They say that data is the new oil.
But, just like oil, data is worthless unless it is sourced, refined, and distributed. Industries across today’s digitalised economy are implementing systems that will enable them to extract value from this new digital asset. The nature-restoration sector is no different.
The dissemination and analysis of reliable data is fundamental to the scaling of effective environmental markets. It underpins the carbon credits generated by projects, acts as a quantifier of positive environmental impact, and provides crucial insights about project performance. Without impact measurement provided by data, convincing investors, credit buyers, and philanthropists to part with hard-earned cash to fund regeneration would near impossible.
A few weeks ago, we wrote here about the challenges that NBS project developers and investors are facing when it comes to managing data, specifically related to its collection, processing, and reporting. This week we’re going to build on this theme and look into some of the ways that teams managing natural assets are rising to these data challenges to uncover the value that lies within.
Before you can do anything with data, you first need to collect it from the myriad of different sources. These sources can be broadly bucketed into two categories: 1) remote sensing, and 2) ground-truth data. Remote sensing data is inherently tech-enabled so, while there are terabytes of information and innumerable different providers to wrangle at once, collecting remotely sensed doesn’t tend to cause too many issues.
Ground-truth data, on the other hand, is a different story. For starters, it is hugely varied. It can come in the form of property deeds and bank details from a landowner, or it could be gender diversity in local community participation and wildlife population numbers. Most projects on the Cecil platform are collecting well over 50+ different data attributes, and each project can be very different to the next. Add to the mix that teams on the ground are often working in remote places, with limited access to internet, and the challenge becomes a whole lot harder.
Once you’ve gathered the data, you then need to figure out what it all means. What is it telling you about the performance of your afforestation project? Which soil carbon projects in your portfolio need urgent attention? Where can your workflows and processes be improved?
To answer these questions, your data needs to be aggregated and analysed so that it can inform better internal decision making and reporting.
Thankfully, investment into nature is finally going mainstream. Institutional capital and large corporate investors are pouring into the space in the race for net-zero. But this new influx of capital brings with it greater reporting expectations. A private investor expecting tangible ROI on a new mangrove project, for example, is going to expect more than an email update once a year. Instead they require streamlined, standardised, and up-to-date information on the project to monitor its performance and improve investment decision making.
Reporting is not just limited to investors. It also includes buyers of carbon credits and biodiversity outcomes, as well as auditors and verification bodies which ensure genuine and accurate impact. Project developers have their plates full providing all this information to these various stakeholders: a process that is vital in the effort to provide the transparency and rigour that our sector is striving for to silence its critics.
To unlock the flows of finance into nature, we first need to unlock the flow of high-quality information. This is no mean feat given the army of different players involved in these projects and the variability of the data. But teams are finding resourceful ways to manage these challenges.
Cecil is building end-to-end data infrastructure for teams restoring nature. A single system spanning the collection of crucial ground-truth and remote sensing data, through to reporting project progress to the stakeholders that ultimately hold the keys to greater scale and greater positive impact.
Only by uncovering the value of natural asset data can we fully realise the value of nature itself.
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