Introduction to the Natural Capital Project Approach

People depend on nature to sustain and fulfill human life, yet the values of nature are typically ignored in decisions. Mapping and modeling ecosystem services can help highlight the diverse benefits provided to people by nature (what and where) and explore how those benefits might change under different management options--thus bringing information about nature's values into decisions in practical ways. With these approaches, we can improve the state of biodiversity and human well-being by motivating greater and more cost-effective investments in both.

This course introduces the Natural Capital Project's (NatCap's) approach to using ecosystem service information to inform decisions. It uses specific examples to illustrate how the approach has worked in each case and highlights key methods and tools used in implementation.

Split into four modules, NC101 first introduces the concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services, the stocks and flows of vital benefits flowing from nature to people. The second module describes InVEST, NatCap's software tool for mapping, modeling, and valuing ecosystem services. In addition, it provides guidance on project scoping and on matching approaches and tools to a project's goals, decision context, timeline, capacity, and quality of data available. Modules 3-4 offer an overview of the skills needed to use InVEST models, including recommendations for how to effectively summarize and communicate model outputs to stakeholders and other audiences.

Intended Audience

This course is intended for those interested in how natural capital approaches can inform decisions taken by governments, multi-lateral development institutions, the private and finance sectors, and non-governmental organizations. It can be a resource for individuals interested in simply learning about these concepts or for those interested in using the NatCap's approaches and tools in research or to influence decisions. This course can also serve as a primer for those individuals planning to attend one of our in-person training workshops in the future.


There are no prerequisites for this course. However, we recommend that you download InVEST and GIS software (either QGIS or ArcGIS) if you intend to follow the technical examples or complete the optional assessments contained in modules 3 and 4.

Course Staff

Gregg Verutes

Geographer - Lead Instructor

Gregg Verutes leads NatCap's training program which hosts both introductory and technical workshops throughout the world. His current focus is developing innovative techniques that utilize maps, games, and problem-based exercises to teach students, scientists and practitioners about valuing nature. Gregg also serves as a GIS specialist for the marine team working on coastal zone management and spatial planning in Belize, Vietnam and the Americas. He worked previously for National Geographic as a GIS instructor and a visiting scientist with the World Wildlife Fund's Conservation Science Program. Gregg received his M.S. from San Diego State University and his B.S. in Policy Analysis and Management from Cornell University. 

Adrian Vogl

Senior Scientist

Adrian Vogl is leading the application of InVEST models for watershed services, and developing decision support models for spatial planning, permitting new infrastructure projects and mitigation, and targeting investments in watershed conservation. Adrian co-led development of the RIOS tool, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Latin American Water Funds Platform. In addition, Adrian is leading efforts to link the InVEST economic valuation approach with outputs from other hydrologic models. Before joining the Natural Capital Project, Adrian worked in central Texas developing land-use planning decision support tools that incorporate freshwater and groundwater ecosystem services, land development, and conservation planning. Adrian received her Ph.D. in Aquatic Resources from Texas State University-San Marcos, and her B.A. from the University of Arizona in Cultural Anthropology.

Henry Borrebach

Training Coordinator

Henry Borrebach is on the Natural Capital Project's training team, overseeing online education and the annual Natural Capital Symposium, as well as coordinating NatCap trainings around the globe. Henry has extensive experience in applied pedagogy and international education, and he is passionate about making the science behind conservation accessible to the public. He is currently working with the team to develop online training courses that make NatCap's approach and tools available to a wider audience. Henry holds a B.F.A. from Carnegie Mellon University and an M.F.A. from Florida International University. Before joining the project, he co-founded the O, Miami international poetry festival. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need to complete all the modules in the course?

While the lessons contained in each of the four modules are intended to stand alone, we strongly encourage all participants to begin by reading through the Course Roadmap. This section explains how the course is organized and provides important background information about the two case study examples included throughout. To launch the Course Roadmap, click the "Start here" button on the top-left panel of the Courseware.

Do you offer a Statement of Accomplishment for completing the course?

The course is structured to provide two levels of accomplishment. Students completing only Modules 1 and 2 will be provided with a Statement of Accomplishment for Intro to Ecosystem Services. Students who complete Modules 1 through 4 (including the 2 assessments) will receive a Statement of Accomplishment in Ecosystem Services and Applications.

Do I need to buy a textbook?

This course is completely free. Links to download all the necessary course materials and tools are provided within each unit.

How long should it take to complete this course?

The course is divided into four modules. It should take approximately one hour to finish each module and about four hours to complete the entire course.

What is the best way to ask questions or provide feedback?

Click on the "Discussion" tab to link to our online user forum. This forum is monitored daily by our software engineers and scientists.

Course Page
Paid after free trial
Online, self-paced, EdX