A Carmaker Launches a Foundation Strictly Backing Oceans and Climate Resilience

photo: Marcin Balcerzak/shutterstock

photo: Marcin Balcerzak/shutterstock

Marine conservation has been a bustling corner of philanthropy in the past decade or so, with Silicon Valley billionaires and foundations alike getting on board in a big way. 

The latest player is an international carmaker, and it’s taken an interesting approach, forming a nonprofit foundation devoted to the topic, and sharing leadership with marine researchers and environmentalists. 

The Honda Marine Science Foundation formed in 2016 and went public this year, with a mission to “help restore marine ecosystems and facilitate climate change resilience.” Its first project is the Southern California Native Oyster Restoration Project, a partnership with UC Santa Barbara to conduct research and education about the benefits of restoring oyster populations to the shoreline. While California’s oysters were overharvested in the 20th century, restoring them could improve water quality and create natural reefs protecting against storms. 

The foundation is looking to do more work in Washington, Oregon, California or Hawaii, with an initial focus on the concept of “living shorelines,” or natural approaches for protecting habitats. While climate impacts are an explicit part of the foundation’s interests, it is not funding climate mitigation work. The foundation expects to make just two to three grants per year, with each grant between $25,000 and $75,000. 

Like many car companies, Honda makes the environment one of its corporate responsibility priorities, with a CO2 emissions reduction plan and a sustainability program for its dealerships. The company also has a handful of channels for giving, supporting community projects, education and youth programs, with one focus on STEM subjects.

But the fact that it launched an entirely separate marine foundation is an interesting move for Honda, signaling that this is going to become a signature topic for the corporation. This specific approach probably has something to do with American Honda’s headquarters location in Torrance, California, as well as the influence of the company’s marine division. Honda also previously committed $5 million to the nearby Aquarium of the Pacific, and the foundation has connections to the aquarium and a number of other Southern California institutions.

While six of the 10 board members are Honda or Acura executives, the other four come from the marine conservation and science world, including from UCSB, the Aquarium of the Pacific, Santa Monica nonprofit Heal the Bay and the NOAA. 

With estimated annual giving of just $200,000, this is a small program. But creating an ongoing, freestanding nonprofit with a single focus is an interesting model for company-sponsored giving, adding a bit of distance from the corporate footprint. 

Of course, it makes you wonder: What would it take for a company like Honda to do something similar, but hand over control entirely, or almost entirely, to those working in the field? An independent grantmaker deriving funding from a local corporation, but guided by a board of community members, advocates and researchers would really be something to see in action.