In 2015 I founded NatureMetrics to provide rapid, scalable biodiversity assessment using traces of DNA isolated from water and soil samples. Back then, many doubted the commerciality of our business plan – was there really any serious money to be made in biodiversity? Luckily, we had correctly judged that there was enough market demand to get us up and running and established as the leading specialist eDNA company in the world, delivering surveys for clients globally. Many of these clients had long struggled to obtain biodiversity data at sufficient scales to inform management, constrained by reliance on conventional survey tools and extensive teams of experts deployed on the ground. Our DNA-based tools give them better data at lower cost, so after trying it the first time, most clients have kept returning for more.
Today, we have over 100 employees and state-of-the-art laboratories at our headquarters in Guildford and no-one questions the commercial demand for data and metrics on nature.
Since 2020, a raft of hard-hitting reports have caused nature to rocket up the agenda for governments, businesses and financial institutions. No longer a CSR tick-box exercise, there is increasing recognition that the entire global economy depends on a solid foundation of functioning ecosystems and intact biodiversity. Nature is now embedded at the heart of the climate agenda, with natural ecosystems considered a crucial aspect of both climate mitigation and adaptation, and at COP15 on Biodiversity (due to take place later this year) new global targets will be agreed, which are likely to include requirements for businesses to disclose and reduce their negative impacts on biodiversity, moving towards nature positive practices.
‘Nature positive’ need not mean ‘business negative’. Indeed, taking food production as an example, regenerative land management leads to healthier ecosystems that are more productive and resilient, while closed-loop agricultural practices such as hydroponics and vertical farming provide efficient and scalable food production, reducing pressure on land. In fact, shifting to nature positive business practices has the potential to deliver business gains in the same way as investing in the circular economy for production and manufacturing. Working in harmony with nature lowers costs through reducing waste, decreasing the need for chemical inputs and lowering exposure to a multitude of natural risks, all while increasing productivity and introducing new revenue streams.
Embracing nature positive does require rapid systems change and a transformation in how we engage with the natural world, and as with any disruptive change this creates vast opportunity for innovation along with new markets and shifting values. NatureMetrics is itself an example of an innovative SME that stands to gain from whole sectors of industry suddenly needing for the first time to understand what their biodiversity impacts are. We are now offering monitoring options for companies at every stage of the Nature Positive journey from those taking their first steps to those who already have corporate commitments to Net Positive Impact on biodiversity. And whereas being a biodiversity-related innovative tech company made us a something of an anomaly in 2015, we are now part of a thriving ecosystem of innovative companies working on different parts of the jigsaw.
These range from companies working on cutting edge technology such as earth observation, AI, blockchain, soundscapes, virtual reality and DNA to those piloting new ways of working on the ground, demonstrating scalable, profitable, nature positive business models for primary resource production. An example is Dutch company, Kelp Blue, who are piloting large-scale, offshore kelp farming. Kelp is phenomenally productive, growing up to 60cm per day, and its canopy can be sustainably harvested and used for the production of a vast array of products and compounds, many of which themselves have environmental benefits by replacing unsustainable materials. At the same time, kelp is a vital habitat for marine biodiversity, has the potential to act as a highly efficient carbon sink, and can significantly mitigate ocean acidification. Some seaweeds fed as supplements to cows have also been shown to dramatically decrease methane production, with huge implications for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
NatureMetrics is working with Kelp Blue to establish biodiversity baselines in the first pilot sites so that the impact of the kelp farm on biodiversity can be quantified in future years. It is hoped and expected that the impact will be overwhelmingly positive – and could even lead to a new source of income in the form of biodiversity credits – but as a new form of commercial activity in the ocean it’s also important to identify and mitigate any negative impacts on the existing ecosystem.
The emerging Global Biodiversity Framework heralds a new era for accountability in respect to our impact on nature, but for those who embrace it there is a wealth of opportunity and positive outcomes for the triple bottom line: People, Planet & Prosperity.