Former New York Giants football player and “Good Morning America” host Michael Strahan in early September launched a skin care line including beard wash, shaving products and moisturizer developed by Evolved By Nature, a Boston-based biotech startup that includes natural petrochemical replacements. Silk protein.
The development is interesting because it is another example of technological innovation that builds, amplifies or measures the power of nature – this is a subcategory of climate technology that some experts have labeled “natural technology”. I like to think of these technologies as focusing on mimicking the Earth’s ecosystem or accelerating the natural regenerative abilities of natural systems. In the past month alone, there have been dozens of funding and partnership announcements related to this space, if my depleted inbox is any indication.
As suggested in a white paper published this week by the Nature4Climate coalition, the term naturetech can be used to describe a wide range of applied and information technologies focused on this goal – helping to develop nature-based solutions to climate change. The category explores and develops natural technologies into four categories:
- Ecological and biodiversity monitoring methods enabled by satellites, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors, DNA testing and other scientific approaches;
- deploying solutions such as drones for reforestation or ecosystem restoration;
- Verification approaches, often based on blockchain and artificial intelligence, used for accounting and disclosure; And
- Apps and software that help create marketplaces for nature-based solutions, connecting them with investors or buyers.
“We see these technologies as strengthening the case for nature-based climate solutions,” said Sheila Raghav, co-founder and chief portfolio and partnership officer of Time’s New CO2 initiative, which is still operating in stealth mode. Raghav was one expert who provided input to the white paper, to which I contributed a foreword. “They help demonstrate a level of sustainability,” she said, highlighting the primary benefit of natural technology solutions.
She added, later in our conversation, “Natural technology will be a critical catalyst for bringing truly nature-based solutions to scale.”
Early pioneers of natural technology
You’ve heard of many ventures that have taken nature’s mantle of technology.
Consider the aforementioned Evolved By Nature, which raised $120 million in Series C funding in June. It falls under the category of “deployment” of natural technology — because the approach uses principles of biomimicry, biology and chemistry to call upon nature to avoid using fossil-fuel-derived products.
The startup’s product, activated silk, can be used as a substitute for certain petrochemicals in skin care or as a preservative for leather and textiles. Meanwhile, the maize trees grown to feed the silkworm provide regenerative benefits to the farmlands and communities where they are planted. The substance itself helps to eliminate the petrochemical alternative. Michael Strahan’s skincare line, Activated Silk 33B, is using a polypeptide that naturally increases the skin’s barrier function.
Another example of a company using technology on behalf of nature is Living Carbon, which is genetically modifying poplar trees to produce more carbon and concentrated metals such as nickel.
A series of forestry-focused drone startups that fall under the category of natural technology deployment, or DroneDeploy, which has over $142 million in funding, is an active practice focused on forestry; DroneSeed, championing “rapid” reforestation; Dendra Systems, which specializes in managing land and biodiversity restoration; And Centera, supports agricultural professionals in decision-making.
Other ventures defy such a simple label as terraforming, using solar panels, brines and indigenous seeds to regenerate arid micro-systems in places like Hawaii. Terraformation this week announced its affiliation with Eden Redevelopment Projects, which describes itself as “the world’s largest non-profit rehabilitation organization.” Through the partnership, Eden will use Terraformation’s seed bank technology to grow approximately 160 biodiversity seeds for projects in Kenya and Mozambique.
Among the most active—and perhaps the largest—natural technology categories focused on monitoring, reporting, and verification. This satellite venture, as well as blockchain and artificial intelligence services, will be developed to accurately monitor and manage carbon sequestering services of forests, farmland, wetlands, etc.
Ctrees, a non-profit led by NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientist Sasan Saatchi, has launched a global platform that plans to provide operational-level data for the first carbon projects starting in early 2023. Many entrepreneurs are chasing this position.
Another oft-cited startup that has attracted significant investment is Pachama, which uses data from sensors, satellites and other data-gathering resources to measure carbon sequestered by forests. The $55 million Series B round of funding includes investors Future Positive, Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Lowercarbon Capital, as well as celebrities including Serena Williams, Ellen DeGeneres and Portia De Rossi.
Elsewhere, you may have heard of Planet Labs, founded 12 years ago by three NASA scientists, whose service is working with many high-profile companies, including financial services firm Moody’s, to analyze ESG risk data. The company estimates that the satellites will carry up to 30 terabytes of data every day. One example of the technology being used to protect nature is the company’s relationship with Organic Valley using satellite imagery to measure pasture health on dairy farms.
Other metrics-focused startups mentioned in the white paper include UK company Nature Metrics, which measures biodiversity; Treemetrics, a forest control and management software company; and carbon intelligence and assessment service Sylvera.
The other two categories – based on validation and correlation – are in many ways related to the wider universe of measurement solutions. “Increased processing power, better algorithms, machine learning, and wild-sourced data will allow for greater monitoring and recognition of nature-based carbon projects,” note the authors of the white paper. “This increases confidence in the strength of nature-based solutions.”
Some companies to watch in the certification and connectivity categories include NCX, creating a forest carbon marketplace; Nori, developing a platform that rewards farmers for carbon sequestration; CarbonStack, developing local forestry projects; and Taking Root, a reforestation organization that focuses on smallholder plantations.
The white paper argues that many of these authentication and data-sharing solutions are critical to further investments in nature technologies. In particular, the authors suggest that natural technologies can play an important role in connecting stakeholders – such as indigenous communities to more than half of the world’s biodiversity managers and financial institutions to finance conservation or regeneration projects.
But this is not a panacea: “Many of the most vulnerable people in these ecosystems do not necessarily have access to basic technology,” the authors write. “Natural technology is no substitute for meaningful stakeholder engagement and traveling to local communities to connect with people – in their language – and understand their needs.”
That said, according to the World Economic Forum, an estimated $44 trillion in economic value — more than half of the world’s gross domestic product — is based on nature. That’s a reality more corporations — and the White House — are just beginning to understand.
Reporting frameworks that address corporate impacts on biodiversity and nature are emerging, but few formal resources for those calculations and disclosures exist today. As I wrote in the foreword to the Nature4Climate white paper, this is another reason why investing in solutions that meet nature’s technological mission statement is beneficial both financially and for the planet.