The Environmental Impact Nursery – Blueprint V1


The Environmental Impact Nursery - Blueprint V1

In Brief

The Environmental Impact Nursery™ is a business-for-purpose, regenerative capital model for implementing a goal-orientated and mandate-driven investment construct. It’s designed to deliver the right solutions for natural capital as qualified deal flow for institutional investors. This ultimately allows institutional investors to better engage in impact investing and mobilise its vast capital base via the appropriate deal size and themes. It’s underpinned by an ethos that combines the learnt lessons from the world’s most respected and successful companies with lessons from humanities greatest philosophers and teachers. The parent company, Natural Impact Group Pty Ltd, is in year eight of a ten-year plan delivering proof of concept for this investment construct.


Introduction

Let’s be clear – natural capital1 (the environment) underpins the four other key forms of capital,2 and is, therefore, the basis for all ecological, economic and social activity on earth. Without sustainable natural capital, we can’t have a sustainable planet or economy.

The main tools that we have to deliver sustainability are the political and capitalist systems. There is nothing wrong with either, as ordered systems, it’s the values and ethos that drive them that’s let humanity (and the planet) down. There is now no time to change the tools, so we must use them differently to develop new solutions. Critically, we need to develop the right solutions.

The capitalist ideals of innovation and exponential growth, over the last 250 years, have helped drive us into the ditch we now find ourselves in. However, the right innovation and growth models are the fundamental tools we need to give ourselves time to stabilise the planet and restructure our culture. This may sound contradictory, but it depends on the approach. In our need to do things differently, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We need an objective, quantitative construct that focusses itself at the industry and sector scale. It also needs qualitative aspects to avoid greenwashing,3 mission drift4 and to simplify impact measurement. Binding these together must be the right values and ethos. This should then provide governments with the impetus to deliver policies and legislation that drive home the goal of global sustainability.

What has happened in the recent past is great, but the reality is renewables,5 the circular economy6 and responsible investing7 are not going to get us there in time. We need to think bigger, broader and more differently than ever before. We need to do much more than expand on the successes, we also need to take action toward breaking new ground too, and fast! That’s where this construct comes in. It’s about creative problem-solving, delivering the right solutions, and deep impact. It’s about bringing together institutional capital and environmental impact investing at the scale needed to deliver a sustainable planet. It’s about giving us time to create a fair and just society for all life.

As I developed the construct detailed in The Environmental Impact Nursery™ (TEIN) Blueprint, I also developed Natural Impact Group Pty Ltd. This company delivers the proof of concept that demonstrates how, as a society, we can become the true stewards of nature that we need to survive and prosper. Therefore, the TEIN Blueprint is much more than theory, it’s already delivering real solutions, and set to grow exponentially.

The Environmental Impact Nursery™

The Environmental Impact Nursery™ is a business-for-purpose, regenerative capital model for implementing a goal-orientated and mandate-driven methodology to deliver the right solutions as qualified deal flow for institutional investors. This ultimately allows institutional investors to better engage in impact investing and mobilise its vast capital base via the appropriate deal size and themes. It’s underpinned by an ethos that combines the lessons from the most respected and successful companies with humanities greatest philosophers and teachers.

The TEIN structure (Figure 1) is similar to an innovations lab and is made up of five parts (H1, H2, H3, Institutional Investor Round Table and Foundation) within a corporate group structure. Most importantly, each part is driven by the TEIN Capital Allocation Model (TEIN CAM) mandate of six Investment Themes, three Selection Criteria and the Critical Litmus Test.

Its ethos is the critical aspect required to move away from business-as-usual in capitalism.

Figure 1 – The Environmental Impact Nursery™ structure

H1, H2 and H3 are described in the Three Horizons for Growth (see below), but can be understood in this construct as:

  • The core businesses of the parent company (H1) within a dedicated business-for-purpose structured entity;
  • Each environmental solution (H2) is initially housed in a wholly-owned subsidiary;
  • An in-house R&D Institute (H3) is established, with DGR status, to ideate the right solutions according to the TEIN CAM mandate.

The Institutional Investor Round Table sits beside the parent company and provides basic oversight to ensure solutions fit within mandates. It allows better engagement with institutional capital and minimises due diligence time and cost.

Establishing a foundation, tax-effectively drives profit into research and development (R&D). This R&D is done through the in-house R&D Institute and, where necessary in partnership with universities and other research organisations both nationally and internationally.

The structure of The Environmental Impact Nursery™ (TEIN) provides a perpetually growing, tax-effective, regenerative capital model where external capital can also come in through any subsidiary, the foundation and/or the R&D Institute if required.

The TEIN structure sets out a clear and objective investment methodology which addresses the main concerns of impact investors including greenwashing.3 Being underpinned by the TEIN CAM and its ethos makes impact measurement much simpler.

Driving Innovation

Innovation driven by monetary gain, based on consumerism and the venture development model, got us into this mess. A critical part of the TEIN is how investment is driven into the right environmental solutions.

Let’s first assess business-as-usual for sustainability/environment-based venture development. The current venture development model is an ad-hoc process where innovators and investors come together under various investment mandates. It’s based on an investment mandate approach (making money) meaning investors must wait until the “right” investment turns up before mobilising their capital. This process of funding any investment that can generate a financial return means a shotgun approach to solving environmental problems. When the seemingly right investment is presented and combined with the current venture development model, the lag in development, implementation and mainstreaming, solutions take too long and it’s time we don’t have. Rarely thought is given to other impacts (negative or positive) an investment might have on various planetary boundaries.

The TEIN value proposition (Figure 2) is based on rethinking the venture development model process between innovators and investors (green) to drive the right innovation from ideation to the institutional investor stage (yellow).

Figure 2 – The TEIN value proposition: managing the valley of death. Adopted from the UC Davis Centre for Entrepreneurship

Fundamentally, investment returns will always be a core factor and a significant part of the solution, however, solutions-based approach (setting goals and achieving them) is a better path to global sustainability than an investment-based approach. We need to set the right goals, drive the right ideation and develop the right innovation. How this is done is defined by the TEIN CAM.

Creative Problem Solving

Creative Problem Solving (CPS) is a proven method for solving problems and identifying opportunities in imaginative and innovative ways. By adding creativity to knowledge and thinking, it encourages us to find fresh perspectives and develop innovative solutions so that we can formulate plans that overcome obstacles and achieve our goals.

Valuing the humanities disciplines as much as we do STEM disciplines is a key component to building successful teams of innovative problem-solvers. According to Eric Berridge,8 this mixture of STEM and the humanities has the capacity to bring creativity and insight to technical problems.

With large complex problems, it can take time for CPS solutions to evolve. In some instances, it can take years. While the Three Horizons for Growth model is capable of allowing time for these solutions to evolve, other processes may not be. This point is critical as, of the five key factors to generating success in new start-up ventures, timing is rated the most important at 42%.9

The Three Horizons for Growth

The Three Horizons for Growth construct is described in the book The Alchemy of Growth.10

To achieve consistent levels of growth throughout their corporate lifetimes, companies must attend to existing businesses while still considering areas they can grow in the future. The Three Horizons construct provides a structure for companies to assess potential opportunities for growth without neglecting performance in the present.

Figure 3 illustrates how the Three Horizons arcs combine over time to grow profit.

Figure 3 – The Three Horizons for Growth arcs. Source: McKinsey & Company website

Horizon 1 (H1) represents those core businesses that provide the greatest profits and cash flow. Here, the focus is on improving performance to maximize the remaining value.

Horizon 2 (H2) encompasses emerging opportunities, including rising entrepreneurial ventures likely to generate substantial profits in the future, but require considerable investment to do so.

Horizon 3 (H3) contains ideas for profitable future growth. For instance, small ventures, research projects, pilot programs, or minority stakes in new businesses.

The sources of value creation across H1, H2 and H3 are different, which reinforces the need for them to be managed differently.

TEIN H3 to H1 process

In the TEIN, the H3 to H1 process (Figure 4) is a four-stage business start-up process used around the world. It uses a combination of CPS, Design Thinking and Lean Start-up methodologies, to achieve a successful solution and final product in the fastest and cheapest possible way.

The key point is that the Critical Litmus Test, in stage two of the process, kills a lot of H3 initiatives. Those that reach stage three are more likely to become a H2 business and develop into a H1 business, which can then scale globally with the help of institutional investors.

Figure 4 – The TEIN, H3 to H1 process. Source: Natural Impact Group Pty Ltd

The Disruption Framework

The Disruption Framework is a qualitative tool used to assess a potential innovation and understand whether it will become a disruptive force that develops a new paradigm or be taken up by the incumbent industries and continue to support business as usual. Developed by Bill Sharpe, the tool is known as The Three Horizons Framework11 (referred to as ‘The Disruption Framework’ in the blueprint to save confusion). The framework was also adopted by Kate Raworth in the Donut Economics model. 12

The aim of the TEIN is to provide the best opportunity for the right solutions to emerge and prosper. This framework helps the TEIN save time and cost in activities that may be crushed by existing paradigms and ensures the right solutions are developed.

Franchising

The overall aim of Natural Impact Group Pty Ltd is to scale the TEIN construct globally through a franchise model. The goal is to have at least one TEIN in every country globally and potentially many more in developed countries.

Apart from enabling the growth of the TEIN model to achieve planetary equilibrium as quickly as possible, franchising will also encourage the cross-pollination of ideas, access to a global network of expertise, a global network of operations, IP sharing, scaling of new environmental solution and business models, sharing investment opportunities and access to early-stage capital.

Franchising will also enable effective and consistent governance across all TEIN’s globally allowing for standardised global product development and investment themes. Franchising this construct has the capacity to establish a global standard for environmental impact investing.

TEIN vs. other models

Figure 5 – The comparison between TEIN, and the business models for incubators and accelerators. The mode for each relates to the investor stage as shown in Figure 2.

The TEIN Model is vastly different from the incubator and accelerator models (Figure 5), which operate in the start-up space. The closest existing model is an innovations lab,13 with some aspects of funds management14 and the addition of a business-for-purpose15 structured parent entity.

Capital Allocation

Where and how capital is allocated is the key to developing the right innovation and driving change in the right direction. The structure of the TEIN, combined with the capital allocation model, is one of the core aspects that makes the TEIN unique.

The approach is to use four background facts to underline our mandate. These background facts are outlined below as natural capital, the limits to growth, holistic thinking and the planetary boundaries.

The TEIN mandate then uses a three-part system to allocate capital – 1) it defines six Investment Themes, 2) three Selection Criteria and 3) a Critical Litmus Test. The first two are quantitative in nature, and the last is a qualitative process that mitigates greenwashing3 and mission drift4 and simplifies impact measurement.

Background Facts

Natural Capital

The definition of Natural Capital is the land, air, water, living organisms and all formations, functionality and interconnectedness within the Earth’s biosphere that provide us with Ecosystem Goods and Services.1,16 Natural Capital (and by extension, Biodiversity17 and Ecosystems Goods & Services,16 Functionality and Interconnectedness) is imperative for the survival and well-being of all living species.1 It is the interconnectedness of nature, its systems and processes that makes implementing the right solutions crucial.

Natural Capital is not only one of the five key forms of capital but underpins the other four so is, therefore, the basis for all biological, social and economic activity on Earth.2

The key point is that when Natural Capital (especially Ecosystem Services16 and Biodiversity17) becomes unavailable due to over-exploitation or system collapse, Manufactured and Financial capital must combine with Human and Social capital to fill the gap. This adds substantial pressure to the economics of business – as productivity declines, and fixed and marginal costs rise, the ecological footprint expands. The negative impact to return on investment (ROI) of business is significant and exponential as Natural Capital is exhausted.

The various initiatives in the fields of natural capital and environmental-economic accounting18 are important developments aimed at addressing how we manage natural capital.

Key points: When natural capital is stated in financial terms, it provides an instinctive management understanding and cohesive language for applying it to investment themes.

Limits to Growth

In 1972, the Club of Rome commissioned a report to analyse the “world problematique” using a computer model called World3, developed at MIT. The report titled The Limits to Growth, laid out five major trends of global concern – population, food production, industrial production, pollution and consumption of non-renewable resources.19 Scientifically, it introduced a newly founded computational approach of “system dynamics” modelling, and quantitative scenario analysis, into the environmental discipline. By linking the world economy with the environment, it was the first integrated global model.

In 2008, an independent review of the World3 model and data by CSIRO20 assessed the three key scenarios presented in The Limits to Growth19 with the hindsight of 30 years of data. It found:

The “standard run” represents a business-as-usual situation which shows continuing growth in the 20th Century and into the early decades of the 21st Century, but increasing environmental pressure at the start of the 21st Century.  The simulation of this scenario results in “overshoot and collapse” of the global system about mid-way through the 21st Century due to a combination of diminishing resources and increasing ecological damage due to pollution.

The “comprehensive technology” approach attempts to solve sustainability issues with a broad range of purely technological solutions. This scenario incorporates levels of resources that are effectively unlimited, 75% of materials are recycled, pollution generation is reduced to 25% of its 1970 value, agricultural land yields are doubled, and birth control is available worldwide. These efforts delay the 21st collapse of the global system to the latter part of the Century when the growth in economic activity has outstripped the gains in efficiency and pollution control. 

For the “stabilized world” scenario both technological solutions and deliberate social policies are implemented to achieve equilibrium states for key factors including population, material wealth, food and services per capita. Examples of actions implemented in the World3 model include perfect birth control and desired family size of two children; preference for consumption of services and health facilities and less toward material goods; pollution control technology; maintenance of agricultural land through the diversion of capital from industrial use; and increased lifetime of industrial capital.20

Key points: These reports on the limits to growth underpin the conclusion that the TEIN must focus on the right technological solutions to stabilise the planet environmentally.

Holistic thinking

The Gaia Hypothesis21 was formed by the chemist James Lovelock and co-developed by the microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970s. The Gaia Hypothesis posits that the Earth is a self-regulating complex system involving the biosphere, the atmosphere, the hydrosphere’s and the pedosphere – tightly coupled as an evolving system. The hypothesis contends that this system as a whole (called Gaia) seeks a physical and chemical environment optimal for contemporary life. Commonly accepted in new age spiritual circles, it is highly controversial in scientific circles. However, it has at a minimum, championed the understanding of the interconnectedness of nature and the need for holistic thinking in environmental management.21

Key points: We must use holistic thinking to ensure we incorporate solutions that have a positive impact across as many concurrent planetary boundaries as possible. Some solutions may seem logical to one area, but because of the interconnectedness of nature, implementing it may mean reach tipping points faster in other areas.

Planetary Boundaries

In 2009, Rockström et al.22 described an earth operating system and define the boundaries in which it operates. This framework uses science to define where humanity is in relation to those planetary boundaries (Figure 6).

The abstract describes their approach:

“Anthropogenic pressures on the Earth System have reached a scale where abrupt global environmental change can no longer be excluded. We propose a new approach to global sustainability in which we define planetary boundaries within which we expect that humanity can operate safely. Transgressing one or more planetary boundaries may be deleterious or even catastrophic due to the risk of crossing thresholds that will trigger non-linear, abrupt environmental change within continental- to planetary-scale systems.

Planetary boundaries define, as it were, the boundaries of the “planetary playing field” for humanity if we want to be sure of avoiding major human-induced environmental change on a global scale.”22

Figure 6 – The planetary boundaries. Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

Key points: The planetary boundaries provide the TEIN cluster structure for H3 growth and the ability to focus efforts and capital on the boundaries that are of the highest risk.

Mandate

We must:

  1. seek the right technology-based solutions to Natural Capital issues, within the planetary boundary landscape;
  2. seek solutions within six defined Investment Themes;
  3. apply the selection criteria to ensure we’re combing global scale with potential business success; and
  4. apply the Critical Litmus Test to mitigate greenwashing3 and mission drift4 and simplify impact measurement.

Investment Themes

To identify the best opportunities, all projects must be designed to directly mitigate an issue within one of the planetary boundaries (Figure 5). The following investment themes incorporate 11 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)23 and broadly align with the World Bank Group Climate Change Action Plan.24

  1. Agribusiness & Natural Capital (regenerative agriculture)
  2. Asset Recovery & Recycling (circular economy)
  3. Clean Technology & Efficiency (clean technology)
  4. Environmental Markets & Services (market-based solutions)
  5. Education & Media (generational change)
  6. Remediation & Management of Natural Capital (environmental stability)

Selection Criteria

To ensure projects and investments are designed to properly align with the mission and mandate (and not “greenwashed”) the Selection Criteria and Critical Litmus Test must be applied together. The Selection Criteria must be prioritized in the following order of importance, with 1. being the top priority:

  1. The best care of Natural Capital
  2. Global scalability with a competitive advantage
  3. Potential Internal Rate of Return (IRR)25 of +20%

Critical Litmus Test

The Critical Litmus Test is a way of applying a qualitative assessment to a quantitative investment model and adding rigour to the decision-making process.

Greenwashing3 and mission drift4 are substantial risks due to the current investment focus being on consumerism and financial engineering.26

Most importantly, implementing some well-meaning technologies could result in reaching tipping points faster (eg. by failing to consider whole system function), rather than solving the problem. This Critical Litmus Test is the key to mitigating this and ensuring each solution has a positive impact on the other planetary boundaries.

To avoid greenwashing and mission drift, a Critical Litmus Test process must be used in Stage 2 of the Three Horizons for Growth process and before a potential solution is developed further. This mitigates the need to identify measurement metrics in the early stages of investigation and is carried out via three simple questions:

  1. Does the potential solution aim to “provide the best care and management of” or “extract more from” any form of Natural Capital?;
  2. Does the solution aim to provide a “business-as-usual” advance in productivity to support growth demands and/or capitalise on population growth and consumerism or does it have, at its core, a new approach to Natural Capital?; and
  3. Does the solution support humanity’s connection or disconnection (spiritual, cultural or ecological) to Natural Capital?

The correct answers to these questions are (1) it provides the best care and management, (2) it has a new approach and (3) it supports a human connection to nature. Having some incorrect answers means more time, and CPS is required to create the right solutions. Until it has all three correct answers to these questions, the solution must remain within the Horizon, H3. Critically, this core tenet provides the underlying integrity to the TEIN.

Ethos

The ethos of the TEIN is entrepreneurial with a high level of ethics and integrity driven by governance, accountability and respect within a flat organisational structure. The aim is to grow a new global construct that will lead by example and stand the test of time. From a business perspective, the model closely subscribes to the key findings in books like Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies,27 Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t28 and In Search of Excellence.29

Our basic charter is:

  • We are accountable to each other and all future generations.
  • We are only as good as our people, so engage with the best in the world.
  • We aim to demonstrate that business will deliver the right solutions for all life on earth.
  • We use the best parts of capitalist model and apply them to change the world for the better.
  • We don’t just accept the status quo, we ask why.
  • We understand risk and use it to our advantage.

Business for purpose

The concept of a business-for-purpose model is that it uses a financial engine (business) to provide cash flow to deliver an intended outcome (purpose).

The parent company is developed as a business-for-purpose company, by enshrining this concept into its constitution. This then provides the directors with a clear mandate, used alongside board charters, to deliver the best environmental outcomes based on a true triple bottom line concept.30

Without the business-for-purpose model being at the heart of the TEIN it runs the risk that the TEIN becomes another capitalist driven venture development model (i.e. mission drift).

Partnerships

TEINs will seek to partner with other organisations, especially universities and research organisations nationally and globally, to bring the best minds and practitioners together in the development of environmental solutions.

Government

To achieve the policy changes that are required for planetary stability in the timeframe and scale required, it’s imperative to have a voice with political decision-makers at all levels of government. This must be done with the highest integrity and openness.

Environmental Impact Investing

The definition of impact investing is “investments made into companies, organizations, and funds with the intention of generating a measurable, beneficial social and/or environmental impact alongside a financial return.”31

While the TEIN model is supportive of positive social impact, (indeed, it’s a necessity), the most productive way to have a positive social impact is through the care of Natural Capital. First Nations people around the world have instinctively understood this concept for tens of thousands of years 32

STEM

The ultimate aim of the TEIN is to use STEM to reconnect humanity to Natural Capital (Nature) and provide for a fourth stage in the Industrial Revolution, one of true sustainability. The aim is to advance humanity’s tenure on Earth while retaining (and improving) the standard of living and quality of life of ALL its inhabitants. This leads us to a warning. Natural Capital has evolved over billions of years to autonomously function at its optimum level, and the egotistical view that humanity can technologically improve on Natural Capital’s function through artificial means does not take into consideration the interconnectedness of all forms of Natural Capital and the externalities. The true cost of the last three stages of the industrial revolutions is becoming clear, and so too the fact that we can’t replace nature with STEM or any other form of capital – we must use STEM (and the capitalist system) as a tool to allow nature to heal itself.

“Our vision is a world where every human understands and values the importance of Natural Capital…and acts accordingly, without greed, selfishness or apathy!”

Rod Holden, Founder & CEO of Natural Impact Group Pty Ltd

Impact Measurement

Due to the capital allocation model and especially the Critical Litmus Test, measuring impacts is a relatively simple process. Also, the progress and impact of environmental projects can generally be measured via the use of baseline data and life cycle assessments.33

General Metrics

If the Mandate and Conclusive Litmus Test are followed, to develop IP and business models, then measuring environmental impact is relatively straightforward. The opposite is also correct – the further away from nature a project or product becomes, the harder it is to measure the impacts of change.

The TEIN model allows this process to start at the planning and implementation stages.  Some excellent measurement metrics already exist (SDG Compass, IRIS, Natural Capital Protocol, etc) which are used as fit-for-purpose.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Each solution should relate to the United Nations SDGs23 and aim to incorporate as many SDGs as possible, as a measurement metric.

This is quite easy to do as 11 of the 17 SDGs, either directly or indirectly, relate to the use and management of Natural Capital.

Each solution developed by a TEIN should meet, and be measured against, at least one Aichi Biodiversity Targets34 within each of the five Strategic Goals.

In Brief

We are running out of time to act, and the capitalist rules being used aren’t achieving the core goals of a stabilised and sustainable planet. We need cultural change and meaningful action that is woven into the needs of nature’s big picture. The need for humanity to restore its connection with nature, the need for immediate action, the need for the right action to be taken, the need to apply a new ethos to capitalism that protects the common good, and the need to be cautious and holistic in our approach, or we seriously risk making matters worse.

We can’t just manage our way into global solutions, we must aim for the biggest and best outcomes imaginable, and don’t stop until we’ve achieved them. Every successful entrepreneur knows this is the only way to succeed in achieving global sustainability, because it’s the essence of how they achieved their own success. With environmental impact investments a hedge fund approach is needed. We need to take on the risk through right action, but mitigate the downside.

The TEIN Blueprint presents the right actions needed to solve the natural capital emergency and is built on the values of generosity, altruism, intelligence and integrity and an ethos based in the lessons learnt from the greatest companies, teachers and philosophers. By taking on the responsibility of right action, we reinforce our right to live on a healthy planet and have a just and fair society. It’s worth restating that taking right action is the essence of how every goal has ever been achieved by humankind. Its how we stood on the Moon.

The TEIN Blueprint also comes with an offer, so if you align with this construct and ethos and aspire to take action, or champion those that do, please join with me. Together, let’s create a new sustainability anthem for the world, built on the melody of interconnected achievement.

To download the full TEIN Blueprint please visit www.naturalimpactgroup.com/blueprint

The purpose of Natural Impact Group is to be the largest funder of environmental solutions globally and grow, within 10 years, to be allocating a minimum of $150m per annum, through its foundation, to the ideation of new solutions. Based on the current 10-year plan, the first stage of that capital allocation will commence in 2023.

References ­­

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The concept of planetary boundaries proposes that a set of critical Earth system processes such as climate regulation, the freshwater cycle and the nitrogen cycle, together maintain the planet in Holocene-like conditions. This preserves a “safe operating space for humanity”, given that the Holocene is the only era in which it is known that humanity can thrive.

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