Ecosulis hosts Tech Challenge to support UK rewilding projects

15 April 2019

Bath-based environmental consultancy Ecosulis has launched a contest to support the reintroduction of species of wildlife into the UK via technology, with a collective prize pot of £10,000 to be split between the three winning entries. The Rewilding Tech Challenge hopes to foster collaboration between various facets of the public and private sectors to preserve and enhance the nature found in Britain.

Over the past few years, discourse regarding nature conservation has shifted rapidly across Europe and the world. While for years, the tone was set by experts who simply sought to safeguard what little was left of the globe’s wildlife, decimated by centuries of hunting and deforestation, there is now a growing appetite for ‘rewilding’. That means that rather than preserving an ever more precarious status quo, a number of countries have actively sought to restore and enhance natural processes and core wilderness areas, with the reintroduction of keystone species, and even apex predators, into their ecosystems.

As has been seen with the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park in the US, such initiatives can have major and unforeseen benefits for other species. The wolves in this case provided a natural control mechanism for the local deer population, and in turn this enabled the return of large swathes of forest, which in turn have strengthened riverbanks, protecting against flooding.

Ecosulis hosts Tech Challenge to support UK rewilding projects

The UK, meanwhile, is scrambling to assemble expensive man-made flood defences – as previously forested areas and former wetlands struggle to soak up rain, leading to alarmingly regular flooding events. While it is some way from introducing wolves to the countryside, a project in Somerset has seen the introduction of beavers to the local ecosystem. Beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK in the 1600s, but as shown by their reintroduction in France, Germany and Denmark, dams which the creatures build increase river capacities, acting as natural sluices.

The process of rewilding the UK comes with a unique set of major challenges which require innovative new techniques to address. Without the adequate collaboration between organisations across the public and private divide, it is unlikely that the potential of rewilding will be realised.

Founded in 1990, Ecosulis is a consultancy and contractor which works with clients to help protect and improve the biodiversity of multiple sites across the United Kingdom. Alongside its headquarters in Bath, the firm also holds offices in London, Birmingham and Cardiff, with more than 30 employees working with organisations across those locations. In order to help foster the necessary culture of co-operation to produce technology to meet rewilding’s needs – involving tech start-ups, policy makers, NGOs, big business, local communities and environmental consultancies – Ecosulis recently launched its first Rewilding Tech Challenge.

Open to any UK-based individual, team or company willing to work with Ecosulis on the development of rewilding-related technology, the challenge aims to drive conservation technology development and enterprise hubs which launch new solutions into the field. It also hopes to advance rewilding-related technology in the UK, and introduce new talent and ideas into the field.

The Rewilding Tech Challenge boasts a first prize of £5,000 as well as on-going support from the Ecosulis team, and the hosting of the winning idea on Ecosulis may also decide to invest in the winning technology further, if it is deemed commercially viable. There is also a second prize of £3000 and a third prize of £2000. The entry process closed in early April, and candidates will now be carefully evaluated, before a shortlist of submissions will be put to a judging panel of Ecosulis representatives, conservation scientists, and tech-focused professionals, entrepreneurs and investors.

Summing up the initiative, Ecosulis Managing Director Cain Blythe explained, "We now have an opportunity to define a shared vision for how technology can have maximum impact on conservation practice. The idea of the challenge is to introduce new tech talent and ideas into the field of rewilding, and hopefully develop a solution that makes a real difference to practical conservation."


Private equity firms ramp up sustainability focus

19 April 2019

In line with business leaders across the industrial gamut, private equity firms are increasingly on board with sustainability projects. According to a new study, the investment arms for major funds are implementing a number of strategies aimed at supporting sustainable economic development in line with global goals.

While the business world has finally begun to acknowledge the danger of climate change, effective action plans remain difficult to achieve. The Paris Agreement has stipulated a clear target for the decades leading up to 2100, although massively reducing emissions while not crashing the economy could be a tall order.

Businesses that are able to acquire capital can use it to boost productivity and output, thereby creating a virtuous cycle of development. However, some businesses are better able to utilise resources than others, both in terms of their relative productivity, as well as the value of the respective outcomes relative to costs (including environmental harms). Financing can therefore provide an avenue to select businesses that are aligned with various global sustainability goals, while shunning those that drive little or unsustainable social value creation.

Top moves made by investment arms towards responsible investment

Profit has for the longest time been the central criterion for investment decisions. Yet profit at any cost is increasingly seen as creating considerable social harms, while often delivering only marginal value. As a result, the private equity sector, which was initially sluggish to change its ways with regards to sustainability, has started to see the topic as an opportunity as much as a challenge.

A new study from PwC has explored how far sustainability goals have become part of the wider investment strategy for private equity (PE) firms. The report is based on analysis of a survey of 162 firms and includes responses from 145 general partners and 38 limited partners.

Maturing sustainability

Top-line results show that responsible investment has become an issue for 91% of respondents. For 81% of respondents, ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) was a board matter at least once a year, while 60% said that they already have implemented measures to address human rights issues. Two-thirds have identified and prioritised Sustainable Development goals that are relevant to their investment segments.

Change in concern and action on climate-related topics over time

While there is increasing concern around key issues, from human rights protections to environmental and biodiversity protection, the study finds there are mismatches between concern and action. For instance, concern among investment vehicles around climate change has increased since 2016.

In terms of risks to the PE firm itself, concern has increased from 46% of respondents in 2016 to 58% in the latest survey. However, the number who have taken action remains far below those concerned, at 9% in 2016 and 20% in 2019. Given the relatively broader scope of investment opportunities, portfolio companies face higher risks – and more concern – from PE professionals, at 83% in the latest survey. However, action is less than half of those concerned, at 31%.

Changing climate

In terms of the climate footprint of the portfolio companies, 77% of respondents state concern in the latest survey. 28% of respondents are taking action through the implementation of measures to mitigate their concerns.

Concern and action taken on ESG issues

In terms of the more pressing issues for emerging responsible investment or ESG issues, governance concern of portfolio companies comes in at number one (92% of respondents), while 60% have taken action on it. Firms have focused on improving awareness – setting up policies and a range of training modules for their professionals around responsible investment decision making. Cybersecurity takes the number two spot, with 89% concerned and 41% implementing strategies to mitigate risks.

Climate risks take the number three spot in terms of concern for portfolio companies (83%), but falls behind in terms of action (31%). Health and safety track records are a key concern at 80% of businesses, with 49% implementing action. Gender imbalance within PE firms themselves ranks at 78%, which is being dealt with by 31%. A recent survey from Oliver Wyman showed that there is gender balance at 13% of GP teams in developed countries.

Biodiversity is also an increasingly pertinent topic, with risks from pollution and chemical use increasingly driving wider systematic risks around environmental outcomes. It featured at number eight on the ranking of most likely global risks for the coming decade, with its impact at number six. As it stands, biodiversity is noted as an issue at 57% of firms, with 15% implementing action.