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New Collaboration Builds AI-Focused Resource For Biodiversity Reporting

New white paper from Planet, Microsoft, the Natural Capital Project, and the Gund Institute shares approaches for companies to meet environmental reporting requirements
Companies can now evaluate their impacts to nature and compare these across different possible sites or with the impacts of others in their industry. Credit: nedu503 on Pixabay.
Companies can now evaluate their impacts to nature and compare these across different possible sites or with the impacts of others in their industry. Credit: nedu503 on Pixabay.

As environmental challenges make daily headlines across the world, tools including AI, Earth observation, and other data sources are underpinning new efforts to measure and evaluate private sector effects on the natural world.

This work started with voluntary tracking efforts, but became mandatory in European Union member countries in January 2024. A new white paper from Planet, Microsoft, the Natural Capital Project (NatCap), and the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Environment offers approaches for companies to track and disclose their impacts, and their reliance, on nature.

“There’s growing appreciation for the ways businesses both impact and depend on nature,” said Lisa Mandle, a co-author of the white paper and director of science-software integration at Stanford-based NatCap. “What’s been missing for the many companies, investors, and consumers who would like to take action is information on how specific companies depend on or are impacting nature. Recent advances in science and technology now make this kind of company reporting possible and feasible.”

The global biodiversity crisis has resulted in the emergence of new environmental reporting frameworks, including the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures and the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). The mandatory CRSD requires companies to assess nature-related metrics involving several scientific disciplines. Despite the apparent complexity of assessments, advancements in ecosystem science, Earth observation (EO), and artificial intelligence (AI) make scientifically robust reporting both logistically and financially feasible.

This white paper, which was also co-authored by Stephen Polasky, environmental economist from the University of Minnesota-based NatCap:

  • Demonstrates that biodiversity and ecosystem reporting can be streamlined and scientifically robust.
  • Highlights examples from both the scientific literature and real-world cases of companies using EO and AI technologies to facilitate scalable and cost-effective reporting.
  • Synthesizes opportunities, challenges, and proposed actions for getting started and improving biodiversity and ecosystem measurement and reporting.

This work helps address specific questions that have been elusive until now, like how does deforestation from a mining company’s operations impact sensitive species, water quality for communities downstream, and other values from nature? How are these impacts being minimized? How do they compare to the impacts from other companies providing the same materials?

These questions have been difficult to answer, says Mandle. “The Natural Capital’s Project’s free, open-source InVEST software and our Ecosystem Services Footprinting Tool are two examples of what’s available to support informed decision-making.” In September 2023, NatCap and Morgan Stanley released a new, open-source ecosystem services footprinting tool that helps companies understand their impacts on nature, and the ways a business’s operations may depend on nature’s services. Read more in this Q&A and case study about the tool. 

This story was adapted from a story by the Gund Institute and a blog post by Planet.

The Natural Capital Project is a partnership based out of Stanford University’s Doerr School of Sustainability and the School of Humanities & Sciences. 

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