measuring Up.

It was a good start to begin measuring what matters most to the quality of life of Albertans. But we failed to ask Albertans about what they loved about living and working in our province. Therefore we weren’t sure we were measuring what actually mattered to the well-being and happiness of Albertans. We never asked their perceptions and expectations of their financial well-being, their health, their trust of neighbour, their perceptions of government, and their perceptions of our natural environment. In short, we were not measuring what matters most to the ‘genuine’ well-being and progress of Alberta.


In May of 2012, my colleagues, Robert McGarvey, Bill Craig and Dominic Mishio, set out with a mission to ‘measure what matters’  to well-being of individuals, enterprises, communities and nations using a new well-being-based measurement and accountability system we call Genuine Wealth.

We believe that changing the way we measure and manage our progress should be focused on a well-being-bottom-line going beyond the current short-term focus on GDP and quarterly profits. After all, life is more than simply making money. It’s about living a life of purpose and meaning; feeling a sense of flourishing, joy and hope.

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First Study to Measure the Wellbeing Impacts of the BC Construction Associations Employment Program


VICTORIA, BC, October 2, 2013 – A report published today by Mark Anielski of Anielski Management demonstrates that the British Columbia Construction Association’s (BCCA) Skilled Trades Employment Program (STEP) delivers both a positive quality-of-life impact for skilled workers and a timely return on taxpayer dollars.

Mark Anielski, author of The Economics of Happiness: Building Genuine Wealth, is an international expert in the new field of the economics of well-being and happiness. Anielski conducted an independent assessment of the economic well-being impacts of BCCA programs currently operating in the province in order to help construction employers to source job-ready workers. The programs are demand-driven, providing customized assistance to BC employers, while supporting candidates who demonstrate a fit for the trades.

On the $7.55 million invested in STEP, Anielski calculated an economic return of $8.17 million in annual income tax benefits to government, and a reduction of Income Assistance payments of $1.11 million, for a total societal benefit of $9.28 million.

By Anielski’s calculations, that return on investment occurred over less than 10 months.

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The real cost of eliminating poverty

What would it cost to eliminate poverty and ensure that each person on the planet enjoyed a ‘living wage’; enough income to meet their basic needs for a descent and good life?

First, the world’s leaders, along with the world’s billionaires, would have to issue a joint declaration of well-being, that all people on the planet are deserving of a sufficient ‘living wage’ that would meet their basic needs for a good life.

What is a living wage? A living wage is the income required to meet the basic needs for a reasonable good life of clean water, good air, good food, comfortable shelter, clothing and some healthy degree of autonomy.

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On Happiness: Creative Mornings Edmonton January 11 2013

On January 11, 2013 I presented the following thoughts and ideas on the subject of Happiness to Creative Mornings Edmonton.

What is Creative Mornings? Every month in major cities around from New York to Madrid to Edmonton hosts, videographers, photographers, and helpers come together, in their respective cities, to discuss an important subject.

The global theme for January 2013 was Happiness.

Here is my presentation

January 2013 – Mark Anielski from CreativeMornings/EDM on Vimeo.

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