Ecotrust was founded in 1991 by Spencer Beebe, an environmentalist who had previously spent 14 years with the Nature Conservancy and 4 years with Conservation International, which he helped establish in 1987. Describing itself as “a capital vehicle for investing in promising innovations,” Ecotrust operates like a venture capital company, but one that invests only in local “sustainable businesses.” The organization classifies this approach, variously, as “ecosystem economics,” “conservation-based development,” and “conservation economy.”
With its efforts focused mainly in the Pacific Northwest, Ecotrust claims to be “continually creating and supporting new businesses, nonprofits, alliances, networks and programs that build wellbeing in nature and community and deliver economic prosperity.” To achieve “true wellbeing,” says Ecotrust, “we need radical transformation of current institutions—those ways of living from banking to building, from transportation to tree harvesting, that dominate our lives.” Toward that end, the organization emphasizes the “urgency” of engaging in “bold experimentation” to “buil[d] up an economy” that “creates economic opportunity, social equity and environmental wellbeing.”
Ecotrust’s work presently consists of 9 major initiatives:
* The Consulting initiative services the software and analytical needs of organizations, agencies, businesses, and individuals “seeking opportunities to improve social equity, environmental integrity, and economic security.” Recent clients include the Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund.
* The Fisheries program invests in local groups that “actively pursue innovation in the stewardship of fisheries, marine ecosystems and watersheds.”
* The Forests and Ecosystem Services campaign seeks “to transform the dominant forest-management paradigm … to one that more closely mimics natural forest processes.” Asserting that healthy forests can “store” a great deal of carbon—and thereby reduce the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases that allegedly cause global warming—Ecotrust has been a leader in developing “forest carbon markets” in the Pacific Northwest. Specifically, the organization has helped to develop a “Verified Carbon Standard methodology” to quantify the amount of carbon present in a given section of forest. These metrics can then be used to set prices for carbon offsets which can be credited to landowners who agree to steward their forests for climate benefits. In short, federal and local governments, along with NGOs like Ecotrust, pay landowners for prohibiting logging on their respective properties.
* The Food and Farms program works to “build a robust regional food system that is environmentally sound, socially just, and economically viable.” One aspect of this program, the Farm to School project, helps school districts and childcare centers find local/regional farms to supply them with the food they need for their children and staff; it also aims to increase the “food literacy” of both those groups.
* Knowledge Systems is an informational toolkit that Ecotrust developed for its Salmon Nation project. Equipped with analytical, technical, and map-making capacities, this toolkit helps those in the salmon industry to accurately assess and monitor the status of salmon stocks in a given area.
* The Natural Capital Fund makes investments in key sectors, businesses and projects that “significantly enhance the capacity for appropriate development and conservation in the coastal temperate rain forest region.”
* The Indigenous Affairs program, “fully recogniz[ing] and respect[ing] the sovereignty of tribes and tribal nations,” works to “promote leadership that both reaffirms tribal values and creates new possibilities for stewardship and economic development by native communities and reservations.”
* The Whole Watershed Restoration (WWR) initiative is a “public-private competitive grant program” that focuses on salmon habitat restoration efforts in areas of “high ecological importance” in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. WWR is a partnership between Ecotrust and a number of federal and state agencies: the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the USDA Forest Service, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Restoration Center, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service. Each of the agency partners contributes restoration dollars to WWR. Ecotrust, in turn, makes those funds available as grants to local environmental groups for on-the-ground restoration work.
 Another project of Food and Farms is FoodHub, an online directory and marketplace that helps professional wholesale food buyers and sellers “to find each other, connect and do business.” Ecotrust further seeks to improve public understanding of agriculture by means of Edible Portland, its free quarterly magazine. Moreover, the organization has produced a detailed toolkit to teach community organizers how to host events that bring buyers and sellers of regional foods together.
 One such tool, Digital Deck, is a mobile technology device that provides “real-time access to catch information, so users can more effectively participate in fisheries and business management.” Another tool, Open OceanMap, allows users to “build local participation into the marine spatial planning process.” A third tool, MarineMap, was developed by Ecotrust in partnership with the Marine Science Institute and the Nature Conservancy to “facilitate the design and evaluation of Marine Protected Areas” in California. A fourth tool, Eureka, is a web-based application designed to “evaluate the biological performance of Marine Protected Areas.”