How Commonland began

Our vision – to create a scalable, practical framework that brings stakeholders together to restore large degraded landscapes and secure a brighter future for humanity – holds true today just as it did back in 2013. That was when former IUCN Netherlands director and ecologist Willem Ferwerda founded Commonland supported by entrepreneur Wijnand Pon and experts from the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management. Also backing the organisation were the Rotterdam School of Management (Erasmus University) and McKinsey, HIVOS, DOEN Foundation and the Dutch government.

A new approach

A tropical ecologist with more than 25 years of experience in conservation, ecosystem restoration, agriculture and working with farmers and indigenous people, Willem Ferwerda had seen first-hand that conservation and (sustainable) land use weren’t integrated. Short-term projects imposed on communities in a top-down way continually failed to produce long-lasting results. Willem was inspired by theEcosystem Approach a strategy for managing land, water, and living resources in an integrated  (holistic, sustainable and equitable) way – which was endorsed by the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP5) in 2000. His experience working in the field with local people taught him that to effect ontheground change, a long-term, large-scale, and communitydriven approach was needed. 

4 Returns

The only way to protect and restore the ecological foundation of landscapes sustainably is to ensure restoration and conservation works for the people living there. Willem created the 4 Returns framework as a practical approach to restore degraded landscapes at scale, while also providing a long-term income for local communities. The 4 Returns framework aims to generate returns for all landscape stakeholders: people, nature, communities and businesses. It brings stakeholders together to create and implement a landscape restoration vision.

Return of Inspiration

Planting seeds of hope and purpose for PEOPLE connected to the landscape – creating futures they can aspire to and believe in. 

Social return

Bringing back jobs, education and social connections: the building blocks of thriving COMMUNITIES.

Natural return

Restoring biodiversity for healthy and resilient landscapes: reviving NATURE. 

Financial return

Creating long-term, sustainable income for communities: new BUSINESS models that suit the unique needs of each landscape and community. 

Building long-term partnerships

We have on-going commitments to support the restoration of landscapes in Spain, South Africa, The Netherlands and Australia, dating back to 2013. Together with local partners, we built long-term relationships that have fuelled a collaborative, integrated approach to landscape restoration, harvesting lessons learned and building evidence. In 2019 we started working in India and invited other landscapes partners to use the 4 Returns framework, which led to more support for local initiatives.    

Commonland today

We now support partners in more than 20 countries to restore landscapes and drive change on a global scale. Our mission is to make 4 Returns the new norm in integrated landscape management and restoration by collectively restoring 100 million hectares of degraded land.

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Highlighted landscapes

green deserts

From green deserts to thriving landscapes

Dutch farmers ditch intensive practices to restore ecology and promote sustainable farming through resilient business models.

reversing desertification

Reversing desertification with regenerative practices

A regenerative movement led by a common vision is tackling desertification, halting soil erosion and creating resilient communities.

A decade of action

Our practical approach – the 4 Returns framework – is used by people all over the world to restore our planet for generations to come. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve achieved over the past decade.




hectares under direct restoration


million hectares under regenerative influence


tonnes of carbon sequestered in soil or vegetation in 2022