The case for disruption

The Environmental sector needs startup-style disruption

Periods of turmoil, just as we are experiencing now, are never easy. But they are also a major catalyst for innovation.


A message from James Atkins, Chair of Greening Australia

We’ve seen this with the unveiling of Angus Taylor’s technology roadmap last week, prioritising major technology innovation within the energy sector in the effort to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions.

While solutions like carbon abatement may form a small part of this solution, it poses the question as to what might be possible if we were to see preference for greater investment in the conservation sector, applying the same appetite for innovation and scalability to solve these problems. To do this though, perhaps our sector needs to be viewed a little differently – through the lens of environmental disruption.

As we embark on the huge task that we face as a nation following the devastating bushfires, and of course a global pandemic, the environmental sector must work with other sectors as a collective on new solutions and new ways of operating. To do this we need the motivation from government and big business to drive this shift.

Disruption is necessary, just as we’ve seen it in other industries.

The case for disruption

Until now, the not-for-profit sector has taken on a large chunk of the responsibility in protecting and restoring Australia’s landscapes, and government grants alongside philanthropy typically play a central role in carrying out vital projects at scale.

But in the last few years, especially as a result of the bushfires, we’ve seen a growing appetite from business to reduce their own carbon footprints and invest in large-scale environmental work. As a result, we are now seeing government play the role of cornerstone investor, laying the foundations for different sectors to help drive change themselves, and see environmental, social and economic returns.

For the private sector, investing in the environment can be an attractive proposition, not only by being a part of the climate change solution, but by gaining significant financial returns through environmental markets.

Tapping into these large pools of non-government capital has created an unprecedented pipeline of opportunities to make a real difference, and future-proof the sector with new funding sources. But now our capacity to deliver on that investment needs to grow too, and we can no longer rely on the status quo to get things done.

We need to set the ball rolling ourselves, and find new, more efficient ways to protect the planet through environmental disruption.

Can cross-sector collaboration solve environmental problems?

Over in the financial world, the past decade has seen a huge wave of innovation from smaller startups and entrepreneurs who are using technology to improve access to financial services and literacy, accelerating and securing the way we transact, invest and spend.

A similar level of disruption in the ecological sector is the only way forward.

As an enterprise, we are looking as far as Silicon Valley – the capital of the climate change economy – to partner with technology’s biggest innovators. Out of these collaborations will come new ways of thinking, new ways to deploy investment, and new ways to be able to harness the best new technology, talent and machinery to continue to restore landscapes at scale, whilst delivering an economic return.

Already, we’re seeing successful trials of eco-tech projects that would once have taken months of physical labour and philanthropic support to complete by hand. This year alone, we’re trialing drone tree-planting and aerial seed bombing to map and sow native vegetation back into the Australian landscape.

The Australian government has wholly embraced the need to bridge our ‘native seed deficit’ by recently investing $5 million in the development of a national seed strategy on the back of last summer’s bushfires. For example, this will see us building smart seed hubs that disrupt the time-consuming way manual seed collection has traditionally taken place.

We’ve also developed partnerships with businesses across a variety of sectors to not only create carbon offsets, but improve biodiversity through large-scale tree planting.

Finally, we’re developing online portals that will help drive capital to on-ground projects much more efficiently. These platforms will connect land managers across Australia to market-based instruments and investment opportunities that do something positive for the environment but also provide an economic return to their enterprise, such as carbon and water quality credits.

To make these solutions happen, we’ve also had to adapt our recruitment strategies, recently employing experts from sectors that may previously have felt foreign – people from finance, economics and tech backgrounds. The likes of the Prior Family Foundation are also putting their entrepreneurial mindsets to use in order to help unlock more tech-led solutions and improve the sector’s capability on a larger scale.

These partnerships form the basis of what we’ll eventually establish as a dedicated ‘accelerator’ – an autonomous unit complete with a Chief Product Officer and an innovation team who are tasked with linking NFPs, scientists and landholders with tech players, investors and innovators who can help solve the planet’s most complex problems.

A symbiotic vision is imperative

In times like these, we’re often left feeling like we’re not in control as a species. But if we have learnt anything from the resilience of nature, it’s that there is always a way to evolve – as long as we work together.

People and nature can thrive on a much larger scale if we can unlock new, innovative, disruptive solutions together – as communities, as members of an economy, as businesses and as elements of a living, breathing ecosystem.

For most industries, this kind of disruption is triggered by external pressures such as increased competition, or consumer demand. For the environmental sector, while the demand for better capability is coming first and foremost from the earth itself, it’s also coming from our new economic beneficiaries, whose investment can lead to real returns.

Greening Australia welcomes offers of partnership and support from solution-focused individuals, businesses and governments that share our vision for a low-carbon planet, have a demonstrable commitment to addressing and acting on critical environmental issues, and are ready to embrace new ways of working to create a sustainable future. If you’d like to talk to us about how we could work together, please contact us!

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